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Tips for Avoiding Tangles with Taxi Drivers

Do you hail a cab with trepidation? Expect the driver to be surly and seemingly not happy to see a new customer? Dread the moment when you slide onto the seat and look around at the less than sanitary conditions? Have suspicions about the route being taken or the anticipated fare? If so, you’re not alone.

When you board a plane, you would never question the route the pilot is going to take. The fare is already paid for and will not change based on traffic backups or extra miles flown. The environment looks generally clean and you’re not too scared to find something totally gross when you reach down for the seatbelt. And the flight attendants, while maybe not ecstatically greeting you at the door, are not usually the surly type either.

Get in a taxi and these are all things you consider.

To help you be a confident back-seat taxi passenger, here are some tips to help you avoid any tangles or trials with your next taxi driver:

  • Be very specific on where you want to go. Have a hotel business card with an address, or a printed itinerary or a clearly-written address. This is better than saying “The Marriott downtown” as you may think there is only one but that is not the case and this also helps with any communication issues.
  • If you want or need to pay by credit card, ask if credit cards are accepted and if there is any fee for paying by credit card before you get in the taxi. If the driver will not accept your credit card, or says his/her machine is broken (I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard this line!), get another cab.


    Another line I’ve heard often is “It’s going to take a long time to run your credit card through.” When you mention “Sorry to hear your machine is so slow. You could already have another customer if they gave you a faster machine.” You’ll quickly see how fast they get the credit card approval done.

  • Ask if the fare is by meter or a flat fee before you get into the cab. If by meter, ask for an approximate fare. Keep reading the next tip for how to have confidence in the estimate you’re given.
  • If you are taking a taxi from the airport to a hotel, call the hotel ahead of time and ask for the approximate fare. If your taxi driver gives you a very different fare, say something like “Hmmm, the usual fare is around $xxx, isn’t it?” If it’s a traffic issue, such as construction or rush hour backups, then any higher estimate may seem reasonable to you. Too low of an estimate and the driver may not be clear on where you want to go.
  • If you know that your destination is only a short distance away, and that the taxi driver may have been waiting in a queue for a very long time waiting on a fare (this is common in many airports and at hotels), here are a few tips:
    • Call your hotel to see if a shuttle bus is available instead (often better than the hassle you may get from the taxi driver);
    • Check with the taxi coordinator onsite (typically this is only at the airport) on what the rules are. They may push back on a driver who tries to evict you from their cab;
    • Get in the cab; say that you know it’s only a short distance but that you’ll provide a generous tip. You shouldn’t have to tip extra, but again this can often be the lesser of the evils and get you to your destination with less stress.
  • Always take down your taxi driver’s permit or registration number. This is typically attached to the vehicle’s visor or other visible spot near the driver. If not easily seen, ask the driver for it. Why?
    • You may forget an item in the taxi and need to call the company in search for it. (This is the one and only reason I’d give the driver if I needed to ask for their permit number. Wouldn’t mention the next tips!)
    • You may have a question on the actual credit card billing if it differs from what you thought you paid.
    • You may have a complaint to report if any serious issues or bad driving occurred.
    • It can be sent via text or email to a family member or colleague …. Not a bad idea if you do feel unsafe in the taxi that someone else has an idea of how to track you down.
  • Better yet, ask the driver for a business card. This is especially valuable for the above reasons, but also gives you their contact info if they’re a truly great driver and you’d like to use them in the future. Most drivers appreciate being asked for their card, especially when they are hoping it will lead to future business.

There are many great taxi drivers, though there are lots of the other kind, too. When I think back over all my travel horror stories, many involve taxis. Had I known the above tips before many of these events occurred, most of them just wouldn’t have happened.

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