The modern traveler has more tools than ever to get from Point A to Point B in any given city. Yet sometimes the quickest and easiest way to reach your destination is by taxi. Taxis have their major conveniences in that they are nearly always plentiful, not subject “surge pricing” and can be caught from any major hotel or landmark in any city.
Unfortunately, as in any industry, not all taxi drivers are honest and will try to take advantage of unsuspecting passengers. On a recent taxi journey in Jakarta, the driver tried to take me for a ride via the longest scenic route possible. I was very annoyed I had found myself in this situation yet my backup plans kicked into play to get me out of the web. These are my five ways to avoid taxi scams.
1 – This is never your first visit
A common icebreaking question when you jump into a cab is “is this your first time here?” Never say yes! This widens the appeal to take more money than you bargained for – whether it’s taking the longest route possible or the driver offering services for the duration of your trip; you should never admit this visit is the first. That effectively puts a sign on your head stating “rip-off target”.
For this strategy to work, you need to do some research on the country you’re visiting. What are the main sights? What are some second-tier cities you can mention you’ve visited? You don’t want to get caught on your bluff with no research so be prepared to rattle off a whole heap of experiences you’re yet to have.
2 – Avoid negotiations
Drivers who insist on negotiating a price most likely have something up their sleeve. They’re probably quoting a highly inflated price to the standard metered fare, or ask for extra money for toll roads at the end. Unless you have travelled the route a few times before and know how much the standard fare is, always insist on using the meter – otherwise don’t get in.
3 – Buyer beware if hailing from the street
Look to any major road and you will likely see many taxis that are happy to pull over for you. Be aware, many cities have “lookalike cabs” which are unlicensed, or drivers may use pressure tactics to get you in the cab saying “Get in, get in! I shouldn’t stop here!” before refusing to run the meter or suddenly requiring a stop at a petrol station, which of course hikes up the metered fare. Consider using official taxi ranks, hotel lobbies or even finding someone who can call the taxi company on your behalf.
4 – Use online maps when on the move
I’m very lucky that my home mobile provider offers very cheap international roaming which includes internet. Using your roaming or local sim card, you can literally track your journey as you go if you suspect you’re being taken for a ride.
When you get in, show the driver on your device where you want to go and have the directions preview displayed – this will send a strong message to the driver that you know where you’re going and you are well informed of the route. This may even assist honest drivers, who may not know exactly how to get to Point B.
5 – Don’t be afraid to get out, when it’s safe
If you know you’re being taken for a ride or something feels instinctively wrong, just pay the fare that’s on the meter and get out. This isn’t always an option late at night or in an unsafe neighbourhood but pick your timing as soon as you see a safe location such as a shopping mall, major hotel or police station. These locations will generally have plenty of other transport options, or people who are happy to assist travellers to get to where they need to go.
How I got out of a taxi scam
Taxi scams are likely to happen to every traveller at least once, even when you follow all the general safeguards. Recently I had to get from a shopping centre back to my hotel, a route I have taken a few times before. This normally takes ten minutes and costs a few dollars.
After requesting a taxi from the shopping centre lobby, I hopped in and the driver was very happy and cheerful as most are. The first red flag was when the driver started taking a surprising route compared to what I experienced previously, especially as the traffic was light. Thinking he may know of a traffic problem that I didn’t and knowing there are multiple ways to the hotel I didn’t think any more of it.
Red flag number two appeared as this trip struck the fifteen-minute mark. I checked my online map and noticed we were taking a considerably longer route to the hotel. I figured out the most direct route and where the driver had to turn next…he missed that turn and was about six lanes of traffic over – I’m being taken for a ride!
All the sudden, the cheery taxi driver who had engaging small talk in English turned on me. I politely reconfirmed the hotel he was taking me to and he growled: “yes we are going there”. When I asked to go the shortest way I was stonewalled with the sudden “I don’t speak English” line. He then magically jumps across six lanes of traffic to take the next left turn. Now in a traffic jam and with a tight grip on my phone, I show him where we started, my destination and pointed out we are now further away from the hotel than before. He replies “ok, I’ll turn up here”. He does, and I think we are now back on the most direct route to the hotel. I considered getting out, but my gut feeling told me that it’s not overly safe outside despite the stopped traffic and there is no immediate Plan B around me.
As we approach the forty-minute mark of my ten-minute taxi journey, we suddenly take another unexpected left turn. We are now close to my hotel and I call out the taxi driver on his latest tactic. He claims the closest entry was closed which I know is false because it’s open 24 hours a day. I ask him to stop immediately, give him my money and got out. By chance, there was a policeman standing right where I got out. The driver complained to the police that I didn’t pay him, but the police had none of it and told me to continue on with my day.
The total taxi fare was 75% higher than normal from the shopping centre back to the hotel. Yet if this was my first time to Jakarta and I hadn’t researched my route, I could have been in the taxi for a couple of hours and paying for every last moment.
It was unfortunate I found myself in this position to begin with, yet I was falling victim to a very simple tourist scam which runs rampant around the world. What got me out of my situation was the Plan-B and ‘C which potentially saved me a lot of money and my time. It was very scary at the start, but I’m happy that this story can be shared with laughs over a couple of beers, and you the reader.
Give this a like and share in the comments below if you’ve had a dodgy taxi experience! How did you get out of it?
Feature photo courtesy from Flickr – Marcin Wichary