In general, this article is about problematic taxi drivers. It is really hard to put a percentage on the “bad” taxi drivers I’ve used on trips around the world as each country is different and it is these “bad” drivers who really stand out in your mind. If I had to choose a number, I would say maybe 30-40 percent of the taxi drivers I’ve used around the world have tried to pull something shady on me. In the same grain, there are many taxi drivers I have used around the world who I have no complaints about whatsoever.
Taxi meters are usually based upon distance and time. For example if you are sitting in traffic you may see the meter continue to increase in price regardless of whether you are moving or not. When you begin your trip the taxi meter is usually already set to a minimum price – such as whatever the standard price is for 1 or 2 kilometers. Note that not all taxi drivers have meters installed in their vehicles.
The following items are problems that I have run into when using taxi drivers.
Not using the meter
This can be a complicated excuse. First of all, many taxi drivers do not even have meters. Some taxi drivers such as in Bangkok as a whole, simply may refuse to use their meters in the case of terrible traffic. However more often than not an excuse to not use the meter means the driver is trying to cheat you for extra money. A common problem is taxi’s will have meters but neglect to use them. Taxi driver excuses range from, my meter doesn’t work, the traffic is so bad I will not use my meter, and its cheaper for you if I don’t use my meter! Before you travel somewhere try to get an idea from fellow travelers about the cost of taking taxis in a particular city. Message boards on travel sites are a good resource. Consider using some of the Travel Forums on Dave’s Travel Corner. Additionally, Lonely Planet’s Thorntree and Robert Pelton Young’s Black Flag Cafe, are excellent resources for posting your questions. If you have an idea about taxi drivers in a certain city, before you travel, this will give you the heads up on dealing with them when you actually need to use their services. If you are in an area where taxi drivers have meters, and a taxi driver refuses to use his meter, try to find one that will use it.
You may find yourself in a city where taxi drivers just don’t have meters in their cars such as most of the taxi drivers in Lima Peru or Central American countries among others. In this case you will just have to bargain with each taxi driver and settle the price before you start your trip. Be aware that many taxi drivers who greet you after you get off a plane at an airport or bus station will often try to charge you outrageous prices. They know that most travelers are probably tired and just want to get to your destination as fast as possible. This is why its a good idea to have some idea of rates before you arrive. In addition strongly consider walking out of the airport and flagging down a taxi driver on the busy boulevards or side streets. Their prices will probably be more typical of taxi drivers in that area. Also note that if you are in an area with many taxis its easy to bargain as if one taxi driver doesn’t want to take you for a certain price maybe there is another driver who will.
Covering the Meter
I’ve seen taxi drivers turn on the meter at the start of a trip, then cover it at some point during the trip, and when covering it “accidentally” turn off the meter. Whoops. Then they will make up a price that is probably not advantageous to you. Keep an eye on the meter at all times and know how much it says.
Refusing to Speak
I’ve been in situations where taxi drivers refuse to speak – or pretend not to speak English after initially conversing with me in English. This usually occurs when it comes time to pay.
The Ticket Price Bluff
This can be either legitimate or not. This excuse for more money is that the taxi driver enters a place usually of public transportation such as an airport, train station or bus station and goes through a gate where they are given a ticket or piece of paper. This may or may not be legitimate. I have seen where the taxi goes through a gate, receives the ticket, leaves the gate and never pays anything, but then still tries to tell the passenger that they owe more money above and beyond what the meter says, because it costs them every time they go in and out of the gate.
The Long Way
Do you have any idea of how far it should take to get to your guesthouse or hotel? Its a good idea to have a city map with you and have a rough idea of where your hotel is (the direction and street). This way if your taxi driver starts driving in circles you will have some idea of what is going on! Consider using a GPS unit these are invaluable when it comes to finding addresses – you can get country and city maps for pretty much any place in the world.
Lined Up Taxis
This can be nice or it can be a problem. Some taxis (typically in western countries) will line up at an airport and will only let you take the first taxi in line. This is somewhat of an inconvenience as sometimes the lines can be very long and if you exit at the wrong end of the line you have to walk all the way to the front of the line. I’ve been in situations where I’ve gotten into extremely heated arguments with taxi drivers in these situations. I walked away after talking to a taxi driver who gave me false information about a transportation question I had and then came back 10 minutes later only to have one of the taxi drivers start swearing at me for coming back again. Having an attendant on duty when taxi drivers are lined up waiting is quite nice, but if there is no attendant I’ve found things break down and its more of a free for all among the taxi drivers.
