Police act on illegal taxi rides

Dozens of motorists offering illegal taxi rides, including those who touted for business at taxi ranks, have received official warnings from Dunedin police.

Police have visited 46 of the 60 drivers identified as illegally offering cheap taxi rides via social media. The drivers received official warnings.

Many claimed they were unaware they were breaking the law, Dunedin road policing manager Senior Sergeant Phil McDouall said.

The Facebook page, ''Dunedin Sober Drivers'', had nearly 2500 members, and detailed those wanting or offering rides to and from destinations.

A 21-year-old female, who regularly used the service, told the Otago Daily Times members provided a safe and cheap alternative to taxis, which were expensive and not readily available in the early hours.

''They do this in other places. I just don't see what the problem is.''

Some of those same members were now discussing ways to beat the law.

However, Snr Sgt McDouall had a warning for any potential law-breakers.

''Be sensible and don't break the law. The potential penalties far exceed the gain.''

Under the Land Transport Act (1998) it was illegal to offer passenger or taxi services for ''hire or reward'', unless the operator had the appropriate licence to carry passengers.

That was to guarantee the safety of the travelling public, so they could be confident the person driving them home had undergone background checks to ensure they were fit to carry passengers.

''Those drivers and passengers spoken to can consider that they have been put on notice, and that enforcement agencies will not be so tolerant next time around,'' Snr Sgt McDouall said.

''Anyone considering offering such a service to make a 'quick buck' without the proper certification should also think again.''

Penalties include a fine up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for a second conviction. Vehicles can also be impounded.

Police had safety concerns for vulnerable passengers, including young women and those under the influence of alcohol who might be getting into vehicles with people they didn't know, he said.

The ongoing investigation involving police and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) comes after concerns were raised by Dunedin taxi drivers.

Snr Sgt McDouall said in addition to using the Facebook page, some drivers were openly touting for business at city taxi ranks.

NZTA southern region access and use manager Kieran Turner said passengers should always choose a reputable service.

''The licensing rules for this industry are in place to ensure the safety and security of passengers who use these services.''

A joint police and NZTA operation recently targeted illegal taxi drivers and street racing. Snr Sgt McDouall said ''a number of unsafe and illegal vehicles'' were taken off the road as a result of the operation.

A car was found to have its suspension springs cut and was pink-stickered for illegal modifications.

Two vans were also taken off the road, including a van carrying unsecured passengers sitting on a couch in the rear cargo compartment.

-hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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