The Maryland Public Service Commission turned down a request Wednesday that would have allowed taxi companies to put security cameras instead of bullet-resistant shields in Baltimore cabs as a form of protection.

Baltimore Taxi Affiliation Services, which has 100 taxis under the Arrow Cab and Baltimore City Taxi names, asked the PSC in December to change a state regulation that requires protective guards in city cabs. Shields became mandatory in Baltimore in 1995.

During an administrative meeting Wednesday, Norma Reyes, a senior executive vice president with Baltimore Taxi, said the shields make the smaller, more fuel-efficient cars now being leased to drivers cramped and uncomfortable, especially during 12-hour shifts. Cameras, she said, provide just as strong a deterrent to crime.

She said the company has been replacing some of its bigger cars with hybrid vehicles to cut down on gasoline costs.

In a February report, the PSC's staff said security cameras might not stop crime as effectively as shields, "given the fact that a perpetrator's opportunity for harm increases without the barrier of the partition." The report added that since shields have been required for city taxis, few drivers have been assaulted and none have been killed.

Commissioner Lawrence Brenner, who said he worked as a taxi driver in the past, said he would not want a camera instead of a partition.

"It's not going to prevent access to a driver that a partition will," he said. "You're not going to convince me to change the regulation."

PSC members did not act on another request by Baltimore Taxi to allow the company to launch a pilot program to test the cameras. A PSC staff member said the company would need to file a separate request for such a program.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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