Section (C)
Easy Ride in a Taxi
Taxi travel can be safe anywhere in the world as long as visitors understand the rules, says travelexpert Stacey Ravel Abarbanel. In some cities, it is common for people to approach you and offer youa ride. Often they are locals trying to make extra money rather than licensed taxi operators who havepassed safety training or a background check. "These people can be very aggressive," warns onetraveler, and you need to be too. In places like South America, where it is common to be surrounded bythem, he says, "I look straight ahead like a horse, walk to the taxi that I want, and ask, ‘Who owns thiscar?’"One way to avoid illegal taxis is to know the marks that indicate licensed taxis in the area you arevisiting, as well as to understand what different car and/or license plate colors may mean. For instance,Mexico City has a three-level system for identifying taxis. Orange and white taxis are four-door carsthat offer the most comfort, with metered rates. Green and white taxis are a step down the scale, butstill have meters. The lower class yellow and white taxis have no meters, so be sure to negotiate yourfare before you depart.
Once you've found the right taxi, issues of fares, meters and other charges come into play. In somecountries, all taxis are metered, and the government regulates fares so you can expect few problems.
But in other places you may find drivers reluctant to use meters, even though the car should beequipped with one. The rule of thumb in such cases is to insist on their use, if you know meters areavailable.
While meters don't always show the true fare (dishonest drivers sometimes adjust them to advancefaster), it is seldom cheaper to rely on the driver to quote a fare. So if your driver insists he/shecannot use a meter, find another taxi.
But what about countries where there truly are no meters? There are two methods you can use.
One is to negotiate the fare before you get into the car. In Russia, this is the only way it is done.
"You call a taxi, and when the driver pulls over, you don't get in," an experienced traveler says. "Thedriver will lean over to the passenger-side window, you tell him where you want to go, then negotiate aprice."But another man takes a different approach on his trips to Latin America. His "never-ask-the-fare"policy works like this. "While I'm in the airport, I ask three or four people to get an idea for how muchit will cost to get to my destination," he explains. "I never ask the driver how much it is, I just pay lessthan what the people said. If it's more, the driver will tell you."When a fare does turn out to be more than you expected, think about your options. Of course, a largedifference may leave you arguing with the driver. However, one traveler makes the point that thisdifference may amount to pennies when you consider exchange rates. "Choose your fights," she says.
"Is it worth 25 or 50 cents to argue with a taxi driver?"Often what you think is a dishonest fare is actually the sum of legal extra charges. For example,when you call for a taxi in France, the meter starts running from wherever the taxi was stationed, so itcan arrive with up to 10 dollars already on the meter. In Australia and Singapore, extra charges areimposed for phone-in requests. There is a post-midnight charge in London and Singapore, whichexplains why Singaporean taxis disappear after 11:30 PM and reappear at midnight. Luggage requiresan extra charge in some cities.
A general knowledge of a city's taxi-taking customs can also make you more comfortable during yourtravels. For instance, it is customary for Germans, particularly male passengers, to sit in the front seatwith their taxi drivers, a common practice in Australia as well. And in Mexico, don't be surprised ifyour driver picks up another person while your ride is still in progress.
In Thailand, back-seat passengers are advised not to rest their feet on the seat in front of them,which drivers consider rude as feet are considered the lowest, dirtiest part of the body. Japanese taxishave automatic controls to open and close the doors. "Don't stand too close to a taxi door or you'll gethit," warns one Japanese man. Don't be alarmed by the bells ringing in Singaporean taxis, which aresimply a signal warning drivers they have exceeded the speed limit.
If you must travel to remote areas where taxis are few, or if you plan to make many stopsthroughout the day, you will probably find it easier and cheaper to hire a taxi for the day or half-day.
Taxis outside hotels are usually the safest, but also the most expensive for day hires. If you're in acountry where security is a concern, stick to hotel taxis, but in other places, it's likely that you'll be ableto strike a good deal with a driver on the street.
If you're going to spend a lot of time with a particular driver, plan ahead to ensure the day will gosmoothly. For instance, in Asian countries, have your destinations and directions written down in Asiancharacters.