Taxis charging a king's ransom in rural areas

David Chinnery-Brown stands next to his taxi in Carterton.
JACK BARLOW/FAIRFAX NZ

David Chinnery-Brown stands next to his taxi in Carterton.

Taxi fares in rural areas of New Zealand can end up costing more than taking a similar trip in big cities such as Paris or New York.

It appears it might even be cheaper to rent a car and drive yourself than it is to use a taxi.

Figures received by Stuff show that it can cost anywhere between $50 and $80 for a 15-minute taxi ride in a rural area. 

For example, it costs up to $60 to get between the neighbouring Wairarapa towns of Masterton and Carterton, something Carterton-based New Zealand First MP Ron Mark knows all too well.

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However, Mark doesn't blame the taxi companies.

"The market only absorbs what it's capable of absorbing," he said.

"It'd be nice if there were more taxis out and about, but the operators can only do what's operationally profitable. If you don't want to use one, make a plan and use a sober driver."

Like many regional centres, Wairarapa has fairly minimal public transport services. During the week the last bus out of Masterton leaves at 5.20pm, while the last train leaves at 3.40pm. There is a special 8.20pm train service on Fridays, but weekend trains are even less regular. 

Mark said more trains between Masterton and Wellington, in particular, would help the transport situation.

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Masterton Radio Taxis director David Chinnery-Brown said the cost of taxis in Wairarapa was little different to those anywhere else in the country.

"Flagfall is $5, and it's $3 a kilometre after that.

"Get a taxi from the middle of Wellington to the Hutt and see how much that costs you."

Still, for many small town residents the cost is simply too steep. 

In May, former Masterton resident Mike Rigg found himself needing to get from Masterton to Carterton to pick up his car. Thinking a taxi would be the easiest option, he gave a Masterton taxi company a ring.

"I called the taxi man and he said it was going to cost $60," he said.

Put off by the cost, Rigg hung up and decided to hitchhike instead. After walking a kilometre down the road, he was picked up and reunited with his car.

"If the (taxi) price was $25 to $35 it would be decent, but $60 seems a bit extreme," he said.

For example, for $60 you can hire a rental car for the day  and drive up and down for 200km before being charged extra.

There have been calls for ridesharing services like Uber to enter rural communities, because they are usually much cheaper with the average trip costing between $6 and $20. 

Though Uber has 300,000 passengers and 4000 active drivers registered in New Zealand, it has no plans to expand outside the country's urban centres. 

But there could be changed ahead.

In a written statement, Associate Minister of Transport Tim Macindoe said the Land Transport Amendment Bill could open up more options.

"We're working on legislative changes at the moment to make it easier for people to operate small passenger services (like taxis) and promote car-pooling," he wrote.

"We know that New Zealanders want choice, and through this bill we're creating a more level playing field for operators so that people can have more choices in the future."

TAXI FARES COUNTRY WIDE - A COMPARISON 

Masterton to Carterton, 15 kilometres/15 minutes, $60
Napier to Hastings, 20 kilometres/23 minutes, $70
Palmerston North to Feilding, 18 kilometres/17 minutes, $80
Wellington airport to Te Papa, 7.1 kilometres/16 minutes, $35
Wellington airport to Newlands, 17 kilometres/22 minutes, $80 
Auckland Sky Tower to Birkenhead, 9 kilometres/17 minutes, $30
Christchurch airport to Hagley Park, 10 kilometres/18 minutes, $42
Dunedin to Mosgiel, 16 kilometres/15 minutes, $50
(Credit: local area taxi companies)

LONDON
The British Museum to Abbey Road Studios, 3.2 miles (5 kilometres)/14 minutes, 15 pounds ($28.40)
The British Museum to Wembley, 10.9 miles (17.5 kilometres)/29 minutes, 47 pounds ($89)

PARIS
Moulin Rouge to Musee Rodin, 4.4 kilometres/15 minutes, 18 euros ($29)
Moulin Rouge to Garges-les-Gonesse, 14.5 kilometres/31 minutes, 34 euros ($54)

NEW YORK
Empire State Building to Children's Museum of the Arts, 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometres)/16 minutes, $16.90 ($25)
Empire State Building to Jersey City, 8.4 miles (13.5 kilometres)/29 minutes, $40 ($58)
(Credit: taxifarefinder.com)

FIVE OF THE WORST TAXI JOURNEYS
* The cross town rip-off:
In 2014, Auckland Black Cabs was investigated after charging a businessman nearly $200 for a trip from Auckland airport to Albany. "I am horrified that someone could be charged that much," Auckland Airport general manager Richard Barker told the New Zealand Herald.

* Social media goes awry:
The Victorian Taxi Association thought they were onto a winner when they launched an online campaign, ostensibly to encourage positive stories about taxis in Melbourne. It backfired horribly. Tweets flooded in about angry behaviour, exorbitant fares and complaining cabbies. "So, that @yourtaxis campaign seems to be working well... " one Twitter user wrote.

* A nightmare in East Timor:
Stacey Addison's trip of a lifetime took a dark turn when she caught a taxi with the wrong person. The American veterinarian happened to be in a cab with a stranger who was transporting illegal drugs; police swooped, and everyone in the taxi was arrested. Addison spent six long months in an East Timor prison before finally being set free.

* No meters in Malaysia:
Time and again, taxi drivers in Malaysia manage to top the list of the world's worst cabbies. One intrepid Malaysian reporter found the dismaying rumours to be mostly on the mark. "The cabbies I encountered may not have been as nasty and rude as they have been made out to be," writer Natalie Heng said, "but when it comes to refusing to use the meter and fleecing the passenger, it seems all too sadly true."

* The one that wasn't: 
In 2016, swimmer Ryan Lochte's story of being held at gunpoint during the Rio Olympics - after catching a ride in a famously sketchy Brazilian taxi - made headlines around the world. Only, as it turned out, it wasn't true: Lochte and three others had actually drunkenly vandalised a petrol station, then tussled with a security guard. Lochte was suspended from swimming for 10 months.

 - Sunday Star Times

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