Wellington Scoop

After midnight – where are the taxis?


by Neil Douglas
I was stuck at Wellington Airport the other night. It was after midnight and there were no taxis for the passengers who’d arrived from overseas.

I had arrived on one of the late-night flights from Australia. With other unhappy travellers, I queued for twenty minutes. At half past midnight we were still queuing because there were no taxis in sight.

Why? Two drivers told me they blame the new layout. Because of it, they said, less of them are willing to drive out to the airport.

Luckily for me, I was able to queue jump when a friendly driver took me earlier than otherwise, because I was on my own. He doubled me up with someone going to Aro Valley.

This is what he told me on the way home:

(1) He now has to drive through four airport barriers. If any one of them fails to recognize his card, then he gets stuck and has to call the airport to get someone to let him out – this has happened twice in his last 15 trips. He says the airport has told him it is ‘going to fix it.’

(2) If he parks in the car park for more than twenty minutes while he waits for passengers to arrive, he now has to pay $5 even if he leaves with no passengers – he discovered this when he received a call to leave the airport and collect a passenger from Kilbirnie.

(3) Taking a lane off the road near the golf course for more car parking has reduced road capacity

I spoke to a shuttle driver too and he said the new layout is a stuff up that needs sorting out quickly.

While I was queueing, I took the two photos on my mobile phone – it’s not good for families arriving in Wellington with young kids to have to wait for 20-30 minutes for a cab at half past midnight.

There was an added issue. A mother with two children was at the end of the queue. She told me that the immigration smart gates can’t be used by anyone under 16, so she and her family had to go through the ‘manual’ system. And on the night in question, the NZ/Australia desks were closed and everybody had to queue in just two “Other Passport’ lanes. It took about twenty minutes for me and the family of four to get processed, before we joined the next queue waiting for the invisible taxis.


Dr Neil Douglas is a Wellington-based transport economist who was returning from a conference in Brisbane.

Parking mad at the airport
The airport’s undemocratic barriers
Doing the wrong thing at the airport


  1. Harriet M. Smyth, 7. October 2013, 8:40

    Infratil should change its name to “Inthetill”. There is more to life than making money.

    When I dropped my partner off at the airport on Tuesday last week, there were queues getting in at the new barriers and coming out was a nightmare because of the confusion of the ins and outs which caused a long queue.

    I can’t see why Inthetill introduced barriers for people dropping off passengers or going along the road other than to make money.

  2. Daryl Cockburn, 7. October 2013, 9:12

    Well Neil, get modern, people without cars don’t matter very much. We planned the airport for motorists who enjoy driving. Why else would we have put the terminal on the wrong side of the runway?
    The terminal passenger entrance & exit should have been located at the west end of the existing underpass under the runway. This would have been great for the rapid light rail line or rapid bus, but as I said the people in control think “driving”.
    Same goes for the new hospital. Why doesn’t it promote healthy transport? We designed it elevated for car-parks and uncovered elevated pedestrian access from buses. This gives a clear message. We prefer motorists

  3. Greg, 7. October 2013, 9:50

    Further to Daryl’s point, the last Airport Flyer service is 9:25pm on weekdays and 8:45pm on weekends.

  4. Henry Pocos, 7. October 2013, 11:38

    Greg, “Inthetill” owns the Airport Flyer and the Airport. Like other airports, loads of money can be made out of owning the car parks. So it is, generally, not in the airport owners’ interest to have super public transport and taxi provision (eg Sydney for example). That said, the airport flyer provides a pretty good service and up until last week’s redesign, taxi provision was good too at Wellington airport.

  5. Ross Clark, 8. October 2013, 1:02

    Daryl, the decision to put the terminal where it is dates back to the 1950s, at a time when levels of car ownership, and flying for that matter, were far lower than today.

    Also, no matter how good you make a public transport system, people *like* their cars. Attempts to actively restrict car use are politically very toxic, which is why local government politicians would far rather promote alternatives to the car, than do anything to restrict the use of cars. I have no idea what to do about this.

