Tourist charged $930 taxi fare for a 5-minute Wellington trip

A Scottish tourist charged $930 for a five-minute taxi ride in Wellington is returning home on Tuesday seriously out of pocket.

To add insult to injury John Barrett tipped the driver for good service. 

Barrett is angry about the financial loss, and frustrated that authorities and his credit card company have so far been unable to help him recover the huge bill for the short trip from Wellington Railway station to a Johnston St apartment. 

"I honestly don't know what else to do."

The case is no surprise to Taxi Federation executive director John Hart who receives at least one complaint a week about overcharging. 

"We've had many other instances of this sort of thing but none at this level.

"These are the ones we're hearing of, but I think there are probably a whole lot more, and the concern would be that visitors from overseas are being ripped off."

Hart said deregulation of the taxi industry made it difficult to track down taxi drivers working as independent operators, even when customers had retained an eftpos receipt. 

Barrett and his wife arrived by bus on January 21 and jumped in the first taxi parked on the rank outside the railway station. 

It was a white car with "Wellington" on the roof sign, and the male driver displayed a photo ID card.

"There was nothing at the time that made us think anything was wrong," Barrett said. 

At their apartment the meter reading was under $10, but Barrett said the driver's hand obscured the top of the card reader so he did not see the amount he was actually charged, and he did not get a receipt.

Later that day he was shocked when his MasterCard Travelex card was refused at a supermarket, and on checking his statement that he discovered the $930 charge from "Taxi Wellington." 

If the driver had accidentally put the decimal point in the wrong place, Barrett said the error should have been picked up by now and rectified. 

After an internet search failed to find a taxi company with the name that appeared on his statement, Barrett contacted Wellington Combined Taxis thinking it was an umbrella organisation for all taxis in the region.

But after checking its records, the taxi company said the driver concerned was not one of theirs.

Barrett also approached several other Wellington taxi operators and a company that supplied eftpos units to independent taxi drivers, all to no avail.

He said MasterCard initially referred him back to "Taxi Wellington" for a refund, and the matter is now in the hands of the card disputes team.

Channary, who did not want to give his surname, from Wellington Amalgamated Taxis, was one of those Barrett called in an attempt to track his taxi driver down. 

He did not know what taxi service Barret had used but said several independent drivers were operating out of the capital using old roof signs from a now-defunct Wellington taxi company.

Channary said the company had closed down but drivers had continued to use the signs while operating as independents, a story confirmed by two other drivers at Wellington Railway station on Monday afternoon.

"The law has been changed now a lot of people have been doing their own taxi."

"They just put their old roof sign on and then they're able to drive it, that's legal now."

He is still hoping to learn the merchant's identity so he can pass it onto Wellington police. 

When Barrett phoned the Transport Agency the woman he spoke to referred him to the Wellington City Council.

He had already filled in an online council complaint form thinking that, as in Britain, local authorities maintained taxi registers, and he is still awaiting a response.

"I'm in a complete loop I cannot break out of because I cannot get the contact details for this taxi company."

Barrett approached the Taxi Federation for advice and Hart said that it was difficult for customers to get redress for overcharging. 

"Under the new legislation the transport agency doesn't have any responsibility for that; it has to be referred to the Disputes Tribunal, and you have to know what that is."

However, a transport agency spokesman said that in serious cases like this one it would investigate.

"We would, however, need to be able to identify the driver concerned. We urge people to contact us with any serious concern relating to a passenger service provider."

A driver's fit and proper person status to hold a passenger endorsement could be reviewed if they could be shown to have broken the law, for example, claiming $930 for a $10 agreed fare, the spokesman said.