Within the past 30 minutes, I’ve seen the sky turn from clear blue to near dark. The clouds have masked the sun like a swarm of locust. I know it is going to rain. This doesn’t feel like it will be a light rain either. The sidewalks are clearing out. I better stop my sight seeing this moment and hail a taxi. A real taxi though, I am not hoping on a scooter with imminent rain approaching. I walk down a busy street filled with restaurants and shops. As soon as I enter the taxi, the down pour begins.
Taking out my map of the area, I direct the taxi driver on where to go since he can’t understand my English and I do not speak any Vietnamese except for the few words I’ve heard in movies based on the Vietnam War. Somehow I don’t think dropping a didi mow would be appropriate in this situation. He appears to understand where I am going but he doesn’t turn on his meter. Instead we quickly negotiate a price. My memory is somewhat cloudy but I believe it was 100,000 VND (roughly $5 USD).
Off we were driving the streets of Hanoi. I knew we were going too far by the time it was taking. After 30 minutes of driving, he asked to see my map again. I gave it to him, he pointed at where we were stopped and gestured for me to get out of the taxi. We were not in the right location. I showed him where we were and where we needed to be. I knew my hotel was near Hoan Kiem lake, not far from the famous water puppet theater. He had driven to some other lake. Suddenly, despite my smiling protest, he got heated and started yelling in Vietnamese, showing his awful yellow, rotted teeth. That’s when I got “black” on him.
Sometimes when I travel, I have to bring out the “black” that foreigners see in movies and rap videos. That’s the black they don’t want to mess with. Typically I bring it out when I am bothered too much by touts who don’t take “No!” for an answer. Once I bring out my “angry black man” character, they suddenly hear my “No!” So with a finger in his face that was probably sharp enough to cut through a steak at the time, I told his ass in a language every man can understand that he was taking me where I needed to be or else he wasn’t getting one dong from me. To my surprise, he got hood too and kept coming back at me, even going so far as opening his door, getting out, and opening my door in a gesture telling me that I needed to exit his taxi.
Maybe it was the cool breeze from the rain, but suddenly we both took a breath, got our cool and relaxed before things got too out of hand. I played the smart role at that point, pulled out 50,000 more dong and told him to take it along with the 100,000 dong and please drive me to my hotel. Money talks and 15 minutes later I was dropped off close enough to my hotel (could not actually reach the hotel because the streets were entirely flooded).
Despite eventually coming to an agreeable price and reaching my location, I walked away knowing I was cheated. Sure, it was only about $2.50 USD, but I was cheated nonetheless. I know this because I’ve been cheated in just about every country I’ve driven a taxi in except the United States, Hong Kong, Australia and Japan. Is there an honest cab driver anywhere in the world?
It seems like the instant you get into a taxi in many countries I’ve been to, the drivers are eager to take you where you want to go. The second you say the word, “Meter,” suddenly they go tone deaf. On second mention, you’re told that either the meter does not work or now the taxi driver does not go to where you want to go. Even if you decide to negotiate a price, you’re still paying double or more what you would pay if they turned the meter on. In most case, especially in Asia, that double may only be about two or three dollars, but you can’t keep allowing yourself to get cheated.
In Thailand is where I’ve had it the worse when it comes to taxis. Good luck getting a driver who uses a meter. Even better luck getting a driver who knows how to get around Bangkok beyond the four block radius from where you caught the taxi. Your best bet is to have your location written down in Thai. Better bet is to have a phone number handy that the driver can call once he is lost- because he will get lost.
If you opt to take the baht bus rather than taxi cabs in Thailand, beware of the baht bus scams. Most baht buses cost only 10 baht to ride unless you ask for a specific location. These buses generally only go in one direction so if you hop on and hop off, pay 10 baht and that’s all.
Currently I am deciding where to travel this Summer if I get to use my 30 vacation days. On my radar are Brazil or Italy-Greece-Cyprus-Turkey. I enjoy looking at Wiki Travel for quick trip tips, especially sights to see, how to get around, eating and other helpful tips. Plus, I can save the Wiki Travel pages to my Itouch and access them when I am on the go and not picking up a wifi signal. For every place I am interested in visiting, there is a warning on its Wiki Travel page about taxi scams. And it’s the same story: Don’t negotiate with drivers, use meters; sit in the front seat and watch the meter to make sure the driver isn’t tipping the meter more; have a map of where you’re going so the driver isn’t taking you on longer drives to run up the meter.
Who hires these people and how do the taxi companies make any money if their drivers aren’t using the meters? The owners must know that their drivers are taking fares under the table, so what do they do about it? I wonder these things when I’m traveling and dealing with drivers who are better price negotiators than they are drivers.
If you are an honest taxi driver, my props to you. Perhaps you can teach your brethren a thing or to about doing the right thing. For all you tourists out there: Stop negotiating and start demanding the meters. The reason why they continue these practices is because tourists allow it. You think locals get in and don’t get a meter? Stop letting these drivers and other people who prey on tourists think that we are all picture happy nitwits who can be taken advantage of.