Sometimes avoiding a scam is just about making sure you pick the right taxi to get into. For example, the metered taxi cabs around Russia are complete rip-offs and are mostly run by the local gangs. All the ones around the airports are controlled by organised crime and are delighted to pick up and extort incoming foreigners. So what to do? Gonzo Tourism’s advice is always “Do as the locals do.”, but what they do is a little surprising; they stick their hand out at the road and wait for any random unmarked car to pull up and offer them a ride.
Now, in most countries this is not recommended and agencies like Transport For London do their best to show how dangerous unmarked cabs can be. However, if you don’t wish to be robbed by the Russian Mafia, just wave into the street and an unmarked and probably battered car will pull over, negotiate a price and take you there. You’ll get to have a nice chat with a local as well; it’s always a good idea to practice your Russian whenever possible. One incredibly haggered and rusty looking car that The Captain, The Major and myself caught happened to have a banging sound system hidden in the back and we were treated to an impromptu boom rave around the streets of St. Petersburg.
If you do fancy catching a metered taxi cab, then make sure it is metered. The main problem that catches tourists out is the driver claiming that the meter is broken and he will charge you something appropriate at the end of the journey. WARNING: It will not be appropriate. This can range from double the going rate five times or even more. If you refuse to pay, drivers will probably get angry and violence has been reported. As with everything else in Russia, the cops may well be in on the scam too, so don’t expect any help from them.
In most Asian countries you should be fine to catch a metered taxi as long as they do switch the meter on. Not everyone will, but some will try to kid you that the meter isn’t working. Don’t let them brow beat you into it. If they won’t switch the meter on then you should get out. This has worked for me twice in Bangkok, and one of those times I was backed up by a policeman. That’s sort of unusual considering the stories I’ve heard about Bangkok cops.
So be safe and beware of tuk-tuk drivers trying to take you to their brother’s jewellery shop. This is another common Thai scam. The shop owners pay the drivers in petrol tokens to bring tourists to them. The drivers generally concoct some kind of story revolving around it being a holy day and therefore all sales are VAT free. I don’t know if this is actually a thing, but the drivers will have you believing that everyday is a discount day. When you get to the shops you may be pressured into buying things, or you might not. The whole thing is a bit daft as a reasonable amount of people will be quite happy to check things out without buying anything. The problems occur when you actually want to get somewhere, like the airport, and have to argue just to get to your destination.
This leads to a final thought; is there a way to make it work for you? Quiet possibly. I met some lads who told me they found a tuk-tuk driver and presented the following deal. Visit as many shops that pay out petrol tokens as possible in one hour. The guys will stay in the shop long enough for the driver to get his reward and then the guys get driven around free for the whole day. The driver accepted and got a good amount of token and the guys got driven around Bangkok for free. Touristy? Not really. But definitely gonzo.
Rating: $$$$$ Once you are at your destination it can be difficult to dispute any price that the driver demands. Best plan is to make sure the meter is on when you set off.