The taxi industry is calling for a crackdown against operators dropping the title of taxi to become "private hire" services in a bid to avoid tougher security laws next month.
From August 1, all taxis must have cameras installed and all operators must run a 24-hour call centre as part of new laws aimed at making the industry safer.
But many taxi companies are struggling with the extra cost of the measures, so are becoming private hire services in a bid to save money, the Taxi Federation says.
In a bid to stop rogue operators, federation executive director Tim Reddish has written to Transport Minister Steven Joyce warning that "the natural flow-on from this will see the emergence of an "under the radar' mini-cab type operation that will have the potential to decimate the legitimate and fully compliant taxi industry".
Under operator licensing legislation, private hire cars must not be metered – instead carrying passengers at an agreed price – and they must also be prebooked.
But an article in the federation's industry magazine says taxi companies are ditching their approved taxi operator status and switching to private hire to avoid the new measures.
"Taxi companies ... convert to private hire in the belief they can do much the same thing without complying with existing taxi laws, let alone tough new rules on security cameras, dispatch systems and duress alarms."
Taxis Palmerston North's operations manager, Nigel Kinniburgh, said private hire was seen as the cheaper option by many operators, who were continuing to act like taxis because the law didn't specify how far in advance a booking had to be made.
"They're saying yes I can in 30 seconds ... They're essentially running a taxi company."
One Palmerston North service, The Naked Limo, was run by a late-night food operator and would drive customers home, he said.
But The Naked Limo owner Leighton Haar – a former mayoral candidate locally known as the "Naked Pie Man" – said his service was a legitimate alternative.
His cars were parked outside his Central Pie And Discount Smoke Shop because that was the base for the business. People had to come into the shop to book a service if they wanted a ride. "We turn away more than half of our people wanting bookings because they haven't prebooked."
People were choosing private hire option because it was often cheaper than taxis, he said.
Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said most private hire operators were legitimate services like limousines and wedding vehicles, but the agency was "focusing our attention" on the small number of services "competing illegally with approved taxi organisations by accepting casual hires without the prescribed requirement for a prebooking".
A separate operator in Palmerston North was prosecuted and fined $6632, with a month's suspension of his commercial drivers' licences.
"Where we find evidence of such illegal operations we will undertake prosecutions."
Mr Joyce said he was looking into the industry's concerns.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
A private hire service:Must not be on the road for the purpose of accepting a casual hire (whether the vehicle is cruising, stopped, standing or parked).
Cannot be fitted with any sign on the roof of the vehicle.
Must be booked in advance.
Can only charge a set fare or an hourly rate agreed with the prospective passenger at the time of booking and cannot use a taxi meter.
Must display operator identification.A taxi service:
Can pick up casual hires.
Must have a fitted roof sign.
Must clearly display fares and charges, and use a meter.
Must display operator identification.
From August 1, all taxi services must also:Have in-vehicle security cameras.
Run a 24-hour, seven-days-a week call-centre monitoring from a fixed location.
Operate an emergency alarm and response system.
- The Dominion Post
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