Taxi Tae Kwon Do
Business traveler taxi self defense in the developing world
They are out to get you (or maybe just your money)
Stepping out from the generic, air-conditioned airport, you are greeted by thick choking smog and high humidity. In the distance, the sun hangs strangely low on the horizon. Welcome to the ‘developing world’. Bleary-eyed and anxious, you want nothing more than to find your way to the hotel. Don’t worry. A taxi driver will soon approach. The bad news is that he’s been scamming business travelers like you for years. Behind his excited smile, he thinks that he’s going to read you like a book and work you like an ATM. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learn a little taxi Tae Kwon Do and take control.
Say no to your inner Mr. nice guy
Even the tightest tightwad, when confronted with the abject poverty and misery found throughout much of the world, may find his little calcified heart cracking like a small walnut. Overwhelmed by ‘money guilt’, he gives in. He knows the taxi driver is cheating him, but that’s okay. He’s making up for all the food he threw out despite his mother’s comments regarding starving kids in Africa. This is his chance to save the world, one taxi driver at a time. Be careful, if you begin to feel too warm hearted, step back and take a deep breath. It’s okay to give. But find a legitimate charity, not your cabbie.
The hotel front desk staff – treat them well
Hotel staff are usually very willing to help and quite knowledgeable about the local taxi scene. Ask them how much it should cost to reach a certain destination. If the taxi driver’s quote differs wildly with what they said, get out and find another one.
Mind over meter
Even when the taxi meter is accurate, forcing your driver to use it could backfire. You might get treated to a special extended snail-pace tour through impossibly congested streets and alleys. Worse, you could be subjected to the dreaded long-cut, either way adds needless extra time to your trip. If your driver is ‘meter-adverse’, try to agree on a price. If you can, forget about the meter. The fare might be a little more, but you’ll be sure to get to your destination quickly and hassle-free.
Beware the warm and fuzzy taxi driver
If your taxi driver wants to wait for you or offers other ‘favors’, either agree on the cost beforehand or just say no. Drivers tend to add these up at the end and include them in the bill. Beware any ambiguity. It’s one of their favorite tricks.
A penny for your thoughtlessness
If you reach your destination and disagree with the driver’s price, stay in the taxi and haggle if you feel comfortable with it. As he negotiates, he knows he’s losing out on his next fare and will want to settle quickly. It’s one of the few times you have the advantage.
But don’t spend too much time. Unless the amount he charges you is completely out of the question, give in. Don’t let your pride make a fool out of you. Consider your other costs like frustration and wasted time.
A few extra tips
Make sure the taxi is really a taxi. Does it have a company name and phone number on the outside. Is there a meter (working or not) on the inside? Is there a radio?
Always carry small bills and make sure you can quickly recognize the denominations of the local currency. Taxi drivers seldom carry change and when they do, often have trouble counting.
If you smell a scam, be aggressive and challenge it. The more you show him you know, the less he may try to cheat you.
Visit your embassy’s Web site for the latest information on the country you plan to visit. You’ll find safety tips, scam alerts and current information on crime, including taxi crime.