You finally made it. Destiny and adventure await you on this wonderful journey. You step outside the airport with a fresh immigration stamp in your passport and a smile on your face. However, when that first crisp blast of foreign wind hits you, your goofy smile is squelched by the cluster of greasy looking men groping at you like a zombie horde. Taxis are scary. And yet all you can do, despite your mother’s warnings, is get in the yellow chariot with one of these strangers and pray they didn’t fake that id hanging from the rear-view mirror.
My friend, you are not the first nor the last to go through the musky gauntlet. As someone who has been through countless times, allow me to give you some tips for proper taxi election.
Pick the Runt
Taxi drivers are notoriously pushy and loud. They purposefully disorient you as a way of sneaking you into their clutches before you have time to think. However, at the back of the pack is often the quiet one leaning on the hood of his taxi, craning his neck for a glimpse of the oncoming clients. This my friend, is the runt. If you speak the language, he is often the one the other taxi drivers insult and taunt. Push your way past the others and find this runt. They may come up with witty, well thought out reasons to deter you from him, such as, “He smells like three armpits and has a uni-brow,” but there is a reason why the runt is in isolation; he doesn’t fit in. You see, the runt is often a religious exile, or a man of morals, a code of honor if you will. He is the one who refuses to become the pushy scam artist like the others, therefore they reject him. This makes him your runt now, because he is probably the most honest person in the group, and that means safety.
Always Get a Price (even if there is a meter).
Even the best of runts can betray you. Which is why you should always ask the ballpark price for where you are going, or exact if there is no meter. Never get into a taxi without doing this. It is a well known fact among taxi enthusiasts that the meters in taxis are easy to speed up or slow down. This makes sense because of the constantly changing currency values in many nations and inflation. Many corrupt drivers will also subtly turn off their meter two minutes into your trip without you noticing. They then pretend it broke and give you an inflated price (one taxi asked me for $100 on a two block ride).
On the other hand. You may get an honest driver who tells you he believes it will be about $20 (as recently happened to me in Guatemala), but he isn’t sure where the location is. If he is clearly lost, asking for directions, making lots of phone calls, and you end up spending an hour in his cab, maybe throw him a few extra bucks for effort, we’re all human.
Only Have Dollars? Make Sure He Accepts Them!
It is a rookie mistake to pick your runt, get your price, and make it to your location only to pull out your hard earned rubles (Euros? Colones? Yuan?) and hear, “Ohhhhhh, I only accept Drachmas.” The ensuing argument is never fun. This is most often a tactic they use. They know that under stress the average tourist can’t process thoughts and reason as quickly. Even if you did check the exchange rate, if it is anything like the 7:1 ratio of the Guatemalan quetzal, they know you are unlikely to be able to do the math quickly in your head, and the vast majority of people are more willing to get ripped off than whip out their phone and do uncomfortable silence math while a seething stranger is glaring at them and muttering darkly in a foreign tongue. The result? The taxi driver, who does know the exchange rate, and has calmly done the math during your entire ride, pretends to reluctantly accept your rubles while charging you double without you figuring it out until you are in your hotel.
If you only have large bills, make sure the taxi has change.
Along the same lines as the last tip. Don’t step into a taxi with $20’s, $50’s or $100’s without first asking the driver if he has change for them. Many a voyager has had to fork over $50 for a $15 ride because they didn’t have smaller bills on them, and their taxi happens to know a local police officer who will back them up. Also, the officer will take a $50 too, accusing you of a fake crime against the driver. They say it is a fine, and you must pay it or they will take you to a cold cell instead of your cozy hotel room for no other reason than the fact that they can.
It is usually cheaper to walk across the street than take a taxi from the Bus Terminal, Airport.
You’re tired. I get it. I’ve been there many times myself. You’ve been flying for ten hours with a five year old kid kicking the back of your seat and a parent who gave up and downed twelve of those tiny whiskeys fifteen minutes into the flight. The fusty horde doesn’t look so bad in your exhausted delirium. You just want to toss your new North Face backpack into the trunk and just let the man drive. But consider this; depending on the nation you are in, because in more dangerous nations those official airport or bus station taxis can indeed be the safest, if you walk a mere block or two away from the airport you will find average taxis on the highway. These taxis charge far less than the ones you find at official locations because they aren’t paying the fees to set up shop outside a client funnel.
Look for Religious Articles or Child Art
Taxi drivers basically live in their vehicles, so you can learn a lot about them as soon as you get inside. The reckless, dangerous drivers are usually the young guys with an awesome sound system and neon lighting. The unsuccessful drivers, or the ones who don’t actually own their taxis but rent them from another lazy owner, usually have the barely running taxis full of dents and chipped paint (unless the owner has several, in which case he will make them take better care). The best signs your can look for in a taxi is art made for them by their children, or religious articles. The reasons are obvious. Family men are more likely to drive safer and want to make an honest living, they have their kids and wife to get home to. Religious drivers believe they are being watched at all times, and will be judged for dishonesty, therefore they are less likely to rip you off.
Pick the Least Beat Up Taxi or Oldest Man
“Of course I’ll choose the nicest taxi,” you boldly proclaim, but most of the time people end up letting the taxi choose them. They allow the pushiest of drivers who grabs their bag without permission force them into the cab. They suddenly find themselves in a death trap of neon lights, disturbing rattles, and that thing that won’t stop screaming from the trunk. Don’t let this happen to you. You are the customer, not a victim. You choose your taxi. If you step into one and it is full of rusty meathooks, you have every right to get out, no matter how angry the driver gets. That said, in your process of choosing, pick the nicest taxi. “Wouldn’t that make them more upscale and expensive?” you may ask. No. As a matter of fact having a nicer taxi means they are successful, or work for someone who is. This means they are going to be picky about their cab, not wanting food or drinks in it, telling you not to slam the door, these are good signs. This means they will drive far more carefully, and will be more professional.
If you are in a location where all of the taxis are mere husks in taxi form, choose the oldest driver you can find. He may drive slower, but he has survived longer than the others and is far less likely to be involved in any of those young people scams.
So there you have it, with these tips you should be able to pick the best and safest taxi to get you to your destination!