Taken for a ride - taxi rip-offs and how to avoid them

6 Oct 2010

The majority of taxis are competent, law-abiding and an essential element in the business traveller’s journey. Then there are the rest….


The rip-off: Mr H assumed the taxi driver that he hailed knew where he was going. He assumed wrong. Five minutes later, and scarcely any closer to his destination, Mr H tried to ask the driver where they were and where they were going and realised that the driver had no idea. He asked to get out, and although the driver was cursing and shouting at him to pay, this customer refused and flagged down another taxi instead.

Avoiding it: Ask a local resident or hotel concierge to speak to the driver to find out if he is familiar with your destination before you jump into the vehicle. This precaution will save on the expense and aggravation as well.


The rip-off: Despite stiff penalties for dishonest cab drivers, some still try to fleece passengers. They may ask you to choose from the three tunnels linking Hong Kong Island and Kowloon: the East, West and Cross Harbour tunnels. But in the end, they will argue to take the Western tunnel, which charges the most expensive toll fees (HK$120/US$15), saying that the others are “traffic jam” (although, note, this may be true during certain times of the day).

Avoiding it: If it’s not the rush hour, pick the Cross Harbour tunnel, as it’s the cheapest. It’s also not unusual for taxi drivers to return the change in an extremely slow manner, perhaps, hoping you will not want wait for it and rush out. When handing over payment, especially at night, check that you’re not handing over a HK$50 (US$6.4) when you mean a HK$10 (US$1). As both are coloured green, it’s easy to mix up the two.


The rip-off: Taxi meters are rarely used. Instead, the cabbies determine the fares themselves, which are usually double the original fares. Customers are told what they have to pay once they’re comfortably ensconced in the taxi. It’s a take it or leave it situation. Ms O was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya and paid up even if she knew she was being overcharged. On her way back, she was fortunate to find a more honest driver, and the fare she handed over was one half what she had paid going.

Avoiding it: Purchase “taxi coupons” from established counters in shopping malls or transport hubs such as Kuala Lumpur Stesen Sentral. These predetermine the fare according to the distance and may tack on a small surcharge.


The rip-off: It’s very easy to get scammed in the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. Ms H took one of the rickshaw taxis (they’re equipped with meters) waiting outside InOrbit shopping mall in Navi Mumbai to a residential area nearby. She fell for the line that it was the custom there not to turn on the meter and was given the estimate fee of INR120 (US$2.69). She paid the amount only to later discover the journey actually costs INR60 (US$1.34).

Avoiding it: Always check the locals when it comes to fares. Don’t let your guard down especially when encountering smooth talk. In central Mumbai, rickshaw drivers are now obliged by law to use the meter so there is less of a chance passengers being short changed. If you think the difference isn’t worth bothering about, consider how you are encouraging others to try the same trick. Instead, pay the correct fare and then tip at the end.


The rip-off: Ms G and a friend, both expatriates living in the Chinese port city, told the cab driver where they were going. Halfway through the journey, they realised it was taking longer then usual and the route seemed wrong. As the friends had been chatting, they hadn’t noticed. When they asked the driver why he was not using the shorter route, he said that it was the right way. They told him that it was not as they knew better. After a heated discussion, he suddenly knew where to go. At the destination, the meter showed a fare two and half times the usual – CNY25 (US$3.73) versus CNY11 (US$1.94). More discussion followed until it was agreed the pair would pay CNY13, but since neither had change, they had to give the driver a CNY20 (US$2.98) bill. But since he said he didn’t have change, they were forced to give him the whole amount.

Avoiding it: Be wary at all times during the journey, especially if you are familiar with the route, to make sure no detours are made. Also try to have small change on hand.


The rip-off: While rated consistently as one of the world’s most livable cities, there has still been some reports of petty crime. One case in 2007 surfaced involving a cab driver, named Afzai Mohammed, who raided the accounts of passengers choosing to pay by credit or debit cards. The man, who also drove an unregistered taxi, used a modified PIN pad that recorded all details, enabling him access to the accounts.

Avoiding it: Try not to pay by card and, if you cannot avoid it, make sure to record the taxi’s licence plate numbers. If possible, use regularly a reputable taxi company.


The rip-off: Mr W and a colleague shared a cab from the airport in Hanoi to their respective hotels. After dropping off his colleague at her hotel, Mr W got busy making calls on the way to his accommodation. The driver said he would go to the back entrance of the hotel, and sure enough there was a porter who took his bags inside. It was only when he entered the lobby that he realised it wasn’t the right hotel. He learned later that local cabbies are paid a “fee” for every passenger they take to certain hotels.

Avoiding it: Be alert at all times during the journey and avoid distracting yourself with other tasks.

Alisha Haridasani

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