COMPETITIVE: Rod Hearn with his hotel’s new airport transfer bus. Picture: Dean OslandTAXI passengers at Newcastle Airport are being stung by a ‘‘confusing’’ arrangement that requires them to pay the return fare of drivers who travel out of zone.
Nanjing Night Net

Visitor Economy Hunter chairman Will Creedon has slammed the airport taxi system as unfair, saying it slugs tourists and business travellers who are often unaware they must pay a return fare despite not being in the vehicle.

The taxi rank at Newcastle Airport, which is owned jointly by Newcastle City and Port Stephens councils, is zoned as Newcastle district.

Any person who gets a taxi from the airport rank to Newcastle or a destination within Newcastle district pays the standard fare.

But those who are travelling outside the Newcastle zone, which includes areas relatively close to the airport such as Raymond Terrace, must pay for the return fare because the Transport Act stipulates that taxis cannot pick up an ‘‘out of zone’’ fare.

A spokesman for Newcastle Taxis confirmed the arrangement but said it was dictated by Transport for NSW, with the fares set by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.

‘‘Once a driver goes outside the Newcastle district area they cannot pick up a fare, they are not licensed to, so the passenger has to pay for them to return to the transport district,’’ he said.

He said the Newcastle zone ‘‘roughly’’ included the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas.

While agreeing the system could be perceived as unfair, the spokesman said drivers were just like any person who did not wish to work ‘‘for nothing’’.

‘‘[Transport for NSW] sets the boundaries, we have to abide by them,’’ he said.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said the fare for any trip taken from Newcastle Airport to areas outside of Newcastle must be negotiated between the customer and driver before the start of the trip.

Newcastle Airport aviation and business development manager David Nye said the taxi situation was out of the airport’s control.

‘‘We certainly agree that there is an element of confusion for someone who arrives in the Port Stephens area to be told they are not in the Port Stephens area as far as the taxis are concerned,’’ he said.

‘‘It makes it a very expensive trip to [Nelson] Bay, particularly for those who are coming here on holidays,’’ Mr Nye said.

‘‘Even when it’s very busy at Newcastle Airport, Port Stephens taxis cannot operate there – this is not good for business and tourists,’’ Mr Creedon said.

TRANQUIL Shoal Bay is only a half-hour taxi trip from Newcastle Airport, but the steep cost has prompted a local resort to organise its own transfer service.

Last year Rod Hearn, general manager of the Shoal Bay Resort and Spa, bought three airport permits for a total cost of $1000 so the resort could use a car, mini-bus and medium-sized bus to do airport pick-ups and drop-offs.

Mr Hearn said the four-star resort often received requests for their competitively priced airport transfers when guests realised that they had to pay the return fare for their taxi ride.

‘‘The situation downgrades the destination of Port Stephens,’’ he said.

‘‘As an international visitor or a corporate traveller, you’d expect to be able to get the same level of transport and support structure that you would get if you turn right or left.’’

‘‘For us, the whole structure of departure and arrival for the Port Stephens region when you come out of the airport is not a good one.’’

With about 30,000 guests each year, many visiting for conferences, Mr Hearn said the taxi system was an ‘‘unnecessary blockage’’ as Port Stephens tourism authorities drove to make the region a destination.

‘‘Tourism dollars are so hard to get. Regionally, tourism has been devastated in Australia over the last several years with the [global financial crisis], Australian dollar and state economies, so any impediment that comes up does not help the destination,’’ he said.

Rebecca Morley, the manager of Meeting Incentives Conference and Events Port Stephens, which represents about 30 hotel and events operators, acknowledged the taxi situation was a ‘‘potential deterrent’’ for tourism.

But she said the organisation was working hard to find alternative travel arrangements and incentives.