Understanding Taxi Scams
Everyone knows when they arrive at a new place for the first time that they’ll have to deal with taxis. Its something we all dread thinking about, no one wants to be caught in a taxi scam. We know they’re going to over charge us, take advantage of us or worse. Now not all taxi drivers are this way, but if it is your first time in a new place or you don’t speak the local language you are far more likely to have a situation where you will be overcharged.
This is a guide to help travelers navigate the gauntlet of problems waiting for them either at an airport or a bus station or however they arrived in a new place. This guide will cover some of the more common taxi scams.
Before we go any further I want to say that a little bit of advanced research on your part can go even further than this guide can in saving you money. Before we go any further I want to say that a little bit of advanced research on your part can go even further than this guide can in saving you money. Carrying small bills, or taking an official taxi or even paying with a credit card will go along way to prevent you from getting caught in a taxi scam.
Be aware of what the going rate is. Many airports have postings to let you know not only what the going rate is, but any extra charges you might be hit with, like if you needed a minivan rather than a car. If you know the distance to the destination as well as the taxi fare you should be able to do some basic math to calculate the approximate fare.
Be aware that things like toll roads could result in an unexpected higher fare. Again plan ahead, but if you find yourself on a toll road, you can take a photo of the toll booth to get an idea of what the taxi driver is paying.
What this guide is NOT designed to do is cheat a cab driver in any way but to get you a fair price for the taxi ride you need as if you were a local.
The Gypsy Cab.
Until you know the area better or what the approximate fare should be, you should avoid these taxis as they are going to almost always charge you far more than what you should pay. They will almost never have a working taxi meter because they’re not a real taxi. If you have no other choice but to use them you should negotiate the price BEFORE your ride begins. Once you are moving it is too late to get out, especially if you have bags in the trunk.
The App Meter
Once I forgot to do this, only asking that they had a meter. Once we started he pulled out a phone and mounted it to the dashboard. The rate was 5 times what it should have been. It didn’t tell me the rate, but I could see from the start that I was not going to have the cash to afford this ride. Only because I knew a little bit of the language and said I wanted to speak to the police did I end up negotiating a rate which was only double what the normal rate should have been.
If your taxi driver uses an app of any kind, you have no idea the rate you will pay, and in almost all cases it will be a lot more than what it should have been.
Without a Meter.
Almost as bad as the app taxi, is the driver who will not use his meter. This means that they can charge you whatever they feel it should be. I was told about some interns who had flown across the world to start a summer internship. They finished up their first short week at work and were out celebrating. After they all took the same cab to the house they were sharing.
Once they arrived the taxi driver kept telling them “more more”. They had no idea what the exchange rate was, or how much money they were even giving the driver. All they knew was he kept demanding more money and was threatening the police. They paid the man nearly $250 dollars for what should have been a $20 ride. None of the young women even noticed that he failed to turn on his meter.
Again a little pre-planning can go a long way in this situation. Try to have some idea of the exchange rate. If the taxi driver is yelling how he will call the police, tell him to call the police. If he actually does call it should give you a little time to think. You should also all the police.
If you have the number to an embassy or consulate near where you are you should also call them. They usually can’t do much, but sometimes they can. If you happen to be at a tourist hotspot you will sometimes also have tourist police available to you who can send people to help you foreigners.
Things You Should Do.
As stated above, get the number for your embassy or consulate in the area you will be in. Save the number to your phone. Find out the number for the police where you will be at and also save this in your phone. In most countries (with the exception of the US & Israel) you can get an inexpensive contract free sim card which will get you data and phone service. Because of the low cost at least one person in your group should always have a local sim card.
A great thing that people almost never do is create a conversion chart and save this as the wallpaper on your phone so that if you ever need a quick reference you can just quickly look at your phone.
You can find out what apps are available in your area for taxi alternatives where it can save you a small fortune. Be aware that in many countries if you leave a major city apps like Uber or other ride share services may not be available.
If you know you will be in a smaller city where there may not be a ride share service try to do some research on Google or Google Maps to see what some reputable taxi service providers are in the area. Sometimes however communicating with them can be challenging if you don’t know the local language, which brings us to the next point.
Download Google Translate BEFORE your trip. Not only download this, but download the language pack for where you will be. This will let you be able to do translations without data if you find yourself separated from your group, or in an area which does not have mobile service.
You will also want to download Google Maps if you don’t already have it. They have a way there will download the map for the area where you will be so that again if you don’t have any service you are still able to use the maps and can figure out where you are and how to get where you need to be. It is also great for showing a taxi driver where you want to go.
Below we’ll list some of the better and more popular taxi apps, and cover some of their limitations. As you will soon see, many of these operate in a very limited geographic area.
The Most Popular Ride Share Apps
Uber – One of the 2 original ride sharing apps. Uber maintains global dominance and is available in most large cities in most countries. This is a map that was mostly current as of September 2017. It is difficult to find current maps, so again you can use this as a guide, but be aware that there are other countries like Greece where Uber has been banned.
It should also be noted that there can be issues sometimes in foreign countries with having your number verified. If there is a problem Uber will make you wait an hour to try again, which is not convenient if you are at an airport and wanting to go to your hotel.
Lyft – Lyft is the #2 ride sharing service, however they are only currently available within the United States.
Uklon – Very popular taxi app throughout Ukraine.
Yandex – The main taxi app in Russia.
Bolt (Taxify) – Operating in 30 countries including North America, Europe and Africa.
Beat – Main taxi app in Greece after Uber was outlawed
Clever – Main taxi app in Bucharest
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Other Misc Things to be Aware of:
Your hotel may not be your friend
Your hotel should be able to give you a general idea of where things are, or how long it will take to get somewhere, but many receive kickbacks from taxi companies. Because of this they may have an exclusive agreement with a specific taxi company which will charge you a higher fare.
It can be difficult to count money in the dark
If you are in a new country and traveling at night, it might be difficult to count your change if your taxi driver can’t or won’t turn on his dome light. Many times in this situation your driver can give you counterfeit notes, or even money from a completely different country!
Don’t let your taxi driver rush you out of the taxi. Make sure you have both the correct change, and that it belongs to the country you are in. Its best not to take large bills, and if possible to have exact change.