Miscommunication is one of the biggest problems with using taxis. You may not speak their language and they may not speak yours. Having an address written down sometimes helps. Be sure they understand you and *always* repeat their important responses after they say it to get confirmation (ie, the price and destination address).
Be aware that sometimes taxi drivers will charge an additional fee if you use their services during odd hours such as in the very early mornings or very late at night. If you are taking a taxi during these odd hours, its best to confirm this right away with the driver.
Don’t Know Address
There is a good chance that not every taxi driver is going to know how to get to your exact address especially if you are in a large city and are not going to a well known destination. If they don’t know and there are a lot of taxis around its always better to find a taxi driver that tells you he knows. I’ve wasted so much time in taxis driving around with drivers who didn’t know the exact location of where I wanted to go.
Hotel Commission Scheme
Sometimes cheap hotels or hostels will pay taxi drivers for taking backpackers to their hotel. Some drivers I’ve met have been particularly forceful about taking me to the “best” hotel – and one that they recommend. Some of these hotels are fine of course – but you should be aware of their intentions, and they may try to convince you to go elsewhere, even if you already have a hotel to stay at.
This can be a tricky one. In my experience I’ve found this happens only in more developed countries. Upon taking a short trip the driver will tell you at the end of your trip that he has a “minimum fee” and he will give you some higher price than is what is shown on the meter. It is a good idea if you know you will be making a short trip, to ask the driver if he has a “minimum trip fee” *before* you actually commit to taking the trip. Also note that some taxi meters may already be set to a minimum price – such as whatever the standard price is for 1 or 2 kilometers.
People Already in the Taxi
Taxi drivers in some countries will pick up as many people as can fit in their car and then drop them off as they go. This can be very problematic especially if you are trying to get somewhere in a timely manner. I’ve had drivers tell me its only going to take a few minutes and it ends up taking a lot longer to drop off the other people already in the car. The people already in the taxi typically will have priority over your destination and you will have to wait until they are dropped off first.
Round the Price Off
This is very common and may not even cost you that much money but can be a bit annoying. This usually occurs when the driver tells you “I don’t have change” and tries to force you to pay with a larger bill. See item directly below for more information on this.
Don’t have Change
This is a pretty common excuse. Some taxi drivers will claim not to have change for that large bill you just gave them or even not have change for the not so large bill. Sometimes they will “magically” produce change if you tell them you have to get out of their car and go find someone who will make change. You can also try to have small change on you – when you exchange money ask for smaller bills rather than larger bills although note that ATM’s typically spit out only large bills. Additionally before you even get in the taxi, if you have a large bill, ask the driver if they have change for your bill. Ask this question *after* you agree on the price.
Other Things to be Aware Of
*Always use the meter in the taxi (if there is one). Determine if the taxi driver has posted some sort of ID in their window, identifying number on the side of their car or on their dash board. Find out if you can get a receipt of your journey from the driver – depending on which city you are in this may be absolutely impossible but its worth considering.
*Packing light is very important and if you are in transit with a backpack – having a pack that is small means you can carry it with you in the back/front seat *instead* of having to put it in the cabbie’s trunk. This means if you need to exit quickly, you can do so and avoid having to get inside the trunk to retrieve your belongings. When carrying your bag(s) with you in the actual taxi, take precaution that nothing valuable is showing and that you have the bags at your feet not close to the windows, where someone could reach in, or break the window and try to pull your bag out of the taxi.
*Occasionally taxi drivers, such as in parts of Japan have doors that automatically open and close for you. They also may auto lock you in the car during transportation- so you wouldn’t be able to get out in a hurry.
*In all of my travels around the world I’ve used one taxi in which the driver was a woman. Worldwide, in my experience being a taxi driver is universally a male dominated profession. If you know of any countries in which women make up a good number of the taxi drivers, please let me know.
*Always take a look at the taxi driver’s face and study the actual vehicle – ascertain how many dents and or scratches are on the vehicle.
*All taxi’s aren’t as nice as the ones in New York City that remind you in an automated voice to collect your belongings before leaving a taxi. Be very careful its *extremely* easy to leave something behind especially if you are in a hurry. Check the space under the rear window if you are seated in the back, glance at the seats and then at the floors. Items fall out of pockets easily so also check the cracks in the seats.
*Lastly, if you are like me you don’t think very fast when bad situations arise regarding taxi rides – I print this article out and have it with me when I’m ready to use a taxi. It serves as an excellent reminder of what can go wrong with taking taxis.
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