Why I Hate Taxi Drivers Around the World

April 3, 2013

Now hate may be a strong word, but in this case I think the choice of verb is perfectly acceptable and its how I feel, I have had enough of them.  After travelling for well over a year across Australasia, Asia and now into Eastern Europe I cannot think of a single group of traders that get on my nerves more than taxi drivers around the world.  It doesn’t matter whether they are driving a Mercedes, Piaggio rickshaw, donkey, boat. motorcycle or even an ox or a camel, they are all schooled in the same treacherous ‘University of Public Service Driving‘ that gives them their licence to lie, scam and cheat.

I have had altercations with them in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and countless other places. Wherever possible I will avoid using them, I just cannot stand the merry dance that entails in trying to get them to do what you want and take you to where you need to be.

The Negotiation

I can cope with the touts that descend on you as you leave a bus in a strange town or congregate around the entrances to tourist sites around the world.  These you can often just ignore as you don’t really need their services.  But taxi drivers are another breed, they prey on you because you are lost, or they know that there is no other way of getting from A to B in this deserted village or town that you find yourself in.

Now I wouldn’t hate them as much if I could simply get into said cab, taxi, tuk tuk, or rickshaw and switch on the meter and arrive hassle free at my intended destination.  Oh no that would be too easy.  The shysters want to take you not to the destination requested, but their mates hotel, or a local tour or transport booking office or they want to con you out of road toll fees, speeding meter charges or ‘seasonal extras’ because they have picked you up on a day with the letter Y in it.

The schemes and tricks of trying to inflate the actual cost of your journey are limitless and at times ingenious.  This cleverness though is no match for your ire as you get more and more wound up by their tricks.  Particularly after you spent a long sleepless night on a bus journey or an international flight, this is something you just don’t need.  Quite a few have had me morph into the cartoon Tasmanian devil as they tried to push their luck with a route or a fare, I have a long fuse but when it reaches its end the explosion is pretty spectacular.

Taxi Drivers Around the World: The Exceptions

On the flip-side I have loved them in Japan, with their lovely lace doilies on the seats, black and white uniforms and cabs so clean you could perform open heart surgery in the back with absolutely no risk of infection. You don’t even need to open or close the cab door they do it automatically for you.

I liked them in Cambodia and even met one who refused to charge for a fare (I know incredible isn’t it). I also love London cab drivers -you get in they flip the meter and with their encyclopaedic knowledge of London back streets in no time you are freed from their tirade of topical (Daily Mail-esque) banter on the pressing global affairs.

How to get the better of Taxi Drivers

At times though you have absolutely no choice in the matter and you have to put yourself at the mercy of their schemes – here is our quick guide on how to make it as pain free as possible.

  1. Wherever possible at airports and stations try and find a pre paid taxi counter (they are at most Asian airports and Indian train stations).  You will pay a little over the odds, compared to the locals, but its worth it for the hassle free journey.
  2. Know the rough price of your fare – a quick look on the internet should get you the ballpark price, or phone a local hotel and ask how much the fare should be. Then ask the driver for his/her estimate, are they comparable? Make sure you are both talking in the same currency.
  3. Have your destination address written in the local language, it’s pointless asking a driver to take you somewhere he hasn’t got a clue how to get to, or read your internet booking confirmation in a foreign alphabet.  Make sure your driver knows the place; you don’t want to stop every couple of minutes going on a detour with him asking for directions.
  4. Whatever your language skills point to the meter and insist it goes on, check it is working.  If a refusal is forthcoming walk, get out of the vehicle and find the next conman driver.
  5. Program the route on your trusty map app on your phone and track the driver and watch for long detours (their favourite trick when you have made them use the meter).  Also watch that the meter is not running as fast as a Geiger counter in North Korea.  Hacked meters are a favourite trick in some places.
  6. Take a note or photograph of the taxi registration number and if you do get asked for a ridiculous fare threaten, or do, report them to the police.  Even in some of the worse taxi scam places the fear of police involvement will render a driver your best friend. Refer back to the estimated quote they gave you, they should know how bad the traffic is etc it’s not your problem.
  7. Do not agree to any detours to their family home, friends discount shop, government approved emporium, alternative hotel/restaurant, UNESCO world heritage site, special one day only festival etc. (The story they are telling you that your intended destination has been taken over by the Mafia/burnt down/flooded/been beamed up to an alien spaceship or closed is just a load of crap).
  8. If at all possible take an alternative means of transport, local bus, train, cycle, segway, moped or your own trusty feet.  You will deprive these con artists of their income and make them think twice about tricking the next tourist.
  9. If you find one of those rare drivers who doesn’t con you and actually offers a ride direct to your destination at a sensible price, tip them to reward their good behaviour and share your story here.

