By CATHY ARONSON
New taxi drivers will face tougher language and area knowledge tests as transport authorities clamp down on poor service after years of complaints.
The Taxi Federation, which represents 70 of 150 taxi companies, says the standards and reputation of taxi drivers have plummeted since taxis were deregulated and Ministry of Transport exams were dropped in 1989.
Auckland taxi users the Weekend Herald spoke to yesterday told stories of drivers who couldn't find their way from the Airport to Auckland city, from downtown to Devonport and Queen St to Grey Lynn.
Even taxi drivers agreed the standard of knowledge was too low.
Tests are created by individual examiners based on Land Transport Safety Authority guidelines but the Taxi Federation claims the authority has not monitored the standards, allowing taxi drivers to pass with little effort.
Taxi drivers talked to by the Weekend Herald yesterday agreed it was too easy to pass the exam with poor English skills and little knowledge of the city.
Drivers can pass area knowledge tests based on 20 route questions, giving the address of 15 landmarks and pointing out buildings on a map.
The questions are created by each examiner and most are written or multiple choice.
The new standardised tests for each region from September have been created by the LTSA, which will randomly audit 10 per cent of examiners a year.
It will test drivers on 20 out of 40 possible routes and require them to give alternative routes for 10. They will have to find 23 buildings.
They will need to use a map to find a destination, using grid references, and know the direction of towns. Six out of eight sections have to be answered in English.
Taxi Federation spokesman George Tyler said that after deregulation taxi drivers quadrupled to about 7000, many of whom were immigrants and had poor English and knowledge of the area they were driving in.
"If they could find their way to the trainer's office that was enough to pass the test.
Consumer Institute chief executive David Russell said the new standards were long overdue.
"Passengers can't just walk out of the shop, they are captive in a taxi," he said.
An Albany man contacted the Weekend Herald outraged that his 18-year-old homestay student from Italy, Sveva, was dropped off 15 minutes from home in the middle of the night last Friday because the taxi driver did not know where to go.
Brent Simes said he gave Sveva a map showing how to get from Victoria St in Auckland to Albany.
But the Super Taxi driver still had to ask her how to get on the motorway and get home. She was dropped off in Browns Bay, 15 minutes away from home, at 11.45pm. The $30 trip cost $50.
"I was outraged. What kind of image do these incompetent drivers project to the rest of the world?"
Super Taxi owner Arshad Fayyaz said there was no proof it was his company but he admitted that many of his 200 taxi drivers did not know where they were going.
"I don't give them the licence, I can't take it off them," he said. "I'd like to, I'm sick of it too. I'm sick of telling them where to go, it's like they drive around with their eyes closed."
Mr Fayyaz said it took him three attempts to get his licence in the early 1980s and he welcomed moves to toughen the law.
Seven out of 10 taxi drivers the Weekend Herald talked to yesterday agreed it was too easy to pass the test. The other three could not understand the question.
Economy Taxi driver Praneet Sharma said LTSA should be in charge of the exams.
"There are too many people who do not know English. Too many don't know where they're going."
Land Transport Safety Authority Auckland manager Peter Kippenberger said it had not received complaints about examiners but had agreed to toughen the tests after passenger complaints.
THE NEW TEST
Candidates will have to:
Describe the routes for 20 out of 40 popular pick-ups and destinations.
Give an alternate route for 10 of them.
The answers must be in spoken English clearly understood by the examiner.
In Auckland, tell me how to get from the Railway Station to Vermont St in Ponsonby.
Answer: Beach Rd, Customs St, Fanshawe St, Halsey St, Victoria St West, Franklin Rd, Ponsonby Rd, Vermont St.