Imagine Whanganui without a dedicated taxi service.

That might be mildly inconvenient for many of us, but devastating for others and for the city.

Transport is essential and there are those for whom taxis are the only option.

Elderly who have long ago hung up their car keys still need to shop for groceries, pay bills, report to Winz, visit the doctor.

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Not all have family to assist and not all are physically up to taking a bus.

But it's not just the elderly for whom it is important that taxis exist.

Police rely on taxis to clear town after the pubs close. They do not want people loitering or walking home, as that is when nuisance crimes often happen.

Taxi companies are legally obliged to provide a seven-days-a-week, 24-hour service. That means many shifts are simply not profitable.

The industry has faced a barrage of competition over the years, not all of it fair.

Club and rest home vans and niche taxi firms operate in less regulated ways and have nibbled away at taxis' bread and butter clientele.

The rise of Uber, though not prevalent in Whanganui yet, and the promise of self-driving cars mean more challenges on the horizon.

So it is alarming when Rhondda Anderson of River City Cabs says that taxis in Whanganui are hurting.

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RCC was the first fleet in New Zealand to embrace hybrid cabs. It has invested in expensive mobility vans fitted with equally expensive hoists. Its drivers are on call around the clock. And, as Rhondda says, it has tried hard to keep its fares real.

It's hard to argue that people ought to catch a cab when a gold coin "donation" will get you home in a club courtesy van.

But we should be asking the question: Are taxis competing on a level playing field? Demonstrably, they are not.

And that needs to change lest we find ourselves thumbing a lift next time we need a ride somewhere.