Passenger safety

This year is already shaping up to be another significant one for licensing, in particular for taxi licensing.

Nusrat Ghani MP, Minister for Taxis, will be speaking at the LGA’s annual licensing conference on 5 February, and we are hoping she will update us on the Government’s plans to strengthen the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) following recommendations made by a working group last autumn.

Also speaking will be Stacey Egerton, Senior Policy Officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who will be exploring some of the key issues around the use of cameras or CCTV systems in taxis and PHVs.

This is an area of increasing interest to councils, some of whom have already introduced a requirement for compulsory CCTV in licensed vehicles as a way to further safeguard both passengers and drivers.

“CCTV provides vital evidence in situations where otherwise it may have been one person’s word against another

For example, in Brighton & Hove, CCTV footage did not substantiate an allegation of sexual assault by a woman taking a taxi back to the university campus. All charges against the driver were dropped and the passenger was warned for wasting police time. But in another incident, CCTV and audio recording supported a victim’s account that a driver had been abusive and spat at her, and the council revoked the driver’s licence.

The LGA has published guidance for those councils considering mandating CCTV in taxis and PHVs, developed with the ICO and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. It brings together some of the questions authorities may want to consider if they are thinking about introducing a mandatory CCTV policy for licensed vehicles in their area.

The use of CCTV in taxis – whether cameras or cameras and audio recording – has clear benefits for both drivers and passengers. The presence of CCTV acts as a deterrent to criminal or other poor behaviour, and it provides vital evidence in situations where an incident has been reported, which otherwise may have been one person’s word against another.

There is, however, a balance that needs to be struck between passenger safety and privacy, an issue which the ICO as the key regulator has picked up and, in some cases, challenged authorities on.

Councils therefore need to think through the privacy implications of mandating CCTV, satisfy themselves that they have adequate justification for choosing this approach, and ensure the requirements of relevant legislation are met.

For example, the ICO has said that requiring continuous camera recording in a cab – as opposed to only when the driver is working – is likely to be disproportionate to the safety problem it is trying to address. The ICO also considers audio recording to be more intrusive than video recording, and therefore requiring stronger justification.

Used appropriately, CCTV can be – and is – a legitimate tool for councils to use to enhance safeguarding in licensing work. The LGA’s guidance provides advice on the practical issues that councils will need to consider, including considerations about privacy and proportionality. It gives a starting point for exploring some of the key issues and how these might apply at a local level.

‘Developing an approach to mandatory CCTV in taxis and PHVs’ is available free at www.local.gov.uk/publications. The LGA’s annual licensing conference takes place in London on 5 February. For more information and to book your place, please visit www.local.gov.uk/events

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