Readers of the Weekend Herald would have been appalled to learn of its experience last week with Auckland Co-op Taxis. A reporter doing an anonymous survey of taxi fares from Auckland Airport to the city was quoted $85 by the city's largest fleet. When we questioned the company about this, a spokeswoman for Co-op Taxis said the figure should have been $65. If this behaviour is typical, it is a disgrace.

Taxis at Auckland Airport are in the front line of tourism. They are frequently the first experience of New Zealand once the visitor has come through passport and baggage checks. Few first impressions can be worse than a taxi rip-off. The tourist might avoid taxis for the rest of the stay but the aftertaste never goes away. It can overshadow the person's memory of the country forever.

We have no doubt passengers are routinely being charged as much as $85. Yesterday, we reported that Black Cabs, owned by Auckland Co-op Taxis, last month charged an Australian couple $94 for the journey into the city.

The cheapest cab fare from the airport to the city is $35, which is about what it should be on the basis of international comparisons. The average fare is $77, or $3.50 a kilometre. The average rate in Australia is $1.75 a kilometre. New Zealand taxis were among the most expensive in the world in a table published by international travel company CheapFlights last month.


It is hard to know why this is so. If Auckland Airport severely restricted the number of companies allowed to wait on its ranks it would be inviting the favoured few to increase their prices.

But it allows eight companies to pick up passengers at its terminals, some from a designated rank for which they pay a premium, others from a free-flow rank. With eight companies in competition there should be no room for excessive pricing.

Customers should be able to compare the quality of cars and the fares on offer simply by walking along the rank inviting bids. If they find all drivers directing them to the first cab, they can be certain something is wrong.

The airport's general manager, Richard Barker, said he was concerned about excessive fares, especially the examples we reported yesterday, in which Black Cabs charged a Christchurch businessman nearly $200 to go from the airport to Albany and an Auckland family $155 for the journey to Devonport.

Taxi Federation president Roger Heale has undertaken to speak to Auckland Co-op about the fares its drivers are charging and the Co-op's compliance officer, Mark O'Brien, agrees the rates sound too high. But passengers should be checking fares before they get into a taxi, he says. Passengers should have to do no such thing.

Consumers Institute chief executive Sue Chetwin thinks the problem is a lack of a bargaining culture in New Zealand. In healthy industries, no such culture is needed. Everyone receives the going rate.

Aucklanders may have accepted the idea that taxi meters can click up $3.50 a kilometre, perhaps assuming the city's size and road congestion makes this rate necessary. If so, they should believe it no longer.

A reasonable rate is more like $1.75 a kilometre. If Australian urban taxis can run at that rate, so can Auckland's. Unless taxis can offer a more reasonable charge from the airport, tourists would be warned to avoid them.

Shuttles or the express bus to Britomart ($16) are much better value. One day a railway might get there. Unless taxis reduce their rate for travelling from the airport, they are going to face ever longer waits for a fare.

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