From New Delhi to Sydney, every city has its fair share of taxi drivers intent on ripping off tourists. That’s not to say that all taxi drivers are bad. In fact, we have met some great taxi drivers during our travels. But we have also had the occasional bad experience that reminds us to stay on our toes, especially in India and Asia.
Here are a few lessons we have learned over the years that help us to avoid being overcharged. Most of these tips apply whether you’re in a cab, tuk tuk, water taxi or even a horse-drawn cart!
1. Know where you’re going
A clueless tourist is easy prey. Before you hail a ride, find out where your destination is located. Take a screenshot of the address (preferably in the local language) and a map with your destination clearly marked.
We highly recommend using an offline GPS app (like MAPS.ME) to pinpoint your destination too. The app will show you the route and distance to your destination. This makes it much easier to set a fair price with the driver. Offline GPS apps also allow you to monitor your journey while you are in the taxi, even if you don’t have any data.
If the taxi driver is taking you on the ‘scenic route’, you will soon know about it.
2. Ask a local
Ask a local how much a taxi to your destination should cost. If you are at an airport or bus station, often there are tourist information desks that can give you advice. Your hostel or guesthouse will also sometimes have estimated fares from airports and bus stations on their website. Otherwise, you can always email your accommodation to ask how much a taxi should cost.
Most cities have good and bad taxi companies. It pays to find out the best taxi company before you arrive so you don’t hail an expensive or unsafe cab. Official taxis are almost always preferable to unmarked cars.
3. If the taxi has a meter, use it!
If the taxi has a meter, ask to use it and watch it like a hawk. You can usually find the metered rates on a sticker inside the taxi. Sometimes the per kilometre rate may be slightly higher for late night rides. Make sure the meter and the advertised rate match up. Usually using the meter gives you a better deal than a set price.
But there are a few catches. You will still need to make sure the driver doesn’t pull a fast one on you. Check the driver isn’t taking you on the ‘scenic route’ by following your journey using an offline GPS app. Watch the meter to make sure there are no sudden jumps in price. If there are sudden increases, it probably means the driver is tampering with the meter. In this case, make sure to speak up!
4. Set the price before you get in
If the taxi doesn’t have a meter, you must set the price before you get in. Be very clear on your destination then set a price with the driver. Only pay once you have arrived at your destination.
Once you have agreed on a price, check if there are any catches to this deal. For example, in India a cheap price will probably include a stop at a souvenir shop that pays commission to your driver. This was all part of our love/hate relationship with India! We even had a taxi driver in Russia try to convince us that the price he had quoted was per kilometre. Yeah, right.
It’s also not uncommon to be given a price of 50 (insert cheap local currency here) only for the driver to say that he meant US dollars at the end of your ride. Cheeky!
5. Barter (but don’t be an a**hole)
One word: karma.
When setting a price with a taxi driver, you will probably need to barter to get a fair price. There are no hard and fast rules about how best to barter, but we always try to do it with a smile. Know how much the fare should be, see what the driver offers and go from there. A successful barter is when both driver and passenger are happy!
In many places that we have visited, taxi drivers are some of the hardest working but lowest paid people in the country. It pays to remember this when you are bartering over a fare. How much does 50 cents mean to you compared to your driver?
We are strong believers in travel karma, and perspective is everything. Hammering a taxi driver over a few cents will probably annoy your driver, and may be more trouble than it’s worth. It can also lead to a rip off down the track and a grumpy ride.
6. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
It’s easy to get sucked in to a taxi that is promising an incredible fare. But in our experience, this usually leads to drama. Finding a driver that is going to take you on your 3-hour ride for less than the price of a bus usually means there is a big catch.
It may be a shared taxi. You might stop at every shop/hotel along the way. We have even had a taxi that said the price didn’t include fuel.
If you have found a fare that sounds too good to be true, proceed with caution!
7. Don’t be afraid to get out
Don’t be afraid to get out of a taxi if you are being royally ripped off or feel unsafe. You should try to hop out somewhere with other people around, but where you won’t get hit by an oncoming bus. If things get desperate, threaten or pretend to call the police. We also recommend keeping your bags on the seat next to you, rather than in the trunk. This avoids the driver holding your bags for ransom and makes it much easier to walk away.
Do you have any other tips for catching taxis while travelling? Comment below to let us know!