Three out of four cameras were turned off when city staff did random checks of Whitehorse cabs on Jan. 12.
That’s what city bylaw manager Dave Pruden told city council on Jan. 22.
Pruden was bringing forward amendments to the Vehicle For Hire bylaw that would aim to address safety concerns.
These concerns arose last fall. A Whitehorse cab driver was charged in October 2017 with kidnapping and sexual assault after two women accused him of assaulting them.
In November, a number of women’s advocacy groups sent delegates to speak to council about gender-based violence, and provide recommendations to improve passenger safety.
Recent amendments came into effect in May 2017 after a 2015 rewrite of the bylaw.
Those changes included requiring at least one wheelchair-accessible vehicle be available during all hours of operation, providing a machine for debit and credit cards at no extra fee to the customer, offering text and web-based calling systems for the hearing-impaired, and having security cameras present and recording at all times.
The cameras council identified as being appropriate range from $500 to $700 and can record in the dark. However, they can also be turned off.
The three cabs found to have done this in January are being charged under section 89 (failure to retain images) of the vehicle for hire bylaw. The city wouldn’t comment further, as two of the matters are still under investigation.
In the case of the fall sexual assaults, there was no video footage.
Pruden told council that GPS-enabled, hardwired cameras (the new recommendation) would cost between $2,000 and $5,000.
“I would have to make a comment on that and think that would be a dreadful hardship on riders,” said councillor Betty Irwin. “Have we thought about that?”
Local cab driver Yonis Melew has.
Melew addressed council during the meeting. He said he owns his cab and covered the cost of its camera. He said that camera is already hardwired, though it lacks GPS.
He said he supports the idea of cameras in cabs.
“People who tamper with that, they have to face the consequences,” he said. However, he thinks his current camera is sufficient.
He said Whitehorse is a small town. He can drive from end to end in 10 minutes. He said GPS is unnecessary, and is not cost-effective for drivers.
Mid Kalpak, a manager with Premier Cabs, told the News over the phone on Jan. 23 that the cameras in his company’s taxis do have GPS, but he hasn’t figure out how to use the feature yet.
He said Premier bought 35 cameras in order to comply with the previous amendments (the company has 20 to 22 cars, and sold cameras to a number of its drivers who have their own cars). Those cameras cost $525 each.
He said he’ll be curious to see if those cameras will suffice.
“If they want us to get a different camera, it’s not even a year later. You’re looking at lots of money there,” he said.
Both Kalpak and his boss, Premier owner Ken Giam, heard about the proposed amendments from media reports.
Giam said he was surprised no one from the city spoke to him about it before it went to council.
“The women’s group has been very vocal and I can see where they’re coming from,” Giam said. “But the bylaw (staff) and the women’s group completely shut us out. We have no say at all. I feel this is not good without our input.”
Pruden said if he gets the go-ahead to further investigate the amendments, there will be consultations with cab companies, as well as with the RCMP and others.
In addition to GPS-enabled tamperproof cameras, city staff recommend posting a charter of driver and passenger rights in cabs, providing training to drivers that focuses on passenger safety, regulating tamperproof driver permits, and limiting the number of plates provided to cab companies.
The issue will come forward at the Jan. 29 council meeting. If it goes ahead, Pruden will meet with stakeholders including cab companies, the RCMP, and women’s groups to come up with amendments to the existing bylaw.
Pruden said he would like to present those by June.
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