Morgan Tait

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

Flat rate taxi fares offered after outrage over charges

Green Cabs brings in set fee for airport passengers to three areas.

Lindsay Gibbons owns Island Taxis, which offers the cheapest service at $3/km on Waiheke Island. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lindsay Gibbons owns Island Taxis, which offers the cheapest service at $3/km on Waiheke Island. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A taxi company operating from Auckland Airport has introduced fixed-fare rates to the city and North Shore after Herald stories about some drivers overcharging passengers.

Auckland Airport will start conducting mystery tests on taxis to audit their pricing and has called for tighter Commerce Commission controls on the industry. And Labour has challenged the Government to police rogue operators and to sort out Auckland's traffic woes to help reduce fares and travelling times.

Green Cabs yesterday announced it would charge flat fares of $65 to the city, $97 to Takapuna and $110 to Albany for airport passengers.

Managing director Callum Brown said: "If you get stuck in traffic, you just watch the meter go up and up and up so this is meant to take away a lot of that anxiety."

Read more:
Former cabbie: Three-year struggle soul-destroying
Airport boss wants flat taxi fee to city

The move came after the Herald reported Auckland's ranking as the third most expensive city for catching a taxi from the airport to the city centre. We have also reported stories of passengers being charged too much - including one man who paid $198 for a trip from the airport to the North Shore.

Auckland Airport general manager Richard Barker welcomed Green Cabs' decision and hoped other taxi companies would follow suit.

The Herald contacted the remaining eight taxi brands that operate from the airport. Of the companies that responded, only Auckland Taxi Service said it would consider implementing a similar universal fixed rate for all customers.

Corporate Cabs and Auckland Co-op Taxis - which also owns Black Cabs - said they would not implement a fixed fare.

Consumer NZ chief executive Suzanne Chetwin supported the introduction of a fixed fare. "It works well in other cities and I travelled to places like New York and it's fantastic, you don't have to worry about what the cab's going to do."

Mr Barker said he would welcome Commerce Commission controls to reduce the number of taxi companies at the airport.

Commerce Minister Craig Foss said the Government had no plans to introduce controls.

Labour's spokesman for commerce Clayton Cosgrove said the NZ Transport Agency needed to investigate price complaints, but the main problem was traffic congestion.

"The ultimate fix I think to get costs down is to fix traffic problems. If you can get it down to a half an hour commute from the airport to the city ... you might halve your taxi cost."

Herald readers have also raised questions about a rail link from city to airport.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Government's priority for improving access to the airport was to upgrade the main road link to the airport, State Highway 20A.

"Rail is a very expensive option and there are no immediate plans to extend rail to the airport," he said. "The [NZTA] is involved in work considering options for improving transport access to the airport and for public transport in the short to medium term this will involve bus network improvements over rail."

NZ Transport Agency records show there are 111 Approved Taxi Organisations (ATOs) in New Zealand, 41 of which operate from Auckland and five of which pay to operate from Auckland Airport.

In the year to June 30, the NZTA dealt with 184 complaints against ATOs. Over-charging was the third most common complaint, with 17 cases relating to the offence. The most common issue was driver behaviour, with 38 complaints.

Shopping around pays off for Waiheke Island travellers

It's not just taxi fares from Auckland's airport causing consternation.

Visitors to Waiheke Island say it pays to shop around after one company raised its tariff to $8 per km.

Island Taxis, run by Lindsay Gibbons, is the cheapest of four companies operating there. It charges between $3 and $3.50 per km with a $2 flagfall. The most expensive, Independent Taxis, charges up to $8 per km for groups of five or more with a $4 flagfall.

A 3km ride the Herald took between Waiheke's main township of Oneroa and the nearby suburb of Surfdale was metered at $20.60 on Independent Taxis - although we were offered a discounted fare of $15 - but just $9.20 on Island Taxis.

Independent Taxis owner Chris France defended the high tariffs, saying it was the only way the company, which has four vehicles, could remain in business.

"The full fares are rarely charged but what it does is that it allows us to charge that amount if we have to," Mr France said.

"We offer locals and regulars discounted fares of up to 50 per cent."

With higher fuel and vehicle maintenance costs than on the mainland, short trips and a heavy dependence on the ferry service, drivers "could not survive" if the charges were any lower, he argued.

"Most of the passengers who come here use taxis to get to Cable Bay or Mudbrick [vineyards] which is just 2km to 3km from the Matiatia ferry terminal," said Mr France. "There would not be any incentive for drivers if they had to wait an hour for the ferry to get in and then do a $13 fare to Mudbrick under our old rate and all they get to pocket is half of that."

By increasing the tariffs, it now cost about $23 for a trip to Mudbrick.

Geoff Jewitt, who runs Waiheke Executive Taxis and charges $4.70 per km, believed his tariffs were fair because his company offered "better vehicles, higher reliability and service".

Regulars and locals pay only $3.60 through a loyalty scheme, and he offers full refunds for anyone who complains about his company's service.

"We unashamedly have a higher charge because we offer a superior service," he said.

Mr Jewitt said most of the business on Waiheke was "one-way journeys" which meant cabbies had to factor in the "empty" return trip.

Retiree Carol Pulman, of Onetangi, who uses the taxi service about once a month, said locals were often not affected by the high fares because they were often given "mates' rates".

She and three others, who shared a taxi from Onetangi to Matiatia, were charged just $35 for the 10km journey.

Shopping around also paid off for German tourist Vicky Baecker, 47, and her two friends, who found out paying $12 for a taxi into town was cheaper than $5 each on the shuttle bus.

An all-day bus pass for the island costs $9, but is included with tours run by Fullers.

- Lincoln Tan

nzherald.co.nz

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