IT'S HAILING TAXIS

by Edward Wilkinson Latham

National Post Travel Section

MEXICO CITY

Once upon a time swarms of green and white VW beetles roamed the streets of Mexico City but since the closure of the last plant in Puebla the ‘peoples car’ is being fast replaced with Nissans and Toyotas. More than 80,000 taxis licensed or otherwise, patrol every corner of the city generating 780,000 rides daily. Two lanes often become three and the often frayed seat belts on unlicensed taxis offer no security from ‘Express Kidnappings’ during which a victim is robbed and taken on a trip to the ATM, but their frequency is exaggerated. Taxis with “L” (Libre) on their registration are the cheapest. "S" is for site taxis, safer, licensed, but 2-3 times the rate of “L” taxis. If you are still hesitant consider “radio taxis”, which can be called from most restaurants and hotels, however expect rates of 5-10 times higher.

Fare:

Mex $12-15 (CN$1.35-1.70), then about Mex$5-7 per km. VW Beetle Mex $6, then 2-3 $ per km

TOKYO

Taking a taxi in Tokyo is no exception to the endless possibilities of embarrassment a westerner can experience on their first trip to Japan. You can pull at the taxi door handle like a crazed animal only to let go and it will open automatically. Once in, you then slip around on the polythene seat covers, trying to grip on to the lace headrests. To confuse things even more an available taxi will show a red light and an occupied taxi a green light. Drivers operate calmly and with the utmost professionalism and politeness, wearing white gloves to boot. Some will offer weather reports, sports scores and all sorts of information if you can find one that speaks English.

Fare: Y660 (Cn$7.74) for first 2km, then Y80 every 274 metres.

STOCKHOLM

Oh, if everything could be as easy and effective as traveling with Stockholm’s two major taxi firms. Taxi Stockholm and Taxi Kurur use immaculate black Volvo 960’s, equipped with GPS systems that track the cars movements from HQ and even tabulate your estimated arrival time. With a fleet of 1600 cars each at their disposal, there is no need to bring down your newly discovered Scandinavian design aesthetic with a trip in some old wagon. However, Sweden’s taxi drivers rank at the top of world taxi driver suicides, so bring a book for a long journey to avoid any Nordic tales of doom.

Fare: Sk36 (CN$ 6.24), plus Sk76 per km (Mon-Fri 9am-3pm) Sk9-11 the rest of the time.

AMSTERDAM

No wonder Amsterdam taxis drivers don’t smile much. It can’t be easy ferrying comatose tourists around a city full of little bridges and narrow canal roads, where traffic jams are caused by herds of bicycles. Amsterdam taxis are among the most expensive in Europe and locals only use them when public transport is on strike (about twice a year). Most taxi drivers are obliged to install a condom vending machine and some may even try to entice you to clubs with an offer of beer and ‘luvely ladiesh”. The owners of these establishments give the drivers a percentage for their trouble. Other drivers will proudly show you their ‘moral conduct certificate’, proving that they have a clear conscience even when it comes to over charging you.

Fare: All taxis are metered and start around 3.00 Euros, then 1.80 Euros per kilometer thereafter.

BEJIING

As the 2008 Olympics approach Beijing is trying hard to standardize the taxi service and eradicate the image of having beaten dirty cabs. This year 20,000 new blue and yellow Hyundai Sonatas taxis will hit the streets and all drivers will have to pass an English language course as part of their registration process. Still there are thousands of old time taxis around that offer no comforts or English translation, only seat belts that leave a dirty diagonal stripe across your torso. However all drivers are obliged, by law, to beep when overtaking, so expect your driver to tap on that horn like its a musical instrument. Beijing taxis come in three sizes, 1.20, 1.60 and 2.00. Prices are marked on the rear sides of the cars.

Fare: From Y7-14, plus Y1.6-2.4km, depending on the make of the car. Drivers often plead they have no change.

LONDON

The traditional London cab’s unique shape was designed to accommodate bowler hats. Today these diesel run ‘black cabs’ still number 23,000 in Greater London. Drivers must pass “The Knowledge Test”, for which they must memorize over 3,000 different routes. The result is that most drivers think they are knights of the road and consider it their duty to take you from A to B via their opinions on X, Y and Z. An alternative is unmarked minicabs. Despite their name, minicabs may offer space for more passengers than a black taxi (5 passengers), while minicabs can be force fed to the sum of 8 if pushed.

Fare: Minimum charge of £2.00 (CN$4.60). 20p each additional 180.5m or 38.8 seconds. Minicabs do not have meters, they charge between £1 - £1.50 per mile.

