Taxi ride experiences on your travels

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  • Mark Caswell

    One of our colleagues is currently in Istanbul, and was asked by a taxi driver where he was from. When he replied “England”, he was treated to the following (click on the link below to open the video)…

    What’s the best taxi greeting you’ve had on your travels?

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    Was in China last week and had a new version of Uber with the party that I went for dinner with. Drink drive laws are strictly enforced in China nowadays, but everyone wants to toast visitors. I was surprised that everyone was drinking, including those whose cars we had gone to the restaurant in.

    After the meal we went outside to stand by the cars and, after a few minutes, 3 guys riding collapsible electric motor bikes arrived. Bikes were folded and put in the boot, and the rider got in the car and drove us to the hotel, then drove the car owner home. Bike out of boot. Money paid and rider rode off. A fantastic idea.

    Michael Allen

    I was just in Hanoi and was surprised that my taxi driver had a TV screen in the middle of his dashboard which he used to watch TV dramas while driving!


    Slightly off topic: Most of the time I have conversations with taxi drivers as I get the best information about country’s political and economic situation.

    I told my friends a few pole predictions a number of times that I gathered from taxi drivers and those are more accurate than professional pole predictors. Trump in USA, landslide victory for Modi and Istanbul city elections results were accurately predicted by more than one and at that time I didn’t believe them, but later proven true. Even Brexit election was very accurately predicted by one London cabby.


    HK about 3 weeks ago, taxi From ETST to HKG usually around 280 HKD at 6am, taxi had a blow out just outside Cathay city, off loaded me and stood by the guard rail for 15 mins while he changed the tyre. Full of apologies until i went to pay and he tried to scam me 50 HKD by giving me change from 500 in 10s and 20s. After complaining to him suddenly he lost the ability to speak English until i got my phone out to take a snap of his licence. I swear he though it was justified charging me for his lost time…or puncture repair!


    I have had some funny experiences and some scary ones.

    Delhi :
    I had a pre-booked taxi and went to the driver who was holding the sign with the name least unlike mine. The driver greeted me like a long lost friend and began the usual totally uninhibited Indian Inquisition as we set off for the Imperial Hotel in Janpath, where the price of a beer would feed a family of four for a day. After pretending not to know the hotel, one of Delhi’s landmarks, he informed me that it had cancelled all reservations due to the arrival of a group from the United Nations, but offered to take me to a hotel of equal, if not superior, standard, where a friend of his worked, and which would cost me only a few pounds a night. I assured him that I had reconfirmed my reservation and that my room was held. He insisted that it wasn’t. I solved the problem by telling him that if we arrived to find my room unavailable I would give him 2000 rupees (the average monthly earning for an Indian taxi driver) and allow him to take me to his friend’s hotel. This shut him up for a while until I heard the ominous words, ‘Indian girls very pretty sir, very hot …..’ From this point I had to spend the rest of the journey declining the offer of various services, of which I should add he would have been the facilitator, not the actual provider.

    I was in one of India’s ubiquitous Hindustan Ambassadors, a 1930’s design which has barely changed over the years, and which, to misquote Henry Ford, is available in any shade of grey. The horn never stopped blaring as we wove our way past, or rather, through, the whirling maelstroms of ancient cars, rickshaws, unlit but garishly decorated lorries looming out of the dust and belching evil smelling smoke blacker than the surrounding night, cows, and suicidal pedestrians. The rule of the road is driving on the left. What this means is ‘drive on any part of the roadway which is left free’.

    Driving back from the airport,the driver held up a religious magazine, did I want to buy it?
    No thanks.
    5 minutes later, did I want to buy a guidebook to Madrid.
    No thanks, I live here.
    5 minutes later he held up ‘Swedish Teenage Nymphos, or similar.
    No thanks.
    Full marks for trying.

    Most interesting experience was again riding back to my flat (near the Bernabeu Stadium) late at night from the airport. Driver refuses to switch on meter, when we got back he quoted about triple the correct fare, so I told him I’d get back in to the taxi and he could drive me to the police station. He jumped out and pinned me against a wall. Suddenly I see two hefty men approaching, one from each side. I thought my last moments had arrived.
    They grabbed hold of him, hurled him back into his taxi, and made throat cutting gestures to him as they saw him off. They then turned to me to see if I was OK, and offered to walk me to my door.
    Turned out they were the pimps of the prostitutes who were always on the corner opposite my flat, and they knew that when I walked past them I was always polite and friendly, often gave them money for a coffee (probably drugs …) and that was why they’d looked after me. You never know who’s watching you in a big city. That night those men were my guardian angels.

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    around 20 years ago I flew down to Tirana for one of my early visits to Albania. On those days there was no baggage carousel, just a hole in the wall between airside and the arrivals hall and a baggage handler putting the cases through. I was first off the plane and through immigration and pointed out my suitcase to the man so he could pass it through. He immediately asked me if I needed a taxi.

    When I said yes, he abandoned the rest of the cases airside and took me through the airport to his fairly ancient yellow Merc. I have no idea if anyone else got their suitcase.

