Avoiding Tuk Tuk and Taxi Scams
We have all been victim to a tuk tuk or taxi scams at one time or another… the taxi or tuk tuk driver pulls up, we either hop in unknowingly and get taken advantage of or ask for a price up front and get the dreaded ‘tourist price’. After cabbing it around in more than 20 countries, I promise I’ve seen almost every tuk tuk and taxi scam out there…Below are some tips and stories on what I’ve learned:
15 lessons learned on tuk tuk and taxi scams
The Airport Fakes Taxi Scam – In some airports, you’ll find there are taxi drivers that pull up looking for customers and then there are those that stand around the exit doors and ask you if you need a cab on your way out. The latter are the ones to avoid. They are going to try to negotiate an upfront price with you and chances are, you’re new to town and likely don’t know how to get to where you’re going or how long it should take. Don’t let the convenience of them speaking English in a foreign country sway your judgement. They will be quoting prices 3 and 4 times the amount you’d pay if you simply do as the locals do and take the taxis that pull up to the airport.
The Pick Up and Wait Taxi Scam – This taxi scam has happened to me in at least 3 different countries. You find a taxi driver approaches you (usually not the other way around) and then, once you agree on a price, you jump in the car only to find out he’s driving 3 MPH in search of more people to pick up. While he may in fact need to drive a far distance to get you where you’re going which may be a popular spot for others, unless he can find someone in the first few minutes, this gets old really fast. The first time this happened to me I was with a friend in Laos. We had ‘hired’ a tuk tuk truck to take us to a nearby waterfall. At the time, we didn’t realize our negotiated price would be including him picking up at least 4 more people which took almost 20 minutes of driving around town to find….
The Lost Factor Taxi Scam – Ah, yes. The “I’m lost in my own city” taxi driver. Luckily, this taxi scam only happened to me once but once was enough. Lets see, you hail down a taxi, get in, show the driver where you want to go whether it’s a map, an address or both and all he does is nod ‘yes’ since he can’t speak your language. So you’re soon off, thinking you’re headed to your correct destination only to find out, what should have been a 10 or 20 minute drive has now taken 30 minutes and you’re still not there. When you attempt some back seat communication, he mumbles something back in his native language and when you show him the map, he’ll either wave you off or he’ll pull over and study it for a moment, all while the meter is still running. Eventually, he’ll either try to drop you off at the wrong place or he’ll keep driving around until you either have him ask a local where to go using your map/address or you simply get out of the cab somewhere random within the city. This taxi scam happened to us in Bangkok trying to get to a bus station outside the city. Our hotel receptionist told him specifically where to go and he knew exactly where it was however what should have been about a 20 minute ride turned into a total of an hour. Midway through this excursion, when we realized he was ‘taking us for a ride’ and even after trying to get help from locals at stop lights, we told him to take us back to our hotel. He instead drove us to the other end of the city and dumped us at a tourist hot spot and tried to act ignorant of the entire situation… another taxi scam to learn from.
The Counterfeit Swap Taxi Scam – This taxi scam happened to my friend in China. She was told the price to pay once she reached her destination. She handed over a 100 Yuan bill and the taxi driver took a look at it and then told her it was a fake. They argued back and forth for a while and then he handed back what she ‘thought’ was her original bill. She later found out that he duped her and took her real 100 and gave her back a counterfeit (fake) 100 bill. Apparently this happens a lot in China and unless you can spot the fake, there’s not much you can do to avoid it other than keep your eye on the original bill you gave. Another common taxi scam is for drivers to attempt to give you back the wrong amount in change so always count what you get back. This often happens in stores and with street vendors too.
The Curb Drop Off Taxi Scam – The ‘curb drop off’ is simply what will typically happen when you organize a set price to go to a particular address (hotel, guesthouse, etc) and the taxi driver is just plain angry at the agreed on price to take you there. So when he gets close, he tries to drop you off on the main street instead of taking you down the alleys or into the smaller neighborhood streets to bring you to the front door of your hotel. When you are in a metered cab, this is never an issue. However, if this taxi scam does happen in either instance, simply insist they take you where you are going by showing them the map and address again. The last thing you want to do is get dropped off on a main street in China at 1AM when you can’t read Mandarin and you’re told your guesthouse is down a dark alleyway. That’s a true life example… I’ve had several cab drivers try to pull this one on me. It’s their way of trying to save money since they feel the took too low of a negotiated price for the trip from a foreigner they usually enjoy ripping off.