MOSCOW

Stand at the side of the street, extend your right arm at a 45-degree angle with your palm out flat and, within seconds, one or more cars will stop in front of you. Tell them where you're going and how much you'll pay ($4 to $6 for up to a 30 minute ride). Of course, most of the cars that will pick you up aren't taxis at all, just guys driving around, trying to make an extra ruble. An estimated R500 million a year ends up in the pockets of these alternative operators, since there is only one licensed taxi for every 2,500 people in Moscow. You may feel safer in an official yellow Volga taxi than a beaten up Lada or a even Mercedes with blacked out windows for that matter.

Fare: R100 (CN$4.50) for a journey within the Garden Ring. From there on its all negotiations.

MUMBAI

Like the rest of India taxicabs are a frequent contradiction. The black and yellow cabs as well as the blue and grey ones are supposed to offer air conditioning, but rarely do. When you remind the driver to turn the meter it makes no difference because the display is outdated and must be multiplied by 13.75. Not easy to do with heat stroke and the onset of dysentery. By contrast, Japanese taxi firms "throw away" their vehicles every 3-4 years. In Mumbai, taxis (Fiat Padminis) are just getting broken in and their condition often reflects the state of the roads. Fare: R12 (CN$.030) per km.

Full day hire- Rs1000. For those who prefer a higher degree of luxury, Cool Cabs (tel: (022) 824 6216) provides modern, air-conditioned taxis. A full-day hire costs Rs1000.

NEW YORK

Hailing a cab in NYC can be as simple as stepping off the curb and holding out your arm. It only gets complicated when you need to figure out how to make them stop. There are 11,787 medallion cabs in Manhattan and 90% of new applicants come from the India, Africa, the Middle East and republics of the former USSR. Forty thousand of these lone rangers hustle for business every day and are required by law to take you to any address in Manhattan whether they know where it is on not. They have the right to mutter under their breath in a language of their own choosing.

Fare: Initial charge: US$2.50, 40 cents per 1/5 mile. Waiting charge: 40 cents per 120 seconds. JFK flat fare: $45.

PARIS

There are over 470 taxi ranks in Paris, full of complaining drivers shrugging their shoulders. Many drivers do not speak English or choose not to and some don’t even speak French. The Parisian taxi may be one of the cheapest taxis among the European capitals, but if you are ordering a taxi between 18h-21h, don’t be surprised to find 3-5 Euros already on the meter. A display on the back shelf of taxis indicates how many hours and minutes that particular driver has been on duty that day. The city’s 15,000 taxis cabs are identified by a neon “Taxi Parisean” sign on top. Or you can just look out for the vehicles that go around the Arc de Triomphe on two wheels.

Fare:'Tarif A' , 7am-7pm €0.60 per km(CN$.95).

'Tarif B', 7pm-7am, (€1 per km).

'Tarif C', from the airports 7pm-7am (€1.20 per km).

PRAGUE

Drivers in the Czech capital have a bad reputation. In the centre distances and traffic mean you might as well walk but a taxi driver will show you the suburbs if you have no sense of direction. The two main companies “AAA Taxi” or “ProfiTaxi” (very apt) charge about the same rates of 17 kc per km, but this varies depending the hour, how many people riding and the mood of the driver. Useful expression: “Hele! Pojdte spatky! Tady neni kde chtel jit!” “Hey! Come back! This isn't where I wanted to go!”

Fare: Kc 25-30 (CN$1.25-1.75) plus Kc 20-22 per kkm

ROME

The taxi drivers in the Eternal City are just like any other Italian drivers only more so. Look out for white and yellow charioteers complete with dents, burning rubber around fountains and roundabouts whilst raising hand gestures at fellow drivers. “RadioTaxi 3570” is the most important cab organization in Italy and the biggest in Europe. With over 2,700 taxis they serve 25,000 customers every day. Drivers are licensed and charge by the city-regulated rate. As if Rome’s rush hour didn’t resemble a scene from Ben Hur already, a new two-wheeled taxi service is currently being planned called “Motorbeep” and will be run by around 1,200 taxi drivers on motorbikes. However even Italians look good in traffic jams.

Fare: Within the city €7 - €10. (CN$16-25) From the airport €40 - €45 plus luggage charge.

SINGAPORE

In many cities taxi drivers treat the speed limit as a joke, but in Singapore the new taxicabs come with alarms that beep over a certain speed limit. They also come equipped with GPS satellite navigation systems and an instant messenger that talks and flashes to the driver. All this seems to do is annoy an already sleep deprived work force of men between the ages of 40-70, who survive off of small bottles of energizing liquid stashed under their drivers seats. On some occasions they can seem overly high-spirited, but are always polite and honest. Taxis are the lifeblood of Singapore in a city that stretches for 626km square kilometres and 18,000 taxis cover every corner, although roads and streets outside the mainstream spaghetti system are sometimes referred to as "ulu ulu" meaning "faraway and confusing".

Fare: 20 minutes from A to B - S$8-S$12. (CN$6-9) 50% more after midnight.

EWL©2005