State Approves Plan to Place Cameras in Philly Taxis

Plan designed for driver safety.

A state review body on Thursday approved a city plan to install cameras in every single taxi cab operating in Philadelphia.

The plan, proposed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, would affect 5,000 workers, medallion owners, and dispatchers. The system would let drivers hit a “panic” button to transmit live video to dispatchers and the PPA — a safety measure intended to deter a wave of violence against drivers.

The unanimous vote by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission came after more than an hour of testimony — much of it technical — during which two strands of opposition emerged. IRRC comissioner Lawrence J. Tabas led one line of attack, questioning whether the images might end up used publicly and invading the privacy of taxicab passengers.

“I don’t think passengers … would want these images to be given to a TV station or YouTube to mock them or hurt them,” Tabas said.

Images recorded in the cab would be kept for 30 days, said Dennis Weldon, chief counsel for PPA. Images transmitted to dispatchers when a driver hits a “panic” button, on the other hand, might be stored indefinitely.

Weldon added, though, that taxis are a “public place,” where passengers don’t have an expectation of privacy.

Several taxi drivers led the second criticism — that the expense of the camera system, estimated to cost up to $1,600 per cab, would eventually fall on them instead of the medallion owners who control Philly taxis.

“Drivers can’t afford it,” said Ronald Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania.

The regulations, however, received support from Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police chapter, as well as the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.

Weldon said the proposed regulations were modeled on other cities that have used similar systems for up to a decade, but acknowledged: “This is not perfect. There’s only so much we can do.”

Thursday’s meeting was held at Independence Hall Visitors Center, the first time IRRC has met outside Harrisburg.