I share a loathing of taxis with the author of one of my favourite fellow bloggers, Andrew Petcher. A recent post of his inspired me to write this short piece.
I find taxis to be over-priced at the best of times and my aversion to them has seen me get hopelessly lost on several occasions when trying to locate my hotel from a train or bus station.
Walking around Riga for two hours around midnight trying to find my bed for the night was perhaps the worst such experience.
I now know not to even try to persuade Mrs Wilbur that public transport from the airport is a good idea. Her expressions of displeasure at my navigation skills in the likes of Prague, Valencia and Vienna taught me that particular lesson eventually!
It’s not just the extortionate cost that gets my hackles up either. It is the notion that every one of the bleeders is out to rip you off. An unfair blanket assertion I grant you, but then again I have been the victim on a few occasions now, so once bitten twice shy as they say.
There are a few particular incidents that stand out:
Rip Off One – Athens
I am a regular visitor to the Greek capital and can speak a few words. Something like, “hello, I would like a taxi to the centre” is well within my grasp. My accent is not great I grant you, but each time I attempt a sentence or two, the driver pretends not to understand me and turns the conversation to English.
I am always convinced that this is to unnerve me, a prelude to being charged airport tax, toll road excess, baggage carrying fees and translation services. You know the situation – meter says €35 but miraculously the fare comes to €50.
Anyway, I digress, to the scams. I was party to this twice, once falling for it and once nearly having a fight, both times at four in the morning.
These were the days of the Drachma. The 500 note (about £1) and the 5,000 note (£10) were both blueish, with the higher value version considerably bigger in size.
In the late ’90s the taxi fare always seemed to come to about 10,000 and on the first scam occasion, the unscrupulous driver claimed I had given him 2 x 500 notes by mistake instead of two x 5,000.
He had of course switched the notes, but being rather tired at that time in the morning, I swapped two big blues for two small ones and only realised I had been had a few hours later after a good night’s sleep.
When the identical thing happened six months later I was of course wise to it and refused to swap. We argued and both got out of the car. Luckily I was hand luggage only and after a few minutes shouting and a little bit of shoving, the driver gave up when some bin men turned up, leaving in a right hump and shouting obscenities in my direction
He had definitely tried it on many times before and had probably got away with it more often than not.
Rip Off Two – Istanbul
In the early ’90s a friend and I went on a two centre holiday in Bulgaria & Turkey. Our resort in the latter country was ninety-minutes by bus to Istanbul, so I went every day in preference to relaxing by the sea or pool. On the first day my pal came with me.
We arrived at the manic Topkapi Bus Station and not knowing our way around, decided to take a taxi to Topkapi Palace, which we figured couldn’t be far away.
Like a good traveller we agreed the fare up front – about £2.50.
After less than 5 minutes we pulled up by some shops to be told this was the closest we could get on four wheels. I already felt we had been fleeced but paid up anyway, after all we had struck a deal.
We were then shocked that he wanted more. The old ‘that was the fare for each of you’ scam.
Before we had chance to leave, he locked the doors centrally. We were trapped. Furthermore, if we didn’t pay he would take us to see his ‘friends’.
He had also taken down his photo ID so we couldn’t write down the number. After a standoff that lasted a couple of minutes we reluctantly paid up. We were finally released – straight into the hands of a carpet salesman…….
Rip Off Three – Milan
Mrs Wilbur and I had just experienced something off our bucket lists by taking in Giselle at La Scala. Feeling in a fabulous mood we decided to have a cocktail in the main square overlooking the beautifully illuminated cathedral.
Giselle At La Scala Taken On My Mobile Prior To The Incident
It really was a perfect evening – what could possibly go wrong to spoil it. Yes of course, a taxi driver!
There was a taxi rank opposite the cathedral so that is where we stood. A minute or two later a taxi turned up and we approached. He wound down the window to inquire, “It is Robert?” No It was not Robert, but in the absence of any other punters he agreed to take us.
As we sat in the back seat, I thought to myself that Robert must have been somebody that booked the taxi. I instinctively looked at the meter and it was already showing €12 and we had only travelled a few metres. Obviously I was not happy with this and called out the fact to the driver who first shrugged and then muttered, “fu**ing tourists” under his breath.
Well nobody calls me a tourist and gets away with it! My perhaps ill thought out response was, “fu**ing peasant taxi drivers!” I then insisted that he stop and let us out as we had no intention of paying. He slammed the brakes on and out we clambered.
I was incensed at this point, all goodwill generated by ethereal ballet dancers, iconic cultural venues and wonderful nightcaps had momentarily evaporated. I went to take a photo of the number plate with my mobile, fully intending to report the matter.
Said peasant taxi driver then charged out of the taxi and knocked my phone flying out of my hand to break into pieces a few metres down the road. Mrs Wilbur shrieked as I grabbed the driver by his arm. Usually extremely placid, I was now wound up and ready for my first scrap since primary school!
Mrs Wilbur’s protestations diffused the situation and we merely exchanged ‘pleasantries’ as the loutish driver broke free and drove off. Mrs Wilbur accepted my apology, we snapped the phone back together and order was restored. We soon flagged down another taxi, happily one who played it by the book and got a nice tip for his honesty.
Rip Off Number Four – Ljubljana
I arrived at the airport around 11pm on a solo trip and even I wasn’t daft enough to attempt a bus journey to find my Airbnb. I was surprised to find that my driver was a lady well into her sixties. Unusual I thought, but a nice old lady definitely wouldn’t rip me off. Wrong!
The meter seemed to be going like the clappers. When I mentioned it, of course the senior citizen spoke no English! The journey took 20 minutes and cost me €45. I was in the middle of nowhere, it was raining and I just wanted to go for a late night beer, so I paid up.
Next morning I recounted my story to my young host, who advised that the older generation were notorious for such practices, the old corruptions of Tito’s generation still very much in evidence. The journey should have cost €20 tops!
Ljubljana – Far Nicer than Some Taxi Drivers!
Oh my! This reminded me of my taxi incident in NYC a few years back. The taxi was running fast and did not slow down for the uneven road that I bumped my head on the ceiling, breaking the sunglasses on my head that I jst bought before I boarded that same taxi, grrr….
Don’t set me off about taxi drivers. I find them all to be rude thieves. The last one n Naples had a meter reading of 22 euro but charged me 30 with an excess charge for the two pieces of hand luggage.
My worst rip off was in Riga.
Late at night on the way back to my hotel I realised that I wasn’t really sure where I was going and although I knew that I was close I felt a little uneasy in the heavy shadows of the buildings where I imagined danger to be lurking in every suspicious corner and I decided to complete the journey by taxi so located one and asked for a price. If I was anxious about being mugged on the street I should have been more bothered about the taxi driver:
“How much to the Hotel Albert? I enquired “5 Lats” he said “5 Lats, that’s ridiculous, it’s less than half a mile, I’ll give you 2” – “The fare is 5 Lats” he demanded! I could see that he wasn’t in the mood for negotiation so I decided not to argue and got in but then tried again: “Look, I’ll pay you 2 Lats, that’s fair”. “5 Lats” he repeated. And then I realised why I would not get the fare for 2 Lats and also had it confirmed for me just what sort of hotel I was staying at – If you can afford f**ky f**ky at the Hotel Albert you can afford 5 Lats for a taxi!”
I indignantly pleaded my innocence and when we arrived I paid up and called him a robber, he laughed out loud as though in total agreement with the total accuracy of my character assessment and drove off pocketing the result of his sting. Actually the journey was only about two hundred metres so at the official basic rate of 1.5 Lats and .5 Lats per kilometre he made a handsome profit on that trip of about 215%!
The world over!