By Alexandra Newlove
The lack of evening public transport in Whangarei is again under the spotlight, with bar owners and restaurateurs saying a forum is needed to address the problem.
Getting a taxi at night in Whangarei has been a lottery for many years, with patrons waiting hours for taxis which never come.
Michelle Payne said she was heading to a quiz night recently with friends and called in the morning to book two taxis to her Tikipunga house. One eventually arrived - very late - and the rest of the group were forced to drive in.
She said the situation had been the same since she was in her 20s, some 15 years ago: "We would wait on the street for hours."
"I don't really drink now and half the reason is someone always needs to drive. It's hopeless," she said.
Brad Flower, Rynoz Bar & Grill owner, said while the police kept saying drink drivers needed to "make better choices", often people were left with no way of getting home at the end of a night out.
He said the One Way Door system made it more important for people to have transport soon after they left a bar, as they could not get back in. The One Way Door meant patrons could stay in a bar until 3am, but could not get into one after 1am.
"I've had women saying they've ended up in tears on the footpath, they've become separated from friends or their driver and can't get a taxi."
Mr Flower said he thought the council should organise to get together with the hospitality and taxi industries to solve the problem.
"The council identify getting a more vibrant night life in the CBD yet people, whose sole purpose is not to get drunk, will not come into town as they cannot get home," Mr Flower said.
Fleet manager for A1 Taxis, Shaun Williams, acknowledged there were not enough cabs on Friday and Saturday nights.
"But we can't rely on that work alone. During the week we've got too many," Mr Williams said. There were fewer corporate contracts in Whangarei to keep the firms busy.
The company had tried to hire more part-time drivers in Whangarei, but many people could not pass the police vetting check or were not willing to work those hours, he said.
Some of the full-time drivers were also reluctant as late nights meant people who ran off without paying, unruly drunken passengers and even assaults on drivers.
"It's unfortunate for the genuine patrons who are just trying to get home," Mr Williams said. "It's very much a balancing act with us and Kiwi Cabs are in the same boat."
Dozens of others shared their taxi-related troubles when the Advocate asked online.
Ceri Smith said: "I'm not exactly in town most weekends but the last 3 or 4 times I have had a night out it's at least a 3- [to] 4-hour wait for a taxi. Once I just decided to walk home, it was way too cold to wait, but it was a scary wander home that's for sure."
Northland Police District Prevention Manager Inspector Dean Robinson said there had been a general decrease in disorder in Whangarei CBD, thanks to the One Way Door system.
"With regards to people getting home safely, we advise you should always organise alternative transport options, regardless of where you're travelling to and whether or not you've consumed alcohol, he said.
"We don't want to be advising a family that they have lost a loved one because of the way a person has been driving, alcohol, speed or not wearing a seat belt while travelling in Te Taitokerau."