Taxi fares can be baffling. We explain how fares are made up, how to read the meter, your rights as a passenger, and what you can expect from the driver.

Fare breakdown

To work out how your taxi fare is calculated you need to understand the 3 main components:

  • Flag fall
  • Tariff or rate
  • Extras

Flag fall

This is the cost of getting into the cab. You're up for this charge before the cab even leaves the kerb.

A cheaper flag fall doesn't necessarily mean a cheaper trip as some firms combine cheap flag falls with more expensive tariffs to add up to a more expensive fare overall.

Tariff or rate

The tariff or rate is the cost to travel 1 kilometre. Taxi firms often use different tariffs depending on the time of day or night. Some use different tariffs when 4 or more passengers are in the vehicle.

As with all taxi fare information, the tariffs must be clearly shown outside and inside the car. This includes information about what tariffs apply at different times of the day. Many taxi companies are simplifying their fare calculations by using one tariff around the clock. Taxi meters automatically reduce the tariff when the cab is stationary or going slower than 20km/h. They then switch to a waiting rate calculated by the minute.

The flag fall is combined with the tariff and the total is displayed on the taxi meter.

Extras

Extras are other expenses that are unrelated to the time or distance of the journey. The most common extras are a charge for booking the cab over the phone and a charge for catching a cab to or from an airport which is paid to the airport authority. Some companies also use extras to charge more for late night/early morning trips, or for carrying bikes or other large items. You'll also be up for $100 or so if you "soil" the cab.

Taxi meters allow cabbies to add extra fees to any journey. If you don't know why you are being asked to pay extras, ask the cabbie. They must be able to explain what you are paying for. Extras are displayed on the taxi meter in their own window.

More? You want more?

At the end of the journey the extras are added to the tariff costs to give the total fare. But wait, there can be more. If you choose to pay with a credit card, eftpos or voucher, most firms expect you to pay an extra couple of dollars on top of the fare. This isn't displayed on the meter. All such fees must be clearly displayed inside and outside the cab.

How to read a taxi meter

Rate
Many companies use one rate for all business. But some use different rates at night or on public holidays. Some use different rates for journeys that start or finish outside their usual territory.

Hired
The taxi meter must remain on hired for the entire journey. It is illegal for the driver to turn the meter off during the ride.

Fare
This is a combination of the flag fall and the mileage rate accrued during the journey.

Extras
Extras may be charged for phone bookings, heavy luggage, or airport fees. If extras are added to your fare and you don't know why, ask the driver to explain them.

Seal All meters are regularly tested and must be kept sealed with wire and a metal tag.

Driver ID
All cab drivers must clearly display their photo ID in the cab. Ask for it if you don't see it.

Cab number
Every cab has a number. The numbers are not unique but relate to the cab company's fleet. To identify a specific vehicle you need to know the company and the cab number.

Your rights as a passenger

  • You can choose any cab waiting at the taxi rank. You do not need to take the first in line.
  • A taxi driver may not refuse to take you just because you only want to go a short distance.
  • Taxi drivers should always take you to your destination using the shortest or most advantageous route. Sometimes drivers will take a different route because they have information about traffic or road works.
  • Your driver must get permission from you before they can allow other people to ride in the taxi with you.
  • All complaints made to a taxi company are recorded in a complaints register. If you are not satisfied with the level of service you receive, contact the taxi company directly. If the matter is serious or concerns criminal activity, you should contact the Police and the New Zealand Transport Agency.

What you can expect from the driver

Taxi drivers are required to have an area knowledge certificate for every area where they pick up passengers. This means your driver should have a good understanding of most areas they work in. Taxi drivers may occasionally refer to a map or GPS to find less well-known addresses. Your driver should also have a working knowledge of English.

You can expect your driver to act in an orderly and civil manner, drive safely at all times and to provide a clean, safe vehicle for your journey. A taxi is a workplace - smoking is not permitted by either you or the driver.

Market forces

The taxi industry was very heavily regulated until 1989. Before then the government limited competition with strict controls on the number of cabs on our streets.

Today the industry is a lot more open, there are more cabs and companies on the streets and there is greater competition for your business.

Part of the deregulation was complete freedom for taxi companies to set their own fare schedules. There are no regulations at all controlling what cabbies can charge, or how the different components of the fare relate to each other.

But they do have to clearly show all fares, tariffs and extras on the outside of the cab so you can see them before you get in. Fares must also be clearly displayed inside the cab.

That's nice, but it's no help when you have to dial a cab. And even if you are at a cab rank, do you really want to run up and down with a calculator to see who has the best deal?

The bottom line

If an expense isn't listed in the fare schedule, then you do not have to pay it - end of story. If you don't understand why a particular tariff has been applied, or why the cabby has added extras to your total fare, ask for an explanation. And if the cabby can't give you a detailed and accurate breakdown of every component of the fare, you should only pay the parts of the fare that you think are justified.