Hailing a taxi system to drive away airport rip-offs

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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When Auckland Airport General Manager – Retail and Commercial Richard Barker (above) and his colleagues met today with taxi operators to outline changes in the airport tender system for cab licences, they may have had to don their hard hats.

Cab drivers, especially it seems those who frequent airports, are among the most hard-nosed commercial operators on the planet. For years, I have avoided at all (punitive) costs taking a black cab from Heathrow Airport to my home in West London rather than run the gauntlet of sighing, fretting, moaning drivers who complain that they have queued for ages and then been stuck with a “short” ride (at least 30 minutes and the equal numbers of Pounds sterling…).

On another occasion when staying at an airport hotel just a few minutes from Sydney Airport, I made the near-fatal mistake of asking a taxi driver at the wheel of a people carrier if he was “an airport hotel pick-up”.

“Do I f****** look like an airport hotel pick-up mate?” he snarled, marginally less menacing than a Doberman guard dog that had been starved for a month and then offered the opportunity to dine on my left leg. I practically had to pinch myself (but didn’t as that would have made me a Doberman Pincher) to believe that a public servant could be so breathtakingly rude.

Given that it’s the major gateway to my home country, I’ve used Auckland Airport cabbies on numerous occasions. One should avoid sweeping generalisations (as in ‘All broom shops are rip-offs’) so just let’s just say their reputation for value for money is patchy. In fact a CheapFlights investigation in 2014 concluded that rides from Auckland Airport were among the most expensive in the world – the third-most pricey per-kilometre (behind Berlin and San Jose, the latter’s inclusion no doubt spawning the popular hit ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?’) from 24 locations surveyed.

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A related New Zealand Herald investigation found that some Auckland taxi companies were quoting price tags up to NZ$86 (US$58) for a trip to the central business district — more than the price of some domestic flights — that others were delivering for just NZ$35. NZ Taxi Federation President Roger Heale argued rather feebly that fares reflected the cost of living in Auckland and that pricier companies delivered a more reliable service. “If you went by Auckland Co-op [one of the more expensive operators] 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 NZ$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.”

Mmm… generally I hire a cabbie for his directional skills rather than his linguistic abilities (in fact I often feel some London black cabs would be a more pleasant experience if their highly opinionated drivers had no linguistic abilities whatsoever) and I’m not quite sure I have ever experienced a ‘non-compliant’ cab, budget or otherwise.

As Barker noted in his release, we live in an age of alternatives, led by Uber and other consumer-friendly options. Pertinently, he said that growth in on-demand taxi trips from the airport had not kept pace with the growth in passenger numbers. Whatever certain cab firms think, consumers are not stupid.

Auckland’s initiative (based partly on a flat licence fee rather than differing bids – click here for details) is welcome and should be studied closely by others. The so-called “taxi rip-off” is one of the most common criticisms of airports around the world, right up there in damaging the industry’s reputation with over-priced bottled water, security delays and the one-bag rule.

Definitely a taxi (system) to be hailed. And perhaps the death knell to the old joke: Who earns a living driving their customers away? A cab driver.”

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