Travel

Taxi!

I’ve been mulling this around in my head for a while. I thought I’d pass on my lessons learnt about riding in taxis around the world.  

I’ve not been everywhere, but having been around a bit, there are some general lessons that can be applied.  Most of these lessons have been taught to me through repetition and remediation.

Like everyone else, taxi drivers come in good, bad and ugly varieties. Many of them are interesting people with interesting backgrounds.

I met one last week who’s soul purpose for driving a taxi was to make enough money to take train trips on the various train lines around the world.  Mostly in SE Asia. He had the scoop on the best lines, the best cars and upcoming developments on train travel around the region. In the urban traffic we were caught in, he took great pleasure in showing me part of his Youtube channel consisting mostly of him watching trains pull out of the station set to quirky little music. He laughed with glee telling me about coaches with air conditioning, coaches with reclining seats and lines with single or double tracks. He was having a blast.

The bad or ugly ones, are the ones who try and rip you off. Sometimes they’re so slick you don’t even know.  They’ve rigged their meters to charge you double or triple the going rate. They’ve got secret buttons under the dash that add charges to the fare.

The sneaky ones, take the long way home via heavily trafficked routes, bumping up charges as they go. Don’t fall asleep.  You never know where you might end up, or where you’ve gone whilst you’ve slumbered.

My suggestion is to do some research. Just like you do while looking for that perfect meal or best insta shot, do a google search about the taxi’s.  What’s the typical fare to the airport? Are there any extra charges or tolls to pay? Late at night, hitting the ground jet-lagged, it can lead to unnecessary conflict if the charges get added at the end, and you don’t know about them.

A search may also, tell you about local taxi traditions.  In Thailand, for instance, taxi drivers are supposed to take you anywhere you request, like you’d expect.  But, the practice is that if they don’t want to take you, they won’t. They’ll refuse to go, or quote you an exorbitant rate.  Here in Bangkok, one must ask permission first. The good ones will use the meter. The bad ones will start a bargaining process. It is up to you to go along with it or not. We’ve had times where 7 cabs have passed us by, because they thought traffic was too bad near our destination.

If you’re unlucky, you’ll arrive in a place that has taxis, but none of them use meters.  It is all based on negotiation. Here, you’re at a huge disadvantage. How do you know what to offer, if you don’t know the value of the trip.  In this case, ask around. The hotel desk should know that prices to most places. From that point you can negotiate. In Timor Leste, you could get most places in town from between 1 and 4 US dollars. I would tell the driver a destination, he would quote a price, I would halve it and off we’d go.  

If you know it’s going be an effort, allow some time for the negotiation to take place. Or be prepared to pay extra if you’re in a hurry.  

Money is the bottom line. If you want to do something unorthodox, like transport your dog, know that you’ll need to pay extra.  When our dog needed to get to the vet a 1.25 cab ride became a 6 dollar cab ride after the driver grumbled, but that was okay. She needed to get there and I would have paid thrice the price or more if she fecally exploded in the back seat.

Being a tourist or an outsider in from somewhere else, you’re almost always going to pay more. Being able to stop, think, and accept that the amount they’re overcharging you may only be a few dollars. If you can let it go, you’ll have a much more pleasant trip.

Car services can be a help. With Uber or Grab, you can hail a cab and track progress and there is someone you can dispute charges with. But, it’s not a full solution. These apps are map-based, and though it seems hard to believe, many people in world can’t read a map. So, your driver may never find you, or despite verbal instructions in their own language, may orbit you or your destination repeatedly. Some places, like Israel, these apps are all operated by taxi drivers, so once they arrive, the experience is no different.

All in all, if a destination has a well organized taxi system, things run fairly smoothly. If it is more free market, then it is more free market and the strongest survive.  The strongest drivers and the strongest passengers.

If you’ve got taxi lessons of your own, by all means chime in below.

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