    But as our flight (from Vienna) arrived, a private jet had landed just before and clearly causing some excitement. It turned out that it was George Robertson, arriving in Albania for his first visit as the new NATO Secretary General.

    The baggage handler turned taxi driver asked me where I was going and I told him the name of my hotel, which was about 100m from the Sheraton. He nodded and said we would leave very shortly. In those days the road in from the airport was very poor – unmade in places, with cars parked in the road and still quite a few horses and carts slowing things down.

    My taximan rummaged in his glove compartment and ostentatiously placed a ‘Sheraton’ card in his windscreen. We then waited briefly for the NATO motorcade to start departing and he simply tailgated the procession. We reached our destination in around 20 minutes, rather than the usual 45-60, as cars and horses were forced off the road in front of us by the Albanian army.

    Certainly one of my fastest and more unusual airport taxi runs.

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    As I am sure many of you know I lived in Singapore for many years, there the experience with taxis is never constant, you will always either get a brilliant driver who whisks you to your destination, or indeed an old Uncle forced to continue to work as they cannot afford to retire. Anyway I was drivng back from Changi one night to my apartment and I had one of the latter, an Uncle who had clearly not passed the test of driving smoothly a) to conserve fuel and b) to prevent his passenger from throwing up!

    We had got 4-5kms into the journey along the PIE for those that know and he was speeding and then braking really heavily and making me very nauseous I asked him to stop driving so erratically and he chose to ignore me, I then said if you dont stop driving like that I will be very sick in the back of your taxi and you’ll be sorry!

    Immediately the driving improved and I was able to get back home without any further issues and have used the excuse many times now to either slow them down or driving really badly ……

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    I have had some funny experiences and some scary ones.

    Most interesting experience was again riding back to my flat (near the Bernabeu Stadium) late at night from the airport. Driver refuses to switch on meter, when we got back he quoted about triple the correct fare, so I told him I’d get back in to the taxi and he could drive me to the police station. He jumped out and pinned me against a wall.

    I had a similar experience in London. I travelled a couple of times a week for years from my office to Euston station and I knew every single practical route that taxi drivers took to avoid the heavy traffic.

    One time the driver took me a route which was absolutely ridiculous. When we got to the Euston I offered him half of what was shown on the meter. I told him why. he got out of his cab started swearing at me and came at me very aggressively. Fortunately there was a policeman not far away and I called for assistance. The driver got in his cab and drove away quickly – without any money.

    I reported him to the licensing office, who acknowledged quickly and advised me that they had had several complaints about the same driver, the same day. A couple of months later I was informed that he had his licence revoked “because of health issues”.


    I am an avid Uber customer and really enjoy the usual smiley and friendly drivers. Yes there is always an exception, but in the main, the star system Uber uses to score drivers (and passengers too) encourages politeness and courtesy…

    Interesting to chat to drivers about why they are in the gig economy and some are very open about discussing earnings.

    For me, usually, a very pleasant experience.. whether in the UK or overseas…


    I’ve used Uber in a number of countries and out of dozens of trips have had predominantly very positive experiences, only two bad ones.

    One was a miserable sullen aggressive driver who was rude to me because I didn’t know the way to my destination, and because it was only a short distance (but I had a heavy suitcase and it was snowing so I wasn’t going to walk.)
    The other was confusion over pick up point in a complicated one way system and not really the driver’s fault, but I got charged for 2 cancelled trips.


    Capetonian’s and Martyn’s comments remind me of some experiences in Helsinki. I would say at the outset that I use Uber a lot across the world and I am a fan.

    Once, in Helsinki, I took an Uber from the city centre to visit a friend of mine in Laurinlahti, in the west of Espoo. With a “normal” cab, this would’ve cost about €80 or so – much cheaper in an Uber. Anyway, the driver who turned up spoke very little English and even less Finnish (let’s just say he wasn’t a Scandinavian). Despite him having his satnav on, he still got hopelessly lost and I ended up having to direct him. A nice chap, but if I hadn’t been living there at the time and didn’t know my way around, I doubt whether I would’ve got there.

    In contrast (or not!) I once took the most well-known Helsinki “black cab” company from the Hotel Kamp to the Airport (actually to the Airport Hilton). The driver was very much a local lad, and I know that there were various roadworks going on at the time in association with the railway station construction. However, this must have been a regular route for him and so I still don’t understand how we almost triggered a security alert by ending up in the freight area….

    My most frightening experience was in India. I was visiting a company in Noida and they very kindly laid on a day trip for me, with a taxi company and one of their guys as a guide, to the Taj Mahal. In those days, you needed to pay a toll when crossing between states and I was staying in Delhi, so we ended up at a toll station in the middle of nowhere on the border with Uttar Pradesh. Whilst the guide and the driver went off to pay the toll, an old man approached me (I was sitting in the back seat), carrying what looked like a bamboo rice steamer basket. He then whipped a cobra out of the basket, opened the door of the car and waved it in my face. I’m sure it had been defanged, but I admit to nearly cr*pping myself. I think my screams indicated that I wasn’t happy and he eventually retreated with his vile serpent….

