The minute you stick you face in the widow of a taxi cab and ask, “How much Cabby,” the charade begins! Almost every country you travel to your first encounter will probably be with a taxi; the experience can make or break the start of your adventure, so try and look upon it as an extension of the cultural experience!
Every city has its share of good and bad taxi drivers; it’s a tough life driving a taxi, long hours and at times downright dangerous, so when visiting a foreign country it pays to do your homework, remember every country has a government fare system in place so look up the local fares. Don’t act like a tourist, think like a local.
London taxi drivers are the best in the world! They are unique in that they know where they are going and more importantly how to get there. They maintain a high standard in a city where taxi culture goes back to the 1800′s. Who doesn’t love those big black bugs with enough head room to accommodate a ladies hat or gentleman’s top hat? The drivers are charming, outgoing and well-informed. Okay not everyone appreciates a chatty driver when they are hugely jetlagged and feel like they’ve been dragged through a bush backwards. Some would say they are too inquisitive, especially if you are a woman travelling alone, I’m all for it, a little bit of harmless flirtation never hurt anyone.
If only the rest of the EU could follow suit, in Paris they are rude, is it the traffic, boredom or just plain arrogance! In Greece and Rome the drivers smoke with all the windows wound up, often with the radio blaring, they flout the rules and take on extra passengers, and drive like men possessed in hair-raising traffic conditions. Australia is not much better, no-one can speak English, they have no idea where they are going and can’t even follow a GPS system.
New York gets a blue ribbon for being the most spine-chilling; these crazy guys are in a league of their own. The drivers in New York think they are on the set of an action movie, yelling obscenities, while carrying out an aggressive game of cat and mouse with the other cab drivers.
My top New York taxi story is… late at night, raining, can’t get a normal yellow cab to the airport, the doorman of the hotel convinces us to take a so called private cab. We were desperate at this stage, so off we go down Madison Avenue, when suddenly the driver, (all we can see is the back of his head in the shadows) locks all the doors and swoops down a side street. We don’t recognize this neighborhood, rain, dark, burning oil drums surrounded by homeless men. This is not right, I look at my companion with a lick of panic, he too is looking uneasy. We try to talk to the driver, “is this the right way to JFK?”… nothing! Okay, by now we are really freaking out, I see my companion slowly slipping his Swiss army knife out of his briefcase, and my hands by this stage are slick with sweat, when suddenly up ahead I see a neon sign like a vision in the darkness… JFK straight ahead. The driver, a young Bangladeshi, with limited English, turns to us and beams, “First time I take this route Sir, but it all work out, yes!” Phew… we almost murdered an innocent taxi driver!
You haven’t really been to Bangkok if you don’ try a crazy Tuk Tuk, so named for the sound the engine makes, or a Jeepney in Manila, a kind of travelling jukebox cum arcade game. In Hong Kong, make sure you have the address both in English and written in Mandarin or you won’t get anywhere. In India, the taxis are rusted wrecks, driven at break-neck speed, with meters that run like spinning wheels. In Bali don’t fall for the broken meter myth, everywhere throughout Asia, you will find the meter is on ‘Foreign Tourist Mode’… . Oh for the white-gloved competence of Japanese taxi drivers.
Before travelling familiarize yourself with the following …
The local taxi system and fixed rates on meters, find out how much it should cost to your destination.
When hailing a cab, move out of the hectic tourist area, and away from 5 star hotels where the fare is automatically hiked.
Negotiate the fare prior to getting into the taxi not once you arrive. Know approximately how long your journey should take and study a map before you leave.
Be aware of extra surcharges to avoid any unpleasant confrontation at the journeys end. If language is a barrier, ask the concierge to write out your destination for you in the local language, and also how to get back to your hotel.
Fixed price is the better way to go even though it may be a little higher; if the driver is smart he will get you there by the quickest route to optimize his profit. Metered fare = bumping up the price by taking the longest route. Nowadays with GPS you can track your course as you go.
So sit back and enjoy the ride of your life, taxi drivers are amongst the most loquacious and sociable people in the world. Where else can you entertain yourself admiring their unique talismans, in the east, monkey Gods, Goddesses, flowers, charms, anything to improve the driver’s karmic energy. In the west you are more likely to see the Virgin Mary, Jesus, rosary beads or St Jude the helper of the hopeless and traffic Jams!
When you do come across a hardworking and honest cabbie, smile and show your respect, it will make his day!