The Dark Side of Travel: Cabbies

I write mostly about the positive side to travel… there is a very negative side as well. As soon as you start toting a suitcase around in a city that is a popular tourist destination it makes you a “tourist” and a target for scammers, skimmers, and spammers.

I can’t seem to get into a cab without being ripped off beyond the standard drive you around a while to get a larger rate and subsequent tip. Some common tactics are:

* My machine is broken or can’t connect to the internet, can you pay cash? This is a Calgary thing… and I had one driver explain to me that this was because many drivers want their fares kept off the books. On top of that my card has been skimmed twice in cabs in Calgary. Because of this, it may seem prudent to pay in cash, but when you pay cash you don’t get a receipt that you can expense. Plus, who carries around $60-$100 in Canadian cash twice a week when spending most of your time in another country?

* The 150% rate. This happens in the US a lot. Cab drivers will charge a 150% rate for the ride because that is the cab company “policy.” This is really inconsistent and gets my blood boiling every time. I doubt it’s a “policy” and often when they try to charge the 150% they get it wrong… to their benefit. I had one cabbie tell me that he himself was duped by this coming back from holidays with his family.

* Cab drivers will add their own tip… again to their benefit… and then argue that they can’t change the amount once it’s in the machine. This only happens with machines that the driver needs to manually put in a number.

* A less common tactic is to charge the taxi rate… per person in the cab. So, if the meter shows $50 then the cab driver will try to charge $50 per person in the car. This is always a great opportunity for me to run my mouth for a while, usually, they give up just to get away from my endless babbling.

There are three ways around these scams: one is Uber, which I rave about constantly. No money ever changes hands… it’s way cheaper than a cab… and you get driven around like a movie star in a limo. The only time I’ve seen some sort of Uber manipulation is in areas where the rides are time-based and not a flat rate: here the driver takes on a really long drive or will take you on a congested route. You can always email the regional manager when this happens; they’re very protective of their brand.

The second is to find a driver that you trust. Most drivers are happy to pick up a good paying customer with some advance notice. As such, I’ve started to collect cards from trusted drivers in various cities. This is one of the only cost-efficient options in Canada (though Uber is now in Toronto).

The third thing (if you are feeling really cheeky) is to take a picture of the cab number when you get into the cab. This deters any sort of blatant illegal activity. I make this Niña’s job when we get into a cab, though I’ve discovered that most drivers are less likely to scam if you have a child with you.

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