More Chicago cabs to get cameras

April 23, 2010 (CHICAGO)

About 1,000 cameras are already in city cabs, and the Chicago Tribune says more are on the way. The cameras photograph passengers as they get in and out of the vehicles and take a panoramic view of the cab's interior.

Cabs must have signs informing passengers they are being photographed. Drivers who feel threatened can push a panic button to get even more pictures of the passengers.

Three years ago, Chicago officials changed an ordinance to allow cameras in taxis. Most drivers say they will feel safer once security cameras are along for the ride.

The tiny cameras sit above the rearview mirror and take a panoramic picture of the inside of the cab when someone gets in or the meter is turned on, as well as when the passenger leaves the cab. The data is stored in a separate compartment.

The drivers say plastic partitions are not enough to protect them.

"I always pray to my god to save me, because this is not good enough," said Safiu Jinedu, noting the lack of protection he feels from the plastic dividers.

Last month, cab driver Patrick Foster was shot five times by a man who posed as a passenger, then got into the cab and tried to rob Foster. But as cameras go into Chicago's nearly 7,000 taxicabs, some passengers don't like the possibility of Big Brother watching.

"I have mixed emotions because I think in some ways I feel safer, and I feel safe with the partition. But I don't know how I feel about someone viewing me," said Nita Hollander, cab passenger. "I think that's an invasion of my privacy. I would feel very uncomfortable with that."

"Take a shot. It shoots the picture. So everybody from the cab, if you open up the camera, they can see everyone that enters this cab," said Selvin Quire, cab driver.

In 2007, the city's Department of Consumer Affairs backed a change in the law allowing owners to install cameras. At an estimated $900 to $1,300 each, some cab companies have been slow to embrace the high tech move, unlike Chicago's Carriage Cab and Royal 3 C Taxi Cab Association, which began installing the cameras years ago when it started upgrading its aging fleet.

"Actually, we started installing in the handicap vans and hybrids," said Edward Sheinin of Chicago Carriage Cab Company. "We have approximately 49 vehicles already on the road."

The ordinance allows only the police and select officials to access the data. Cab companies cannot view the data.

New York and L.A. are among the cities that are already using cab cameras.

It is possible that all cabs could have cameras by the year 2012.

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