Taxis can be the bane of a traveller’s life. The sad fact is they are are an unwelcome necessity in most parts of the world and, especially in less developed countries, they pose both financial and even physical risks. Don’t get me wrong, some taxi drivers are decent, charming and helpful, and provide a totally honest and cost-effective service. I met one once.
In essence there are two types of taxi; metered and unmetered, as well as two types of driver; honest and dishonest. The main problem is that once you are inside a taxi you are virtually a prisoner of the driver and utterly at his ( or her ) mercy. This problem is magnified in a location with which you are unfamiliar and not able to speak the local lingo.
I have experienced taxi drivers who, in a metered taxi, wilfully drive around in circles or take an excessively long route to bump up the fare and if you are new to the area probably have no idea that they are doing it. Similarly I have been ‘robbed’ in unmetered taxis that charge, on arrival, exhorbitant rates.
There are also those completely ‘bandit’ taxis that abduct their unsuspecting victims who are then taken to an out of the way location where they are met by a gang and robbed of all their possessions and/or even escorted to an ATM and forced, on pain of death, to empty their entire bank accounts.
Even safe, officially licensed and metered black cabs in London, for example, operating entirely legitimately, piss me off when, on a short journey made necessary by by the fact that you have heavy luggage, they take 45 minutes to travel 1 mile of which 30 minutes is spent static in traffic jams, road works or traffic lights watching the meter clicking up the fare like a geiger-counter at Chernobyl and the smile on the driver’s face.
I think I have been ripped off by enough taxi drivers by now to compile a list of guide lines. So, at the risk of teaching grannies to suck eggs:
- Avoid using taxis if at all possible.
- In strange countries only take taxis from official sites at stations and airports or order them from hotels or restaurants. If in doubt consult an information desk at said establishments.
- In any potentially ‘dodgy’ city never flag down a taxi in the street. ( potential abduction danger here esp. in places like Mexico City ).
- Before using any taxi in an unfamiliar area, check your map to get a rough idea of the route and distance.
- In unmetered taxis ensure that you agree a price, and write it down if possible, before getting in, or putting your bags in for that matter. Make sure you establish which currency is being quoted. ( I was quoted a price of ‘100’ when in Peru. I assumed 100 soles ( about $20 ), but the driver was expecting $100! ).
- In metered taxis get a street map out and, even if you don’t know where you are, make the driver aware that you are taking an interest in his route.
- On arrival at airports, when feasible, go to ’departures’ to get a taxi. They will have dropped someone off and will normally offer a much cheaper price to go back to town than the ‘rip-off’ boys at ‘arrivals’.
- If you do have to use airport ‘arrivals’ taxis beware the pesky hustlers who pester you with with an ‘official’ taxi price list. They are probably also wearing an ‘official’ badge or something. These props are pure bullshit and they will swindle you. Check at an official information desk to get a rough guide as to a realistic price and where the official airport taxis are located.
- Do not ‘share’ a taxi with seemingly obliging locals. You could become their victim.
- Taxi drivers never carry change for large denomination bank notes. Make sure you have plenty of small money to pay ( plus a tip if you are well served or as a matter of course in the USA ).
- When you ask an Asian taxi driver “do you know the way to...?”, their answer is invariably “yes”. This does not necessarily mean he knows the way at all. He probably can’t even speak English. He says “yes” because he heard you speaking to him and he has learnt that replying “yes” to any comment by a ‘farang’ satisfies the customer more effectively than saying “no”.
- Lastly, use your ‘antennae’ to judge the appearance of the taxi and the demeanour of it’s driver. Don’t forget that the aim of the driver is to get you inside the cab and then remove as much money from your wallet as possible. If you have any doubts, don’t use it. Once inside it is too late.
PS. In many parts of the world, especially in Australasia and Birmingham, taxi companies are staffed almost entirely by Indians. Nothing wrong with that and some of them ( I met a decent one in Adelaide ) give an excellent service. I merely note that while Americans, Islamists and maybe the Chinese struggle for control of the world and it’s resources, the Indians will be happy just to control all the world’s taxis.