The Re-trade Taxi Scam – This taxi scam is probably the stupidest thing a driver will try to pull but it happened to me in Thailand, China, and India on more than one occasion in each country. This is where you agree on a price, after some good haggling, to get from point A to B. However, since you’re a foreigner, the cabbie feels he is cheating himself since he’s normally used to ripping off tourists and making good money off of them. Since you knew the true cost of how much to pay to get where you’re going, you hired a taxi driver at the correct rate. Since he’s now angry with himself, he’ll try to renegotiate the price on the way! Yes, you heard right, you agreed on 100 and now he wants 150 while en route! Don’t even entertain this taxi scam, not one bit. You’re probably already paying a bit more than a local would pay as it is. Just have him drop the subject and keep driving. He’ll be angry but more importantly, you won’t be cheated by this taxi scam!
The ‘Broken Meter’ Taxi Scam – This taxi scam situation happens a lot in touristic areas. The taxi driver pulls up, you get in only to realize his ‘meter is broken’. 99% of the time, it’s a bunch of crap. He’s just got it turned off and now he’s trying to negotiate some outrageous price to the helpless tourist that may fall for this taxi scam. Don’t be that tourist, just get out of the taxi and find another one.
The Friend ‘Up-charge’ Taxi Scam – This is something I’ve simply never understood but somehow drivers get away with this taxi scam all the time. You’re with 3 or 4 friends, the cabbie pulls up to negotiate a price or to use his meter but he says there is an added charge for ‘X’ number of people. This has happened to me in several countries including my own. Typically, he’s making this charge up. If not, it should be stated somewhere inside the cab in writing on a posted sign. The only time when he may be telling the truth is if he’s putting more people into his vehicle than is allowed legally. As an example, we were in Mongolia with 5 people. The cab driver told us he was only legally allowed to carry 4 due to the size of his car which he was telling the truth. However, we just paid him extra for taking the risk. This info was posted inside the cab though. Other instances though is when the taxi driver tries to charge a ‘per person’ fee, etc. Another taxi scam situation of taking advantage of tourists.
4 Rights Make a Circle Taxi Scam – This is the classic taxi scam situation of a taxi driver taking advantage of tourists. First off, this will only happen when you are in a metered taxi (which is typically regulated by the government). The taxi driver sees that you are a tourist, asks you where you’re going and you give him the information. He then proceeds to drive around in circles in the city. This happened to us more than once but I learned…. Just like the ‘Lost Factor’ above, I learned to have that map and to track the turns and direction the taxi driver is taking. When this happened to us in Hanoi, we called the driver out on this taxi scam and got out of the cab. He tried to act stunned but we knew the city and knew he was trying to deceive us. We didn’t pay him a dime and walked on. Did he insist we pay? Of course not, he knew he was guilty!
The Set Price Taxi Scam – This is the situation you can encounter when there is absolutely no other competition for taxis in town. My example in this situation was in Ko Phanghan, Thailand. Upon arriving by boat and organizing a ride to the section of the island we needed, the ‘taxi/tuk tuk’ driver told us the price was set. In other words, there was supposedly a ‘fixed’ price per head to go from one end of the island to the other. Now, while this may have been the norm, in no way was it regulated by any company, law or government. It was basically what I’d refer to as the tuk tuk cartel. In these situations, you either need to suck it up and pay the fee or get creative by either bargaining your price or finding another option in town to get you where you’re going even if it means hiring a local for a ride.
The Airport Fee Taxi Scam – This ‘airport fee’ was something that has been tried on me more than once. Drivers of taxis and tuk tuks will try to charge you an added fee in order to either take you into the airport or to picking you up from the airport. Now, while it is possible that this fee is justified, the only time it would be is when you and driver pass through a drivers checkpoint and he actually pays money. Otherwise, it’s a total taxi scam. This was most recently tried on me in Mumbai, India. I was being picked up at the airport. There was no ‘fee’ to pay to exit the airport yet the driver insisted I pay him for the added cost. Don’t fall for this taxi scam!