    We then proceeded towards Agra and witnessed a bus hit a teenage cyclist and kill him outright, with the locals almost lynching the bus driver, before the constabulary turned up and saved him. I also noted that when we drove past on the way back (some 10 hours later), the poor lad’s body was still there. Not a pleasant day, all-in-all.

    Generally, when I arrive in a city for the first time I use a hotel car. The first time I went to Zagreb, over 10 years ago, I got a driver from the Westin. Radomir has since become a good personal friend of mine, I use him all the time in Zagreb (he isn’t employed by Westin) and there is always a can of cold beer by my seat when I arrive, and a bottle of rakija to take home when he drops me off on the way back. And also, he will only accept money for about half the trips I use him for. I was once in Maribor in Slovenia, and had the choice of the last train back to Zagreb or a few more beers with my friends. I chose the latter, rang Radomir and he came to pick me up (across an international border), late at night, at short notice, and charged me a pittance for the trip. Now that’s service….!

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    Not sure I can add to the brilliant stories so far but I’ll try ………,
    Of the many , many experiences these are the 2 that immediately popped to mind ….. the rest I’ll keep for my book : )

    Malindi (Kenyan Coast)
    Me and girlfriend patiently await the hotel ordered taxi to take us to the local airport.
    Eventually a smoke belching 1970’s Datsun appears, clearly the pride and joy of the owner.
    Loading the luggage strains the shock absorbers , as do we sitting in the back seat.
    Ropes doubling for handles secured tied and off we go through the rutted and potholed streets of the town. The car comes to a shuddering stop in the middle of town . The driver sensing our nervousness at missing our flight reassures us all is good, and then disappears into an adjoining shop . Re-emerging sometime later with a ballpeen hammer, with the confidence of a surgeon wielding a scalpel
    Undoing the coat hanger that doubled as a lock to his hood ( bonnet) he started to bang away at the engine .
    A huge thumbs up smile through the cracked windscreen and a final whack , then hey presto , this Datsun older than the last samurai chunders into life.
    5 minutes later we leave our tarmacked (ish) road and very disconcertingly take a shortcut through a sugarcane field to magically reappear outside the small terminal building .
    With the customary Kenyan smile , made wider by my tip we exchanged a fond farewell wave goodbye. Mission accomplished.

    New York
    Waved down a yellow cab in Manhattan , chucked my luggage in the boot and instructed the driver to head to La Guardia . Chatting away , I discover the heart warming story of A Somalian refugee made good in NY.
    I know we are getting closer as the yellow cab starts to drive past Exit signs for the airport . And then no more exit signs as we cross the river again . Tolls approaching the car shudders to halt, and my new Somali friend starts cursing himself.
    More concerning is his attempt to knock himself out by his own fists !!
    ”Don’t worry about it” I heard myself say , and seconds later and a dodgy u-turn at the turnpike and we’re back on course. Arriving at the airport , I said t. just keep the change. He refused, but he had no choice as I had already sprinted towards my soon departing flight !!


    I am reminded of a bad experience years ago in Melbourne.

    I booked a taxi for stupid o’clock in the morning to go the airport from Kew. I was standing in the road 10 minutes before the booked time. 15 minutes later a taxi went past slowly, I waved at him, he just carried on. I rang the company and 5 minutes later he came back, overshot by about 50 yards, and then reversed back. Luckily I’d allowed a margin of time but we were now nearly 20 minutes late.

    Off we go, his driving very erratic and hesitant. I asked him where he was from, he was a black fellow, clearly African, very reluctant to answer me, eventually said South Africa, I asked where, he said “Oh it’s a small place, you won’t know it.” I knew from his appearance, accent, and demeanour that he was west African, probably Nigerian. Eventually he said ‘Johannesburg’. I knew he was lying.

    I have a good sense of direction and although I don’t know Melbourne I knew which way the airport was and I knew we were going in the opposite direction. He was heading SE towards St Kilda instead of NW. After a few minutes, I asked him if he was sure were going the right way, and he said : “Which airport are you going to?” and then asked me if I knew the way. If I’d had more time I’d have got out and called another taxi.

    I had to direct him to the motorway and tell him which way to go once we got to it. We got to the terminal about 20 minutes before my (domestic) flight was due to leave. I grabbed my bag and sprinted and told him to go f*** himself for his fare as I did so. I made the flight by the skin of my teeth thanks to the helpful check in staff.

    When I got back to SYD I rang the company and made a formal complaint which they took very seriously, particularly as, since they told me the licensed driver of that vehicle was a ‘true dinkum Aussie fellow called Kevin Smith …’ and they were distressed to hear it was being driven illegally by someone who they told me later, was an illegal immigrant without a licence to drive, let alone drive a taxi.


    Well I don’t use taxis when Uber is available, excepted in Central London (no GPS surpasses London taxi drivers knowledge). And outside Europe, I usually ask the hotel or the client to organise a driver for me. That said, from the dark times before Uber, I had my share of terrible experiences. One of them was in Paris. Driver was a very corpulent woman. She was talking angrily about anything around her car. But worse, regularly she leaned out the window to shout at people and insult other drivers! I was in the back, just thinking “why me”… Last taxi I took in Paris…

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