Everywhere from Sydney to Phuket to Rome to Prague, we’ve had taxis try to take advantage of us. Sometimes, they’ve succeeded. Here are some of the scams we’ve run into, and how we’ve learned to avoid them.
The Long Way ‘Round Scam
Many years ago, before Google Maps was a twinkling in Larry Page’s eye, my mom and I took a train to Rome. We had traveled several places in Italy at this point, and over my mom’s objections I had gotten us around every city by foot or on a bus.
When we arrived in Rome, I tried to find a local map so I could figure out how we could get to our hotel. “No,” my mom said. “I’m exhausted and you are not making me walk halfway around the world again.”
Okay, perhaps some of my routes to get us where we were going had been a bit…indirect.
We got in a taxi and told the driver the name of our hotel. He began to drive. We could see the Coliseum in the distance. We passed the Trevi Fountain. We went through several roundabouts and over at least two bridges. Then, finally, we pulled up at our hotel. We handed him forty euros, and he put our bags on the curb so quickly he could have given the Flash competition.
As soon as he peeled out, I looked down the street and saw why he was in such a rush. Our hotel was exactly one block away from the train station where he’d picked us up!
I was hopping mad, but my mother laughed. “Hey, at least we got a great tour.”
How We Avoided This Scam in Phuket: Google Maps
When Mike and I went to Phuket, we had Google Maps on our side. I pulled it up as soon as we got in the taxi. As we exited the airport, I could see that he was going the wrong way. This wasn’t a “backseat driver” situation. When you leave the airport, if you go in one direction you are headed to the area where our hotel was. If you head to the other you’re going to the other end of the island. And it is a big island.)
I pointed out his error, and tried to frame it so he could save face. “Oh, you must have thought we meant [hotel that bears no resemblance to the name I said]!” He grudgingly turned around, and did not make one wrong turn from there. If I hadn’t paid attention, our five-minute drive would have easily become a three-hour tour, with all the associated expense.
The “You’re Too Jetlagged For Exchange Rates” Scam
We got off our train in Prague before dawn, dragging our suitcases behind us. A helpful taxi driver asked us where we were going. I told him, and he said, “Let me help you! I’ll get you there cheap! It’ll only be 1500 crowns!”
Always Look Up Your Exchange Rates
We had looked up the exchange rate before we got to the Czech Republic, and Mike is great at doing math in his head. “That’s $70!” he whispered to me. We turned down the driver and walked the ten minutes to our hotel. In the cold. Before dawn. It wasn’t luxurious, but it was $70 well saved.
The “My Meter is Broken” Scam
This one happened most recently yesterday in Sydney. Our taxi pulled away from the curb at the airport, and the driver fiddled with the meter repeatedly as he drove. As we pulled out of the airport, he said, “I can’t get the meter to work, but don’t worry, I know how much it is.”
How We Avoided an Overcharge
I called the hotel before we left to get an idea of about how much a taxi cost from the airport. So when our driver said this to us, I said, “Oh, our hotel said it would cost about [a little lower than the low end of the range they quoted].”
The driver looked deflated and said, “Uh, yeah, but with tolls it will be [still lower than the lowest figure the hotel quoted].” I’m not sure what number he would have floated otherwise, but I’m sure it would have been higher. We paid cash and he seemed happy.
Even Veterans Make Mistakes
I’ll be honest, though; it was an amateur move on my part to let him pull away from the curb without starting the meter. I’ve encountered this scam in several cities. It’s especially common in Bangkok, where drivers will often leave their hat on top of the meter to obscure it. Knowing what the ride typically cost was good, but I should have left the door open until he started the meter, and refused to ride away until he did. It never occurred to me that someone would try to pull that trick in Sydney, but it’s a good lesson to be alert no matter what city you’re in.