  6. Greg, 8. October 2013, 9:05

    Ross: Actually, the data doesn’t agree with you. People do use alternatives when they’re built to be actual alternatives and not just for “those people”. That’s the basis of the Downs-Thompson paradox. Those who love their cars don’t switch, those who are a less excited switch when it’s effective and affordable. This is a world-wide phenomenon.

    I will, however, agree with you about the public sentiment of limiting private cars. The subsequent problem is that any attempt to fund adequate public transport gets framed either as a “war on motorists” or a complete waste of money, both of which fail as arguments, but seem to propagate well.

  7. Ross Clark, 8. October 2013, 21:12


    I don’t disagree with your first point, but I hate to think what the cost would be in a Wellington context to build a system that was a genuine alternative. A private car is generally faster than a segregated public transport mode, except in peak flows, and always faster than unsegregated public transport (=buses). This explains why Wellington rail gets pretty strong use in the peaks, and less than 10 percent of the traffic outside them.

  8. Guy, 8. October 2013, 22:14

    I lived in London for a decade, zipping periodically off to other countries, and never once took a car to or from the airport – be it Heathrow, Stansted, Luton or Gatwick. I’m constantly amazed that anyone would want to take a car when public transport can work so well. No parking hassles or costs for a start! Auckland, by contrast, is so awfully car-oriented that even the bus service to the airport gets caught up in their hideous traffic. And Wellington? It’s perfect only being 15 minutes from the airport, but would be even more perfect if it was only 10 minutes by Light Rail at peak hours. All very achievable if we put our minds to it.

  9. Ross Clark, 9. October 2013, 9:06

    Hi Guy, from my own experiences using the London airports and their rail links, my judgement would be that public transport works extremely well when (a) there is a high level of road congestion *and* (b) a high standard of grade-separated public transport. If you have excellent rail and no road congestion, people will stick with their cars. If you have shocking road congestion and no grade-separated public transport, people will still stick with their cars, because it’s still going to be faster. I don’t know if you ever used London City Airport, but it’s connected via the Docklands Light Rail and that is superb.

  10. Neil Douglas, 10. October 2013, 19:57

    How’s Prestwick Airport – I think Infratill owns it or some other Scottish airport. Have they ringed that airport with barriers to “ease congestion”?

  11. CC, 10. October 2013, 21:19

    Prestwick has just gone the way of other Infratil failures overseas. Seems they are pretty good at screwing the NZ public but they prove to be pretty ineffective wannabees in the real world where influence and political connections don’t exist. Sadly, no-one has got the guts to pull the plug on the airport and Go Wellington rorts.

  12. Guy, 11. October 2013, 7:28

    Ross, yes I have visited London City Airport, although not flown from there. It’s good that the Docklands Light Rail stops there now – at first, when they built it, you could only get there by car – the airport was built with City executives in mind, and the DLR only went past on the other side of the giant (water-filled) Royal Albert Dock, which meant you could wave at the planes taking off, but never quite get there. Certainly stopped the non-car-owning plebs like me from despoiling their shiny airport! Eventually they extended the DLR to connect to the airport as well. Of course, once they opened it up to the general public, the airport got lots of use, and more airlines stopped there.

  13. Ross Clark, 11. October 2013, 21:04

    I haven’t been out to Prestwick recently, although the half-hour train service and a parallel half-hour bus service provide pretty good public transport coverage. The airport actually owns the station.

    To CC – the airport was doing OK, with 2.4m passengers per year, until the recession struck in September 2008. It lost over half its traffic in the next four years – some to other Central Belt airports – which is why Infratil threw in the towel. It is now handling about 1.2m passengers per year, all wth Ryanair (a cheap-and-nasty carrier who make Jetstar look real good). The Scottish Government (devolved government for Scotland) is currently negotiating with Infratil to buy the airport; this was announced only a couple of days ago.

    Airports make a lot of money off parking, which needs to be acknowledged in the discussions about public transport services, and taxi services, to airports.

  14. Brent Efford, 11. October 2013, 22:58

    Guy has a good point. But note that the Docklands LR is really a light metro – much more expensive than real light rail (tram) which uses streets where possible.

    But the value of rail access is the same – airport to regional rail linkage is happening all over the world but, like a complete rail system that will be an effective alternative to car commuting, is officially verboten in 50-years-behind-the-times Wellington!