The Bus Hustle Taxi Scam – This occurs in almost every city across the world it seems… Money hungry cabbies and tuk tuk drivers anxiously await you when you get off your travel bus to quote you to your next destination at 2 and 3 times the price. Don’t fall for this one either. While it may seem convenient to take a taxi right off from exiting the bus, always remember, when the drivers are approaching YOU, chances are that you are being ripped off on the price. Follow what the locals do and you’ll be just fine. However, if you truly know the price you should pay to your next destination, go ahead and negotiate. You’ll quickly see that they won’t even entertain your price. They are looking for easy tourist bait and won’t give you the time.
The Defective Meter Taxi Scam – Unfortunately, should you end up in a situation when you’re driver is obviously using a ‘defective’ (or rigged) meter, you won’t be able to do much other than try to argue your way out of it. This happened to me in St. Petersburg. I arrived at the airport late at night. I had already known about what the taxi should cost to my hostel though with it being so late, I wasn’t able to call them on the way should I need them. Well, when we arrived, the meter showed about 3 times what the cost should have been! There is no doubt in my mind the meter was ‘rigged’ however with an English/Russian language barrier and no one to call, I was left in argument with the driver.
The Re-trade on Hired Drivers Taxi Scam – When I mention ‘Hired Drivers’ I’m referring to those you might hire in a foreign country to drive you around for a specific number of hours or days. My experience with this was in India. My friend had hired a driver for 3 days. The price was set and included ‘unlimited’ use of the car for 3 days anywhere in India. Well, after I joined up with another friend, we toured around Rajasthan for 3 days (the three of us plus the driver) and then he tried to charge additional ‘fees’ for taking on extra passengers after the 3 days. Of course this was crap. Had this been an issue, it would have been discussed on the first day. Did we pay? Of course not, but it sure was a big argument! If you get into this situation, always discuss these details upfront to avoid this situation later…
The Night Fee Taxi Scam – This is the attempt for taxi drivers or tuk tuks to try to and charge more because its late at night. Why is this? Because there is less traffic? They save more gas? I never understood this. Often times, the use of the meter goes away late at night. If they insist on charging an upfront price, be sure you’re getting a good deal. I’ve never understood the reasoning behind them getting more money once the sun goes down…
Some Solutions to Tuk Tuk and Taxi Scams
The Walk Away – When a taxi or tuk tuk driver quotes you a price you know is unfair (because you are a tourist), just walk away. Nine times out of ten, they come back to you with a much lower price. Once that happens, quote half of the last price they gave and go from there…
Ask a Local – If you fortunate enough to speak with a local before getting into a taxi or tuk tuk, ask them what you should expect to pay to get to where you’re going. This has saved me plenty of money during the course of my travels.
Meter Insistence – The best thing you can do when you get a to a new city is find out if the taxi drivers are supposed to legally use a meter. Its not set in every country but for the ones that it is, just insist that they turn it on and use it. The ones that will try to scam you knowing you are tourist are the ones to pass on. Go find yourself another driver…
Find a Map – Simply bring along a map with you, preferably in the native language of the country you’re in and follow the direction the driver takes, turn by turn. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have an iPhone or something similar with an app for your current location and direction, even better.
The Price Up Front – Specifically for Tuk Tuk drivers, this is just making sure you get that all important up front price instead of simply hopping in and expecting a fair price when you get to where you’re going.
Use Local Resources – Have your hostel or hotel call a reputable cab for you and have them organize the price for you (if no meter is used in that city).
Avoid Them Altogether! – Just take the metro or local bus
The only one I don’t know how to beat is the ‘defective’ meter taxi scam – This is mainly because you never really know you’re getting scammed until you either arrive at your destination for way more than you’d thought you’d be paying or after the fact from finding out from others what they paid. Your best bet in this situation is to ask a local or your hotel the real price and argue w/ cabbie when you arrive if you feel you’ve been cheated. The amount obviously needs to be way more than what is normal. This situation becomes even more difficult though when they don’t speak your language however, getting into this situation is very rare.