Mike Cox Island Taxis
Waiheke Cab Owner Talks Island Life
On the day I visit Mike Cox of Island Taxis Waiheke he is manning the cab switchboard from home. He’s dispatching from home; he is battling a power cut and also a staff shortage, plus it’s a rainy Sunday and everyone wants a cab. Mike’s advice to one stuck punter is to walk on to the main road and flap like a chicken and hope someone takes pity and gives them a ride to the ferry. Our conversation is broken up by Mike needing to answer the phone and attend to his customers.
R This is a busy Sunday for you.
R How long have you lived on Waiheke for?
M I have lived on Waiheke Island for twelve years.
R Your business started in 2008?
M Island Taxis started in 2008 and I’ve owned it for the last two and half years. I came over here to New Zealand, doing corporately stuff.
R Where are you from?
M Cyprus and Hong Kong. Purchased the business two and a half years ago so I could live and work here and didn’t have to go anywhere else, and deal with Aucklanders. New Zealand is lovely, but Waiheke is lovelier.
Though after living in Waiheke for twelve years, Auckland does look more attractive. Only because there’s more going on.
R Had you driven a taxi before you owned this company?
M Yes, I came to New Zealand and did corperate stuff, worked for Oracle and then I either had a spiritual epiphany or a crisis and I spent two years travelling around. Peru, Mexico and Columbia doing Shamanic stuff and in the right circumstances..
R Do that on the Island, Waiheke?
M One would never do that in New Zealand, it’s illegal. It’s a psychedelic teaching class. I came back to New Zealand and basically had nothing, because I’d given everything away. I’d taken myself down to nothing. So I started driving buses and taxis.
R How many cars do you have in your fleet?
M Twenty. So easily the biggest fleet (on the island), and the market is in a state of flux. Everyone runs around thinking that uber is a wonderful idea. Unfortunately, usually an uber car is like buying a blood diamond because it looks attractive to the customer but the human cost is huge. Most of us are on Waiheke because we want to be here; we’re not running businesses that are making big profits, if we’re making a profit at all. Most of the time we’re making a loss because operating during the week doesn’t make us any money.
R So everything happens on a Saturday?
M Correct. The changes in legislation that are about to be put through in the transport bill – the differences between taxis, shuttles and private hire vehicles disappear, the consequence of that is that taxis will no longer be allowed to work seven days a week; the consequence of that is they will stop doing so, the consequence of that is that customers will get no taxis.
R What will there be on Waiheke then?
M Walking. I’m talking about in the weekdays, in the winter. There will be no transport available.
R What if you’re older and you can’t get around very easily?
M Go talk to your minister, those are the very people who think that having a low priced option is a good thing and that uber and other uber like companies will fulfill that need.
R Do you have any good stories involving hens or stags?
M To be honest people are reasonably well behaved when they come over here. In five years, I think I’ve had vomit in the vehicle three times. It’s about managing people properly and guiding them.
Answers dispatch again.
M My point on the uber thing is that everybody wants something for nothing. And then everybody moans once they have that, that their expectations are not met by the thing provided for them. I think some aspects of uber are fantastic. On Waiheke there is no over supply of cabs so the market conditions do not support them. Additionally they are driving prices down; many people think that lower prices are better. Then they moan that their expectations have not been met. Price is only one part of what makes a product.
I was lucky enough to grow up in Hong Kong, all my clothes were tailor made, everything from shoes to suits. Unfortunately I got bigger and the stuff doesn’t fit anymore, but it lasted the distance. Now I have to buy off the peg, and even if you go for a semi tailored suit, clothes disintegrate a lot more quickly.
R You’re saying things are no longer made to last?
M Partly - I am saying that you get what you pay for. You can go to Vietnam and get something cheaply tailor made but it’s not made to last. We offer a service on the island, we essentially move people from A to B so the challenge is how to add value to that service through friendly dispatch, computerized systems and efficient operations. We also give customers local advice and have a memorable interaction with them in the vehicle, it adds something special to the experience of being on the island.
R You have some characters working for you, that have definitely added to my experiences on the island.
M We’ve got lots of characters.
Most people are on Waiheke because they are dysfunctional in one shape or form. And most people are driving taxis because they want to interact and add to the experience a visitor is having on the island. The great thing about being in a taxi is that the interactions are really short.
R So only three pukes from hens and stags; any romantic stories involving brides or grooms?
M There was a bus up at Mudbrick and the bus was booked to take passengers back to their properties. The bus arrived early, the bride was very happy. The bus arrived at the car park, the groom was in the car park, and the groom asked if he could have a look around the bus. The bus driver said yes. He then went up to the venue. The bride was happy the bus was there early and decided to put some people in it to go down to the ferry. So she came down to the bus, with her guests, only to discover the groom shagging one of the bridesmaids in the bus.
R oh No!
M Yes; wedding over.
R that was one of my other questions ; have you had anyone shagging in the back of your cabs, but you’ve had it in a bus.
M It’s reasonably tame. Some of the stuff that goes on, that we do see, we wouldn’t talk about it anyway. And one of the beauties of coming to the island is that people have anonymity. The people that get up to mischief at the late hours or early hours of the morning; no one says anything.
R Do you have a favourite place on the island?
M The fun thing is going to places, as new chefs come in. Tantalus at the moment is fantastic.
R Opened on Friday?
M We went there for lunch, it was absolutely delicious.
R What did you have?
M I had a gentlemen’s relish and a venison loin and pancetta with dried vegetables.
R Dried vegetables?
M Dried fruit! And a pint of one of their beers, which was absolutely fantastic. Obsidian is wonderful, that’s probably my favourite.
In terms of little nature spots, there are little hidden spots all over the island that people don’t get to, like the walk from Queens drive to Sandy Bay, there’s a little coastal walk. It’s one of the nicest coastal walks I’ve been on anywhere. The old tree stand by Kennedy point, there’s a beautiful old tree stand.
R Do you see yourself living on Waiheke for the rest of your life?
M I have no idea what I’m going to do for the rest of my life and I hope no, there are lots of other places I’d like to go. Probably San Cristobel de las Casas in Mexico or Cusco in Peru if I wasn’t living here. Or some other, little hidden away island.
R You want to stay on an island?
M I’ve always lived on islands, all of my life. Cyprus, Guernsey, Alderney, Hong Kong.
R Alderney, that’s kind of similar to Waiheke. I used to go there as a kid. (one of the channel islands, between England and France)
M I lived above the Divers pub in Alderney in 1968, which was lovely. My uncle was the aid de compe, he’s head of the bailiff now in Guernsey. He’s the head of the Jurats, or one of the Jurats.
(Jurats are an ancient form of local politicians, originating from France; they are lay people who preside over local matters such as land conveyances and liquor licensing. They are ‘judges of fact’ rather than of law)
R That’s a really ancient appointment, right?
M It’s an ancient form of government. The Seigneur of Sark, is probably as old, or older.
(Sark is Channel Island, near to Guernsey; it had been governed in the same feudal system from 1565 till 2008 and has had recent controversies thanks to the involvement of the Barclay brothers in Sark’s politics. The Barclays are identical twins who are worth £6.5 billion)
R Do you want to stay on an island for the future?
M Focus on today. I’m not a forward planner, it’s all about enjoying the moment as much as you can…. While trying to run a business.
M Four years ago, a chappie was in my taxi, not enjoying the group, a bit depressed, had a conversation with me, talked about Ayahuasca, sent him to my shaman in Peru and he’s been three times since and is now a life long friend.
R So you’re changing people’s lives one cab drive at a time?
M Correct. Inhouse confessional; in a taxi.