Rogue taxi driver operating spurs fears

A Dunedin driver said to be operating a rogue taxi service in the city could have "sinister" motives when offering late-night revellers rides home, police have warned.

A legitimate Dunedin taxi driver - who would not be named - yesterday told the Otago Daily Times another motorist was operating an unofficial taxi service most weekends, offering rides to late-night revellers for money in a private vehicle.

The motorist had been hitting the streets of Dunedin "more often than not" for the past two years, often not until early in the morning, and was last seen offering his service last weekend.

He appeared to wait for revellers to try to flag down legitimate taxis on the street, then pulled up and offered them rides, the taxi driver said.

Some had been left shaken by their encounters with the man, who drove a Toyota Starlet and wore a beanie or hooded top most nights, the taxi driver said.

Calls to City Taxis and Grab-A-Cab were not returned yesterday, but Dunedin Taxis manager Simone Green said she was aware of similar reports, including one to the New Zealand Transport Agency last year.

Another report of similar behaviour had been raised with her by a driver from City Taxis just three weeks ago, but she was yet to hear similar reports from her own drivers.

NZTA access and use regional manager Greg Allnutt, responding to ODT questions, said the agency had not received any direct complaints about an unlicensed taxi driver operating in Dunedin.

"A couple of one-off historic complaints in the last 12 months have been reported to the police and investigated. Those concerned were spoken to and warned. However, neither of the complaints were serious enough to warrant any further action."

Taxi drivers were "normally pretty quick" to alert the agency to unlicensed passenger operations, and he was "a little surprised" no concerns had been raised with the agency in this case.

"Until they do that, there is not lot we can do," he said.

Senior Sergeant Brian Benn, of Dunedin, said police would "certainly be interested" in hearing from anyone with a complaint about the man's activities.

"There could be some sinister motives for giving people free rides home. He might want to exchange it for other things, other than money.

"We'd certainly be interested in knowing who he was and what he was up to and having a look at the circumstances."

The legitimate taxi driver said he had picked up a couple in the central city about 18 months ago and they were "really terrified" after being approached moments earlier by the driver.

Another female passenger had last year climbed into his cab, only to mention she had earlier been picked up by the rogue driver and taken from the central city to her home.

"She said she got picked up by a car and he didn't have a meter or anything like that, but she was far too drunk to realise what was happening, and she got dropped off home."

The taxi driver now recognised the man's vehicle regularly patrolling the main streets of Dunedin, and had witnessed his attempts to secure passengers as recently as Sunday morning.

The taxi driver had passed one man trying to hail his taxi from the edge of George St, only to then watch in his rear-view mirror as the rogue driver, following behind, performed a U-turn and offered the man a ride.

The taxi driver conceded he wanted to protect his own business, and that of other legitimate taxi operators, but also worried about public safety.

"If there's any incident or anything like that, who knows who got picked up by who? Whereas we've got IDs, our vehicles are numbered . . . and of course these days we've got cameras as well."

The taxi driver said he had spoken to NZTA staff in Dunedin about his concerns, but was told passengers would need to make a complaint, and was now considering contacting the police "before something happens".



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