LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) study on taxi safety found 87.3 percent of drivers prefer installation of any of three possible safety devices. The survey included 401 Las Vegas drivers. A review also includes a taxi safety issues and the results of a focus group study on rider perceptions.
The report reinvigorates the drive to mandate the installation of still-picture cameras that was rejected by the Taxicab Authority board of directors in February by a vote of 4-1.
The new vigor to adopt a resolution ordering cameras in taxis could be set back by preliminary results in field tests of still and video cameras by taxi companies over the past month that have found shortcomings limiting the efficiency of cameras. Problems include a lack of a performance track record in the high heat of a desert summer and the unavailability of infrared models for clear quality night photos.
The evidence from both the UNLV study and availability of other safety measures such as protective partitions between passenger and driver, combined with the grisly murder of a cab driver last August, have given momentum to change in the industry.
Although debated for more than 15 years, the effort to force installation of still cameras in taxis got serious when a resolution was put before the Taxicab Authority board in February after a two-month long survey of 627 out of 4,800 taxi drivers. The survey showed 60.3 percent of drivers supported digital still cameras, the only measure of five to receive majority support.
Having to carry all the cost to outfit thousands of vehicles at almost $1,000 apiece with little conclusive proof that cameras would be the most effective method, the county's nine taxi companies representiing 16 taxi operations balked and the board dropped the resolution, but ordered a study.
Drawing on U.S. Labor Department statistics, the study noted that taxicab drivers have the highest homicide rate for any occupation, with a driver three times more likely to get killed on the job than a police officer.
In its own survey, the UNLV study found that 39 percent of drivers had been abused or threatened over the past 12 months, with 6.4 percent of respondents having been physically assaulted and 3.8 percent robbed.
Digital cameras without sound recording were found to be the preferred safety measure among respondents, with 63 percent favoring them and 25 percent viewing them as unfavorable.
Vehicle-tracking systems were a close second, with 62 percent of drivers favoring them, although the item has not been discussed previously, followed by personal protection devices such as partitions with 53 percent, and cameras with sound recording at 50 percent, although the measure had a high unfavorable rating of 40 percent.
The focus group study found that most riders accepted security measures as a fact of life and that they did not disturb tourists.
Commissioner Carolyn Sparks questioned the reliability of a study in which only 7 percent of the total pool of about 5,400 drivers responded, an even lower participation rate than the internal survey last January. However, she said randomness of participation and the rephrasing of questions would determine its precision.
Taxi companies have been running field tests on the three prominent safety measures. While shields offer immediate protection to drivers, tests by Desert Cab have shown they interfere with air conditioning circulation and the intercom system needed to communicate between driver and passenger produced harsh feedback from the two-way radio used between driver and dispatcher.
Both still-photo and sound cameras were tested for a month by Whittlesea. While some maintenance difficulties were noted, taxi company managers say the test was not long enough in this cooler-than-usual summer.
At last week's Taxicab Authority meeting, arguments went back forth over the efficacy of cameras versus partitions in light of cost, but all parties seemed to accept that cameras were a preventive measure in terms of helping law enforcement, while partitions were better for the driver's immediate protection during incidents.
Board Vice-Chairwoman Kathryn Werner believed any eventual resolution could be flexible enough to allow cab companies to install the safety measure deemed to best suit their needs.