Catching a cab downtown from Auckland Airport has been labelled one of the most expensive taxi fares in the world by an international travel company.
According to a CheapFlights comparison of prices in 24 cities, New Zealand has the third most expensive per-kilometre taxi fares.
And a Herald investigation has found some Auckland taxi companies quoting price tags up to $86 for a trip — more than the price of some domestic flights — that other companies can deliver for just $35.
The report, released last month but based on data from March 2013, found the average price of travelling the 21.4km route from Auckland Airport to the city's CBD was $77.41 — or $3.50/km.
The New Zealand price was surpassed only by fares in Berlin that were $4.06/km, and San Jose in Costa Rica that were $3.59/km.
Auckland cabs were 10 times more expensive than in the cheapest city, Buenos Aires, and twice the $1.75/km people using Australian taxis were paying.
Consumer NZ chief executive Suzanne Chetwin said the survey results confirmed anecdotes about the ever-increasing cost of Auckland's airport journey. "[The survey] just confirms that it is very expensive to get to or from Auckland Airport and it just seems to have got dramatically more expensive over the last few years."
The Herald's comparison of six taxi companies or taxi booking services showed an average per-kilometre pricing of $3.03 per kilometre for the journey from the domestic terminal to Britomart.
The most expensive price was $86.55 with Corporate Cabs through Air New Zealand's booking service, taxi.co.nz, but the premium service was just $1.55 more than the $85 price quoted for Auckland Co-op Taxis' standard service.
CheapCabs offered the best priced taxi service, a $35 flat rate, while the Airbus Express service was the cheapest overall option at $16 for a bus ride.
A spokeswoman for Auckland Co-op Taxis said the fare was actually $65, and its operator had misquoted when the Weekend Herald made an anonymous inquiry.
She said the company used a schedule of meter-driven rates that changed depending on day, time and type of vehicle.
CheapCabs manager Carol Ramsay said the company did not charge its 150 drivers any overheads for joining its fleet, a factor she believed kept prices low. "I think what the public don't realise in Auckland is that there is a price difference between taxi companies."
Lower price did not mean a lesser service, she said. NZ Taxi Federation president Roger Heale said fares reflected the price of living here and that pricier companies delivered a more reliable service. "If you went by Auckland Co-op you are guaranteed a compliant car and if something went wrong you could fall back on the company and if you couldn't fall back on the company you could fall back on the Fed. For your $35 you would have got a rubbish car with a driver who may or may not speak very good English — you pay your money and take your chance, it's an official company versus any Tom, Dick or Harry."
He said airports also charged hefty levies to companies that drivers had no choice but to pass on to customers.
The system at Auckland Airport sees about 600 drivers from eight registered companies licensed to operate from a designated rank and a free-flow rank on the premises.
Drivers in the designated rank belong to companies that pay for the privilege of fewer spaces so each driver collects more fares, and all drivers paid a $2 levy for each trip.
Ms Chetwin said part of the problem was the lack of a bartering culture in New Zealand, where consumers took rates at face value. "Potentially New Zealanders aren't that good at negotiating prices, so they just accept what they are told, but if they — before they get into the taxi — negotiate a fare with the driver then that might ensure they give you the cheapest."