Plans to introduce roving teams of private security guards to combat violence against Melbourne taxi drivers will encourage "vigilante justice", according to Allan Fels, who has denounced the idea as a dangerous publicity stunt.
The Taxi Industry Inquiry head said a plan by the state's largest taxi network 13CABS to take safety matters into its own hands and introduce "tiger teams", consisting of a security guard and a mediator, to rush to the aid of taxi drivers on weekends was a "macho" and "intimidatory" tactic.
"It sounds like vigilante justice. It sounds like this is more a matter for police," Professor Fels told radio station 3AW today.
"I'm concerned with the innocent passenger who's in there maybe querying their fare, and suddenly these two people, one brains, one brawn, arrives. Say the passenger wants to get out. Can they physically restrain the person, put a headlock on them, while the police arrive? What about all the passengers who are completely innocent? This is quite intimidatory to them."
Under the plan, being launched this morning by 13CABS with the support of Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, concerned cab drivers will be able hit a duress button that will alert the company's headquarters, and three tiger teams circling the city will rush to their aid.
Professor Fels, whose final report into Victoria's $1.8 billion taxi industry was tabled in parliament this month, said cab drivers already had duress alarms, but, at present, about half those calls were ignored because the taxi companies believed them to be false alarms.
Professor Fels said there were, on average, about five attacks a night on taxi drivers in Melbourne at weekends, which was a serious problem.
But he believed the tiger teams, which would travel in vehicles featuring a tiger head painted on the side, were not the right way to tackle the problem.
"I do not think, looking at how they handle duress calls at the moment, how they put profits ahead of safety, that this is necessarily a really [fair] dinkum approach. It sounded a bit more like a publicity stunt to be frank," he said.
Instead, he said Victoria should begin introducing purpose-built taxis with a safety screen protecting the driver, similar to cabs in London.
"But that really requires that we build taxis that are fit for the purpose, instead of using Fords and Toyotas and so on and then putting these unwieldy screens in that don't work. Most drivers won't have them," he said.
Professor Fels has called for the the cost of taxi licences to be slashed from $500,000 so that more money could be spent on driver safety.