Arriving in a new place is disorienting enough without having to climb into an unfamiliar car to get to a place you have never been in the hands of a complete stranger. Most veteran travelers have felt that encroaching queasy feeling that something is off about a cab ride, but there are things you can do to put yourself more at ease and protect yourself if things start to go sideways. Below are 13 tips on making taxi travel safer, more affordable and more reliable.
Cab rides from airports have always been a tricky proposition, due in part to local regulations; some airport cabs are metered while others adhere to fixed, flat-rate prices. Then there are the unlicensed cars that circle the airport and the drivers standing in the terminals hawking rides.
Of all the things to research ahead of time before any cab ride, this might be the most important one. In most cases you can find this information online; try airport websites, tourist bureau sites or a simple Google search.
When you get into the car, it can help to mention the expected price; this way you and the driver are on the same page. If the driver does not agree at first, and you have done your homework to know that haggling is part of how business is done in your particular location, suggest a different price, or try another car (which in some cases may cause the first driver to come up with a fair price).
If you’ve taken enough cabs, you’ve probably ended up on what felt like a joy ride to rack up miles on the meter. Most cities have regulations that require drivers to take the route requested by the passenger; if you map a route and ask for it, he or she will take you that way.
That said, local drivers usually know a lot more about traffic, construction and shortcuts than you do — or even than a mapping app does — so if you feel comfortable letting the driver decide, go for it.
Many travelers use Lyft or Uber instead of taxis these days, but ridesharing services are prohibited at some airports. If your arrival plan includes one of these services, check ahead of time to see if it’s available. Here are two ways to do it:
– Well before your flight leaves, open the app and use the map to begin setting up a pickup at your destination airport. If you are able to do this and you can see cars in waiting in the airport, you generally will be okay.
– Go to the service’s Facebook, Twitter or other social media page, and ask directly. I’ve done this successfully with both Lyft and Uber.
Beyond the lack of visible pricing, unmarked and unlicensed cars are almost always involved when you hear horror stories about taxi scams. These range from kidnappings to purse- and phone-snatching (where a driver consorts with a thief who breaks into the cab to steal valuables when you’re stopped at a red light). Learn what licensed cabs look like in the place you’re visiting, and skip the shady alternatives.
Sometimes you know a place and situation well enough that you are willing to take an unlicensed car (for example, I lived in New York City for over a decade, and did use them on occasion, knowing fully what I was getting into). In this situation, be sure to tell the driver where you are going and agree on a price before driving off (or even before getting in and closing the door). There are no meters in these cars, so setting a price is critical.
For more advice on avoiding taxi scams, see How To Avoid Being Ripped Off By Taxi Drivers.
Other ways to protect yourself include checking for a working door handle before you close the door so you can get out quickly, riding with the windows closed so no one can reach in, and knowing the local emergency number (911 does not work in all countries).
Here are more useful tips on taxi safety.
Resist the temptation to start to unpack or root through your stuff during your ride, as this leaves you vulnerable to leaving things behind or having them stolen. Keep your stuff packed away to avoid these problems. If you are looking at your phone, keep it close; phones have become the most likely thing to lose or have snatched in transit.
Your taxi receipt will almost always have the cab’s license or medallion number on it; this will be useful if you leave something behind.
When paying by credit card, some taxi machines have a suggested tip at the top of the screen — these are often inflated. You might see these screens start at a 20 percent tip and suggest up to 30 percent. If you look carefully, you’ll typically find an “enter the tip” option that allows you to set the amount yourself.
Take your time getting out of the cab while also being mindful of basic safety: Don’t open the door into traffic, make sure you have all your things, keep an eye on them when you haul them out onto the sidewalk and make sure the area you are in looks safe.
It’s easy to skip this step, but keep in mind that traffic accidents are the leading cause of American deaths abroad, and we’ve all had cab rides where we feel like we’re careening through the streets in terrifying fashion. Taxi seatbelts are not always available and don’t always work, but if you have one, use it.
For each concern travelers have about taxi drivers, cabbies can likely cite many more they have about their passengers. See 9 Annoying Things You Do in Cabs, According to a Cab Driver. Don’t be that guy.