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Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

Fare go - airport boss wants flat taxi fee to city

Dozens of cab passengers come forward after Herald raises issue.

Auckland Airport says it would like to have a fixed taxi fare price for the journey into the city to stop some drivers charging exorbitant fares - but it can't take any action until current contracts expire in 2016.

Drivers and taxi companies say they are charged high fees - up to $10,000 a year for each car - to operate from the airport and have to pass costs on to passengers.

The Herald has been flooded with readers' stories of inflated fares after we published a price comparison by global travel company CheapFlights that showed Auckland was the third most expensive of 24 international cities for catching a cab from its airport to the city centre.

We still want to hear your airport taxi horror stories. Email us here.

The average Auckland taxi fare was given as $3.50 a kilometre, two places behind the most expensive city, Berlin, at $4.06 a kilometre.

The Taxi Federation is looking into claims against one company, Auckland Black Cabs, after we reported it had charged one passenger almost $200 for a trip to the North Shore.

Read more:
$198 Auckland airport taxi: Taken for a ride
Avoiding sky-high taxi fares to the airport

Taxis in New Zealand are an unregulated industry and owners can charge whatever they like for their services, as long as the prices displayed in their cabs are the same as those registered with the Transport Agency.

Auckland Airport general manager Richard Barker said he would like to have a fixed fare for the trip from the airport to the city, but did not have the power to introduce it.

"While it's a deregulated market and I can't tell them what to do regarding price, I can and will let them know that I think it's a good idea."

But the Government says it will not step in to introduce a fixed rate system of the type used in some overseas cities to stop passengers being misled into paying too much.

Commerce Minister Craig Foss said he did not support a fixed-rate for the airport to city journey.

Fixed-rate systems are credited with solving similar issues in cities including Melbourne and New York.

"As a minister, no, but I fully support, and think there is an excellent opportunity for, reasonable taxi operators to set themselves apart to offer good deals for people."

He said the issue did not warrant government intervention.

It was up to the airport to choose providers who would best serve its customers.

Mr Barker said complaints about taxi charges had resulted in traffic concierges being employed to point people in the direction of transport options, and give advice about pricing.

New signs were being put up to make sure that information was even clearer.

Contracts with taxi companies did not expire until 2016, when he planned to reconsider the way they operated at the airport.

"I am going to be giving it a lot of thought because I want to make sure that our customers get competitive prices and pay fair prices, and I want the taxi business to be sustainable, so I am having a good hard look at how we structure."

Under the present system, about 670 drivers from eight registered companies are licensed to operate from a designated rank and a free-flow rank at the airport.

Drivers in the designated rank belong to companies that pay to have fewer spaces so each driver collects more fares. Drivers pay a $2 levy for each trip.

Companies recoup the costs by charging their drivers. The drivers, in turn, charge passengers airport pickup fees ranging from $5 to $8.

Auckland Co-op Taxis chairman Jacob Patel said it could cost up to $10,000 a year for one car to operate from the airport's free-flow ranks, as Black Cabs did.

He said his company bought airport access rights for 100 vehicles, at an annual cost of $7000 to $10,000 a car.

Mr Patel said he did not accept that other companies could deliver the service for less, despite seeing the lower prices quoted to the Herald.

"The waiting time could be between four and eight hours. That's why the tariff is high."

Sky Tower tiki-tour takes Kiwi for ride

Selena Pitman was horrified when her visiting sister was taken by taxi from Auckland Airport to Glen Eden - via the Sky Tower - at a cost of $98.

Vanessa Goulding returned to New Zealand in July to see Mrs Pitman, and after a long flight from the US with her two children caught a cab from the airport at 10pm on a Sunday night.

"They took her from the airport into the city and then got on to the Northwestern Motorway from the city. Every taxi driver would know that from the airport there is a Southwestern Motorway that goes to West Auckland - there is no reason to go into the city first."

Ohio-based Mrs Goulding had not lived in New Zealand for 15 years and was unfamiliar with the rate of a cab ride.

"She thought it was the standard fare, but I couldn't believe it.

"You would expect they are going to ... get you home the fastest most cost effective way, not the slowest most expensive way."

Another passenger who contacted the Herald said she was charged $7 in "luggage fees" for taking her handbag into the taxi.

An engineering consultant, who used a taxi from the airport to her home in Ellerslie, said the driver asked for the luggage charge on top of a $61 fare for the 15km ride.

"I was furious, I kept my luggage with me all the time and consider the size of it, it is only A4 in size.

"He did not even put my handbag in the car boot and he calls that luggage?"

Another passenger, Karen Akhtar, said she paid $88 for a 15-minute taxi ride to Papakura, which was more than the $80 for a night at the motel where she was staying.

A visitor from Melbourne, Murray McManemin, said he was charged $89.80 for his 18km trip from the airport to Parnell.

- Lincoln Tan

Out-of-towners at higher risk of rip-off, says cabbie

An Auckland cab driver says passengers travelling from the airport risk getting ripped off if they are not familiar with the route or taxi companies.

Yesterday, the Herald reported Christchurch businessman John Ascroft paid $198.40 for a 37.4km ride with Auckland Black Cabs to Albany, or $5.30 for every kilometre travelled.

Discount Taxis driver Peter Pese, 65, said a similar trip in his cab would cost between $65 and $70 - and would not exceed $100 even if traffic was heavy. "I would say the passenger here got ripped off, and that's what happens to people who are unfamiliar with the route or don't know the different charges by taxi companies here," said Mr Pese, a cab driver of 30 years.

Discount Taxis charges between $1.90 and $2.30 per kilometre travelled, and a standard $40 charge for a ride to the city from the airport.

He said passengers could avoid the risk of unexpectedly high fares by pre-arranging pick-ups from taxi companies and researching the estimated distance to their destination.

Mr Pese, who drives a 14-year-old Toyota Estima, says 40 per cent of what he earns goes to the company for licensing, levies and booking services.

However, an Auckland Co-op Taxis driver, who did not want to be named, said it was the airport that was "making the big bucks".

The driver of 22 years said he had to pay hundreds of dollars a week "just for the right to wait for passengers at the airport".

"If you take away our licensing, compliance and operating costs, the amount we earn is just barely above the minimum wage."

A Corporate Cabs driver, who also did not want to be identified, did not feel the $198.40 fare was excessive.

"In my cab, you would pay about $130 to $140 for the same ride," he said.

"But add in the long waiting time during peak-hour traffic jams, it could easily hit $190."

An Auckland Council spokesman said it was encouraging people to use public transport instead of taking taxis.

- Lincoln Tan

- NZ Herald

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