Have you had an interesting time getting taxi or tuk tuk drivers to get you to your destination?  Share your own travel experiences about drivers anywhere around the world by leaving a comment below.

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Comments (18)

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  1. Couldn’t agree more–I do everything I can to try and avoid taxis, because the hassle is only worth it when you have no other options. And in some cases “other options” has meant walking ten kilometers.

    I was impressed by Japan’s taxi drivers too, but can count on one hand the number of times I took a taxi in three years in the country. They’re just not generally necessary given the excellent public transport and too expensive to justify the slight increase in convenience.

  2. I live in Shanghai and thankfully can speak some Mandarin because otherwise I don’t know how I’d get around. The drivers usually don’t speak any English and often aren’t even from the city so are unfamiliar with the street names. As long as you get into a taxi with a company phone number printed on the side, you will be scam free. The meters on the unmarked taxis, however, will roll like the slot machines in Vegas!

    • Love the analogy, how true. We had a great time in Shanghai and traveling around China. Whenever we took a taxi, which was rare, we had our address in Chinese (on our phones) along with maps, and this worked a treat in helping us communicate. No horror stories to report as far as China goes, apart from a bit of crazy driving!

  3. Dana Carmel says:

    I especially like tips #4-#6. I haven’t had any crazy cabbies yet (knocking on wood)!

  4. Nicole Fandel says:

    I could tell a few bad stories, but many good ones too. In Mexico City, I suggest you simply ask at the hotel which are the safe taxis. They will tell you the taxi’s color and the lettering on the side.

  5. Tom Bartel says:

    Some very good tips, most of which I usually follow (and are a lot of common sense.) However, I love cab rides in general, especially if the driver speaks a little English (or Spanish or French.) I always ask for their recommendations for things to see and do and where to eat in their city. I also expect if you engage them thus, they’re less likely to try to rip you off. Finally, in most countries, these people make a very meager living. If it costs me an extra couple of dollars to get where I’m going, that’s nothing to me, but it might mean an extra couple of meals for his family. And, as Nicole says about Mexico City, only take the regulated cabs. Same goes for Quito.

    • Thanks for sharing your taxi moments with us. We try and seek recommendations for things to do and places to eat from other sources. In our own experience we don’t consider taxi drivers to be poor, and the extra couple of dollars can soon add up when you’re travelling on a long-term basis, so we choose to give in other ways. I agree that the banter and conversation can be very interesting.

  6. Agness says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I simply hate taxis and tuk tuk drivers. They are so pushy and I’ve got the feeling they always try to rip me off. My worst experience ever was in Siem Reap. I had to buy a t-shirt with “No, I don’t need a Tuk Tuk!” on 🙂 but they never gave up.

  7. Amber says:

    AAAHHH, the taxi driver. I have been working on a similar story based on problems we have had in Vietnam, Cambodia, Panama, Costa Rica, etc.. I try to avoid them as best I can – I would rather walk across the city of KL in the mid day heat, than get into a cab. The one cab we took in KL, took us a for a ride. I argued with him, I pointed, he told me he would show me a “short cut.” I told him I would not pay for the extra ride. He said fine, he doesn’t need the money, it would be free. In the end the ride was 9 ringgitt, and we paid him 5, what it should have been. The dispute would only have cost us and extra dollar or two, but it is the principle. I lost my cool in the cab, while the Husband In Tow, at the very end, looked at the driver and said, “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but that was not a short cut and you should not treat people this way.” Gotta love him. The next day, I asked him if he wanted to take a taxi instead of walking about 2km and he said no, he did not want to hear me yell again. I just can’t help it with taxi drivers. I feel the exact same way as you . . .

    • Hooray! We’re not alone feeling like this. Love your blog by the way, and I’ll be checking out what you thought of Myanmar, as even though we’ve visited its so interesting to read different travel perspectives.

  8. Emily says:

    I’m glad to know that my husband and I are not the only ones! When we were in Playa del Carmen we were told by a hotel concierge that the Taxi would be a certain amount of money that was reasonable so we took them up on the offer. Then when we got to our destination, the taxi driver demanded almost 4x as much as the concierge told us we would pay! We were very upset and it took the rest of the cash we had planned on using for the next day. Aargh! Thanks for the tips though, now we know!

  9. Michele says:

    We were recently in Penang trying to get to the airport a few stopped and wanted a set rate saying meters weren’t working etc then we finally found a metered one and it cost us nearly double the set rate… some days you just can’t win.

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