Cab Wild West

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Queenstown has become “the Wild West of the taxi industry” since rules were relaxed in October, New Zealand’s taxi boss says.

More than 40 cabs have joined local ranks in the past six months and national taxi federation head honcho John Hart is concerned some are ripping off tourists and drunk locals.

Under new legislation, taxis don’t need signs, meters aren’t necessary and it’s easier for cabbies to get passenger and transport service licences.

Last month, Hart was contacted by a local whose daughter, after a night on the town, found she’d been stung $242 in three transactions to travel from the CBD to Fernhill. That’s usually about a $15-$18 fare.

Hart: “Somebody has been prepared to take advantage of her because she’d been drinking, so how else are they prepared to take advantage of her?”

He’s also concerned that he’s jumped in local cabs where “people were just filling in after their regular jobs” – becoming a risk to other road users.

Queenstown Taxis driver Richard Wood claims some new cabbies are charging twice as much as his company’s rates – “you hear they’re charging $140 out to Arrowtown, $80 to the Hilton”.

And Martin Amott, Green Cabs’ South Island operations manager, alleges “they’re preying on tourists”.

He fears it’s damaging Queenstown’s reputation.

“We’re an international destination and people are travelling in these vehicles.

“They’re getting ripped off and they leave with a bad image of Queenstown.”

Queenstown Taxis boss Grant Scannell, an NZ Taxi Federation board member, plans to raise concerns with Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd.

“My drivers are hearing about [rip-offs] on a daily basis.”

He and Amott also note that many new cabbies charge a minimum $15, even for short trips.

But claims some new cabbies are overcharging visitors don’t wash with Amir Malik, who joined the ranks as a self-employed driver last October.

“For me, it’s a small town, if you are greedy, you will be exposed, and people will start complaining about it,” Malik says.

In fact he says he charges visitors less than the going rate, while also giving locals a good deal.

The $15 minimum claim is rubbish, he says.

“If somebody’s doing it, that’s totally unacceptable. I’m not aware of it.”

While some newbies might be greedy, that equally applies, Malik says, to some drivers working for established companies.

He’s complained about discrimination towards new drivers. And he’s written to councillors about fears self-employed drivers will be ousted from the Camp Street rank.

Scannell, meanwhile, wants council to keep a register of every cab and their owners, and wants full signage on all cabs – not just the roof sign ‘taxi’ required by a local bylaw.

“Anybody can come down the road and put a cardboard sign on their roof and you don’t know what you’re getting into.”

NZ Transport Agency spokeswoman Frances Adank says it does ensure all people driving cabs are licensed to do so, and will check on local cabbies several times a year “to ensure they are abiding by the rules and that their vehicle is road-worthy”.

scoop@scene.co.nz