How to avoid getting scammed by taxi drivers.

posted in: Travel Tips | 0
Taxi in Nanning China with driver bars
The bars in this Nanning, China cab may be protecting the driver but what’s protecting us?

So apparently, Las Vegas cab drivers have been fleecing visitors by taking them to the airport the scenic way — without the fare’s permission. That’s according to a Nevada state legislative audit just released.

This is news?

Anybody who knows Vegas, knows two things:

  1. The slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” applies more to forking over your money left and right, than fulfilling any long-held fantasies.
  2. McCarran International Airport is only about 15 minutes and probably less than six miles from most hotels on the Strip.

Yet, I’ve heard woeful tales about people dishing out $30 or more for a ride from the Strip to the airport that should have been $15 to $20. (It’s funny, but people don’t complain about the $15 drinks or the hundreds or thousands given to the Blackjack dealer.) Unfortunately, if they don’t know the town, they have no way to know they’re being taken for a long haul.

Now I believe that there are a lot of honest taxi drivers out there. And it can be a hard and dangerous way to make a living. The last thing I want to do is screw them over. But travelers face scams all the time, so you do your best to avoid them.

When we visited Mexico for the first time in the eighties, one of the best pieces of travel advice I heard (besides “Don’t drink the water“), was to ask the driver what the fare would be before getting into a cab.

Here are a few more tips that, while probably not keeping unscrupulous cabbies honest, may help keep more cash in your wallet.

Taxi to Orizaba, Tlachichuca Mexico
Wally Pugh, right, negotiates a ride to Pico de Orizaba in Tlachichuca, Mexico.

Ask up front.

Don’t get in the cab until you know the price and agree to it. In a lot of cases, fares are fixed or metered so you probably won’t have any negotiating opportunities but ask anyway.

It helps if you know ahead of time what an approximate fare would be for the ride you want to take. You can often find this info on the Web through travel forums and other sites. I just stumbled across this taxi fare comparison site.

When traveling abroad, it also helps to be familiar with exchange rates when you arrive in a new country.

At Tan Son Nhat International in Ho Chi Minh City, we were approached by a driver from a line of taxis. I asked him the fare and he quoted me in Vietnamese Dong. One U.S. dollar currently equals 20,295 Dong, so when I  heard something like “608,850” I had no point of reference and had to take his quote on faith. We were excited to get into the city so we didn’t ask other drivers. As we figured out later, our new “friend” got us for double the amount we should have been charged.

Have directions with you.

When we arrived in Bangkok, our taxi driver was from Malaysia, did not speak English and apparently understood very little Thai. I had directions, in English, to our hotel but they were useless. I had the phone number to the hotel and after a few moments at the side of the road while our driver called, we were on our way. He did stop at the wrong hotel with a similar name but I don’t think that was intentional, which is another common scam in Southeast Asia: Drivers may take you to another hotel because they get a commission. The bellhop corrected him and we finally made it.

It probably would have been better if our directions were written in Thai, but at least when we have directions it gives us some control and hopefully makes it harder for a driver to try to scam us.

Keep your bag/backpack with you.

While probably not an issue in the U.S. and other developed countries, if there’s a dispute you don’t want the cab driver holding your luggage hostage.

Carry cash and small bills.

Unbelievably you can get a cab driver, who has been dealing in cash all day long, look at you and say “no change,” when you hand them a bill that’s more than the fare.

What are your tips to avoid scams with taxi drivers?

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