Taxi in a foreign city or country - a feeling of being cheated or robbed... at hello

I'm a fair traveler. I travel 1-2 times to the USA each year and around 5-10 times to different countries in the European Union each year. It all sums up to quite a lot of flying, hotel booking... and traveling by taxi. And that last part of traveling is the least pleasant during my travel.
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You just landed in a foreign city or even country.... you hardly know anyone... and the only thing you've got is a hotel address... and you want to get there, you take a taxi...

... and after a ride you feel robbed or cheated. That's your first experience in a foreign place. Not a great start.

It's not always like this, but it's too often like this, let me give you a few examples:

Taxi ride from San Francisco Airport in the USA

I just landed and went through the customs and security which takes forever and they ask you all these stupid questions. It's late at night. I'm leaving the terminal and I'm being stopped by some folks that offer me "cheap taxi" to the city... but since I don't know these guys, I try to ignore them and see a Taxi stop with a few yellow cabs standing there. Great! I'm saved!

I walk to the first one, the taxi driver greets me with a warm welcome and takes care of mu luggage and we take off. I'm comfortable and I feel safe...

... and then the driver asks me if he should turn on the meter or not... He explains how much it's without a meter and how much is with one... and I'm really confused. He's just trying to cheat me! What's the good answer? I don't know the city! If I ask for meter, he can drive around and say it was the shortest route, but over-charge me... if I say without meter, I'm surely being overcharged anyway... and I cannot leave because we already took off!

You get the picture. Not a nice and comfy situation and my first experience in the new city...

Taxi ride from Alicante Airport in Spain

Same situation, I take the "official" taxi and we're taking off. I see the meter is configured at "Rate 3" which means the highest taxi rate... and within the short distance the amount due is increasing rapidly. I'm asking if the rate will change once we've reached the Alicante city limit. No - the driver responds. I'm from a different city, so Alicante is "out of city" for me so it's rate 3 all of the time. So could I have taken an "Alicante taxi" at the airport? I ask. Nope, taxis from Alicante are not allowed on Alicante airport. We are the only ones permitted there.

You can imagine my amazement - the government of Alicante is letting tourists be cheated on taxi fare by allowing only taxis from different city to be at the airport... while most of the people will travel to Alicante to actually stay in ... Alicante.

I have a lot more examples like this... the idea is this - you trust that the taxi will get you to your destination safely, not cheat you in the process....

I believe local governments should really take care of this. By allowing taxi drivers to do what they please and by allowing taxi drivers to cheat on tourists, they are ruining the first experience a person has in the new place. You start off your holiday or visit with a shitty feeling of being cheated... is it a good welcoming experience?

One of the taxi drivers, that charged me 5 EUR for only showing up at my hotel told me they should charge me more because I'm a rich tourist from a different country and I should be overcharged. This driver said it flat out to my face. I was speechless.

There are good and nice taxi drivers

Don't get me wrong - I've had also nice and positive taxi experiences and I met some really nice taxi drivers... but just recently I just had too many bad ones. Hence this post.

Let me offer these 3 solutions:

Solution 1 - fixed fare

On Malta (a small island on Mediterranean) you don't pay the taxi driver - it's a small island and you just buy a "ticket" to travel by taxi to a part of island. You show the ticket to the taxi driver and they get you to your destination. No money exchange, no fuss, no way of cheating a tourist. However I don't know how this could scale to other cities? Maybe with zone tickets? Just like public transport?

Solution 2 - use alternate transport

I used Subway when I landed on JFK in New York City and it was fun and it took me quickly to Manhattan. Be prepared and learn about other ways of getting to your destination. Maybe even your hotel has some pickup service... but sometimes you really need to take a taxi so this method is not always applicable.

Solution 3 - stop caring

I just don't care anymore. If the taxi driver overcharges my fare. I don't care. How much can they over-charge me anyway? 5 USD/ EUR? 10? It's not the amount of money I will cry over. I'm not filthy rich or anything, but these 5-10 dollars are not worth all the energy and frustration it brings of being cheated. One blog post is enough :-)

Last but not least....

Dear local government - think about the fact that tourists or visiting businessmen can feel cheated when they enter your city. Think if this person will want to come back again after such a "nice" welcome experience.

Dear foreign taxi driver - if you want to cheat me and earn some additional 5-10 USD/EUR on me, be my guest - I couldn't care less. I'm just very sorry for you and for the fact that cheating on people is your business model.

Question: Do you care?
--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 (business,travel)

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