Tuesday, November 10, 2009
When I was living in Alabama my friends and I hardly ever took taxis. It really is a wonder I never got pulled over after a few drinks in my college or post-college years and for that I am grateful. After all a cab costs maybe $10 while a DUI costs $10,000+. Moving to a bigger city and traveling has changed the way I view taxis as well as the frequency of which I use them. I've learned that different cities have different taxi standards which probably coincides with how much they are used.
In Birmingham there are taxis outside of the bars at 2am but no one really takes them because most people drive to the bar in the first place (bad idea). In Denver you can call a cab to your house to come and pick you up but depending on the night it can take 15 minutes or an hour and sometimes they never show. St. Patrick's day, halloween, new years, opening day for baseball, you can forget trying to get a taxi to show up at your house when you need one. Of course when you are out and about you can find plenty but most of the time you can't leave your car anywhere overnight in the downtown area. Which means if you drive to the bar you are probably driving home (again a terrible idea if you've been drinking!) because they will boot your car if you leave it parked.
Washington, DC has plenty of cabs but you can't call one to come to your place you have to walk out on the street and find them. I think this is a bit of a hassle especially if you are trying to go to the airport and don't want to walk all over the streets with your suitcase. Unlike Denver, none of them take credit cards which is also a bit of a pain, requiring a possible ATM stop if you never carry cash like I do. Of course with the exception of the airport, you can always take their metro anyplace you need to go. New York is probably the best city I've visited for taxis as they outnumber the amount of cars on the streets. However, they are also the most expensive I've found and a bit shady. They will have credit card machines in the back but the driver will tell you it's broken and then when you insist you have no cash they will finally relent and let you pay with your card.
Traveling internationally I have found presents a whole new challenge where taxis are concerned because if you don't speak the language your biggest worry is getting ripped off and getting where you actually want to go.
(pictured: a taxi in Thailand) Besides the tuk tuks in Thailand there are standard taxis and you have two types, metered and non-metered. Although I'm pretty sure all of them actually do have a meter installed, only some of the drivers use them. So if you get in a metered taxi, you pay by the mile. In any other case you bargain with the driver how much it will cost. At the airport we were told before we got in exactly how much it would be and same for our ride to the patong hospital in Phuket. Of course, when you aren't from that country you have no idea how much a taxi ride SHOULD cost so you are pretty much at the mercy of the driver. While they are a little more pricey than the tuk tuks, they at least take you to your location and do not stop at five gem stores along the way. The worst part is traffic can get pretty bad in Bangkok so you must time your taxi trips accordingly if you don't want to pay to sit in traffic.
(picture: motortaxi driver) Thailand also has motorbike taxis which are cheaper than the metered car taxis. You simply flag one down, negotiate a price then hop on the back of this motorbike and away you go. Given the traffic in Bangkok and how dangerous motorbikes are, I would never recommend this way to anyone. I am sure it is the fastest way to get around but definitely not for the faint of heart. We only saw locals riding on the back of these taxi bikes so I'm pretty sure either most tourists don't know about them or wouldn't dare the risk either. Of course being that only one person can ride on the back it's not the most convenient way to travel for large groups anyhow.
(picture on right: typical costa rican taxi)
Costa Rica was by far the easiest country I have traveled to navigate. Generally there aren't any cars in th beach towns and everyone gets from place to place on 4 wheelers. San Jose and Liberia are the only major cities where you are likely to even see taxi cab like the one pictured. When we went, a few summers ago we flew into San Jose then took a van which we had booked prior down to Santa Theresa which took about five hours. It wasn't a bad drive, but on our way back to the airport our van didn't have air conditioning and in the hot rainy season this made for some unpleasant conditions. The seats were also bench seats facing one another so the person riding backwards had to have a strong stomach to avoid car sickness. I did read that the taxis in Costa Rica can rip you off if you aren't watching and you must tell them "ponta la meter" or "put on the meter" so they will turn it on and you'll get a decent fare. In Thailand the same rule applied and you had to watch and make sure they wouldn't turn the meter off and tell you it was broken to rip you off. Usually threatening to get out did the trick to get the meter to magically work again.
If it's anything I have learned in life it's that a taxi is a taxi no matter where you travel in the world. The drivers are always looking to earn an extra buck or two by going the long way or charging you extra fees for passengers or bags, etc. Some have air conditioning and others don't and nearly all are awkward to ride in. But despite everything sometimes they are the easiest and cheapest way to get around and the one way to assure you don't get a DUI if you have been out drinking. I expect I'll take many more cabs in years to come and while I may never arrive in luxury or style, it's good enough I suppose to just get where I'm going....in sort of a timely fashion.