Whistle and Wave: How to Take a Taxi (And Not Get Ripped Off)

Posted on September 29, 2011


Unlike the movies, a whistle and wave isn’t always a fool-proof way to get a taxi. And when you do, you can’t always be sure to find a driver that won’t rip you off by taking long routes or other scams. This article will show you when, where and how to take a taxi during your travels, including some useful insider tips.

By Alyssa LaFaro

You should always use public transportation options whenever available, including buses, subways and trains, simply because they are the cheapest options. However there are a few instances when you should take a cab:

  • You miss the public transportation option and need to get somewhere quickly
  • You need to go somewhere off the beaten path
  • You’re out late at night and need to get home after public transport shuts down
  • You’re traveling with a group of 4 and a taxi costs about the same as taking public transportation

It is not out of the ordinary for the public transportation systems to shut down in the evening, so if you’re going to be out late, double check with your hotel receptionist to find out what time a taxi will be your only option to get home.

Useful Tips

  • Ask ahead of time. Your hotel receptions will know approximate costs for getting around the city, so you don’t get overcharged if you have to haggle.
  • Know the taxi terminology. Be prepared to bargain for the price in the local language and tell the driver where you’re headed.
  • Know the street address. It’s also not a bad idea to carry a map with you, so you know that the driver is taking the most direct route.
  • Be confident. If you know the protocol for taking a cab, the driver will think you are a local and be less likely to scam you. Ask a local how they take a cab and follow suit. Make sure the driver knows that you are the one in charge. By all means, don’t make your driver angry, but speak with confidence, clarity, and brevity when giving directions. It’s not a bad idea to hand them the street address on a piece of paper or show them your destination on a map.
  • Be safe. It’s always a better to call an official cab company (ask your hotel reception for help) and request a taxi, rather than catching one outside. Stay away from unmarked vehicles especially, as some drivers don’t even have a license and try to scam foreigners who don’t know better.
  • Travel in groups. The more people you can fit into the taxi, the cheaper the fare will be overall. When everyone can chip in, travelling this way doesn’t seem so expensive.
  • Befriend a driver. If you become familiar with a city and its taxi system, it might be in your best interest to ask for a driver you’ve had previously when calling for a taxi. Note down their name and license number before getting out, or ask for a business card. Not only is it reassuring to see a familiar face, but you know that driver is probably more reliable than not because they’ve taken you somewhere before and didn’t overcharge you.
  • Know when to tip. Once again, ask the hotel reception for the policy on tipping. If you don’t know, a 10-15% tip is a good rule of thumb.

Taxis all over the world.

Here are some city-specific tips for catching a taxi in Europe and beyond:

  • Rome. As soon as you arrive and are leaving the airport, it is common that you will see taxi drivers waiting outside to help you. Some even wear tags on their shirt that say “taxi,” to make themselves noticeable and more official-looking, but be warned, this is not necessarily true. Some of these drivers may not actually be legally approved cabbies. They will charge you more than rate prices. Make sure to look for authorized drivers, whose cabs normally say “Commune di Roma” written on the doors.
  • London. The distinct London black cabs are legally obliged to take on any customer requesting to travel a distance up to 12 miles away or up to one hour duration. Fares for these cabs are metered, and all start with a minimum charge of £2.20. Cabs leaving from the Heathrow Airport can take you anywhere up to 20 miles away with an initial charge of £2.40 (they charge an extra £2.00 if you request a cab by phone). London also has a cool text service that you can use called Cabwise. If you text CAB to 60835 from any location (location is plotted by GPS), the company will send you two minicab numbers and one taxi (black cab) number back to your phone.
  • France. Outside of Paris, Marseille, and Lyon, taxis must be called for in advance or found at a taxi stand, not hailed from the street. The minimum charge for a taxi is 6.20€ no matter the distance or amount of time it takes to get to your destination. Taxis charge per kilometer, and depending on the time of day, the rate per kilometer will change.
  • Morocco. There are two types of taxis. Petit taxis hang around town and will take you to a local destination at a reasonable rate. These taxis are also metered, starting at zero dirhams during the day and around three dirhams during the evening. Grand taxis are preferable for day trips or travelling outside of city boundaries. They seat six passengers, and the fare is split evenly between all six. If you need to leave immediately, or want extra space in the taxi, then you will have to pay the price for all six seats. Expect to be charged more late at night, especially since you will probably have to cover the cost of all six seats due to the lack of need for a taxi at that hour. Since these taxis are not metered, prices are more likely to be set by the driver and can be negotiated.
  • Latin America. Do not hail taxis from the street. Call them in advance. Sometimes taxi drivers may be working with thieves who want to rob you, and cabbies will call them and notify them of your route to plan an off-road theft. However, drivers working for taxi services are more trusted.
  • Japan. On the weekends, it is not uncommon for there to be long lines in front of taxi stands at major train stations, since local transportation services stop around midnight. Also, late in the evening, rates increase by about 20-30 percent. You will notice that the left rear passenger door is opened and closed only by the driver—you are not supposed to open and close it by yourself. Make sure you do not tip the drivers because it is already included in the fare. If you don’t know the language well, it is recommended to hand the address on a piece of paper to driver because, even to cab drivers, the Japanese address system can be a bit confusing.

More Resources:

www.taxiprices.com This site offers little tidbits of information, including fares and advice, about taking taxis in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Australia/New Zealand.

http://www.howcast.com/videos/369102-How-To-Handle-a-Taxi-Driver-in-a-Foreign-Country This site provides a short, helpful video on taking taxis while abroad.

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