Six Taxi Scams of India
It's the rare taxi ride in India where I don't have to fend off at least one scam. Here are 6 India Taxi Scams I've encountered, along with my sometimes against-better-judgement "sweet revenge".
1. "Tourist Police Currency Switch" -- Delhi Airport
You might think you'd be safe buying a pre-paid ticket (see "Tips" below) from the tourist police. But not at Delhi Airport!
After the vendor at the airport's tourist police kiosk quoted me 120 Indian Rupees (IR's) I placed a 500 Rupee bill on the counter. The man took the bill and with Copperfield-like fast-handedness -- involving a book strategically located on his desktop -- quickly made a 100 Rupee bill appear on the counter, stating I still owed 20 Rupees (i.e. implying I had given a 100IR bill, not the 500 I'd tendered).
I had just been scammed out of 400 rupees! I literally muttered aloud: "Welcome to India!"
Infuriated, a few minutes later I returned to another police tourist and explained what happened. As if I were explaining a routine performance, this second vendor promptly refunded my 400 IR's!!
2. "The 'Pre-Paid' Hustler" -- Mumbai (Bombay) Airport
Exiting the terminal, guard down due to my supposedly trusty pre-paid ticket waving in hand, a white-shirted young man hustled over, inviting me to go with him. "This way sir", he directed me to the right. I naively began to follow him. However, two dark-suited official looking men quickly and assuredly guided me away from this scamster and his private taxi, toward the actual pre-paid taxi area (slightly left of straight out the terminal).
Enraged by both the scam and the lack of punitive action from the officials, I discarded better sense and verbally assaulted the scamster, inviting him to do some things he might not find particularly pleasant.
3. "The Name Change" -- Delhi Airport
A couple of minutes into this brief transport from the airport to my nearby hotel, the taxi driver "informed" me that the name of my hotel had changed. Fortunately, thanks to my familiarity of the area, I recognized that the hotel name he gave me was that of another hotel just down the street from mine. No doubt, the scamster was working for a commission. The hotel sign of my intended destination soon became visible and I directed my driver to it, not as though he really needed my assistance!
In addition to avoiding the scam, I advised the driver "See, you wrong. Hotel name not change!"
4. "The Deserter" -- Mahipalpur (near Delhi Airport)
OK, see if you can guess my mistake in this scam: I paid in full in advance for a taxi to provide me transport to a local market, wait an hour while I shopped, then transport me back to the origin.
Figure it out? Yes, of course...the "paid in full in advance" part. I'll bet you can also guess what happened when I finished shopping...My taxi driver was nowhere to be found.
I just let this one go. It was one of my first taxi rides in India and I had not yet been sufficiently jaded. (Adding to the scamming, for my return the auto-rickshaw driver quoted me one price, then upon delivery demanded additional money for a "special road" he had to take to circumvent the airport.)
5. The "Bait and Switch Tout" -- Agra, India
This arrangement seemed too good to be true...a taxi driver speaking near-perfect English, very friendly and re-assuring, and quite knowledgeable quoted me a great price for my several-hour itinerary, adding that a tip would also be expected. I agreed to the terms.
Briefly into the itinerary, the too-good-to-be-true part manifested: the outstanding "driver" actually turned out to be a tout, asked me for the tip, and quickly handed me off to another driver who apparently spoke virtually no English. This driver and I rode almost entirely in silence for the remaining, long 4 hour and 45 minutes. At the end of the journey I discovered perhaps the extent of the driver's English when he demanded: "Tip, Sir". This request was not a surprise despite my anticipatory, pre-emptive attempt; I had had the foresight before departing to ask that the tout explain to the driver that I had already tipped, although this proved futile. (Not knowing Hindi, I have no idea what the tout told the driver.)
I knew I had committed to a tip in this arrangement. So at the beginning I mentally noted the amount of the planned tip, and then relinquished only a portion to the tout, saving the small balance for the inevitable expectation at the end of the trip.
6. The "Quote Reviser" -- Agonda Beach, India
A travel agency/Internet cafe quoted me 900IR's for a roughly 90-minute ride. No problem. I inspected the car and, after asking if it had A/C, was told it did. I confirmed the price the next morning (when returning to use the Internet), and again that afternoon. Then much to my surprise, upon my visit the night before the taxi ride the agent suddenly informed me "Sir, if you want air conditioning the cost will be 1000IR's." Now I understand that 100IR's A/C surcharges are not uncommon in southern India. But this deal rose to scam status when the representative avoided multiple opportunities to inform me of the extra charge and waited until the night before departure.
Knowing that taxi service was a commodity in this village, I told the agent I felt deceived. I cancelled my reservation, walked a few blocks down the street, and hired another taxi who, by the way, immediately quoted me the A/C price.
India not Alone in Scamming
Of course, India has no monopoly on taxi scams. Here are two more scams I've encountered from other countries in the fray.
7. "The 'I Know a Better Place' " -- Dubai, UAE
Akin to the "Name Change" scam, a very polite driver informed me that the mall I wanted to visit was, peculiarly, closed this early afternoon. Fortunately, though, the seemingly benevolent driver knew of another equally magnificent mall that was open at this hour, although it was a bit farther away (i.e., would cost me more).
The potential of a scam didn't really strike me until after the drop-off. I asked at my hotel where the staff indeed confirmed that I was scammed!
8. 'The Super-Charged Meter" -- Beijing Airport, China
Upon leaving the terminal a cordial but assertive man greeted and rushed me to his taxi. Despite my apprehension upon seeing his car in a public parking lot rather than a taxi area, I noticed the supposedly legitimizing mounted taxi flag and naively climbed aboard.
Once inside, the speed at which the meter ticked up my cost would've made Mario Andretti jealous. Having done my research on the estimated duration of the trip, and expected cost, I realized that I was on pace to pay about 4-5 times the normal charge!
Sometimes when you've had enough, you snap and take irrational and dangerous actions. My snapping point? Beijing, China!
While en-route I emphatically stated to the driver my dissatisfaction, and demanded he stop. At first he refused as he sped along the highway at night. But when I started opening the door at 100km/hour, he pulled over. I extracted my backpacks and exited the car leaving, two door opens to help dissuade the driver from fleeing. I then kneeled next to the front of the car and began writing down the vehicle's license number. This seemed sufficiently threatening to the scamster who met me on the road where we quickly agreed upon an almost reasonable fixed price.
Once back in the car I longed to understand if the driver's emotional, subsequent, foreign-language phone call included phrases like "back alley", "deliver foreigner" and "Chinese Mafia". But fortunately I soon arrived safely at my hotel, although the driver curiously refused to pull onto the hotel's property, and just deposited me onto the street.
Six Tips Toward Avoiding Taxi Scams
Although precautions cannot guarantee smooth taxiing, the following six tips can help you avoid taxi scams abroad.
1. Obtain an Advance Quote Estimate
-- Before your trip, try to get an estimate on the taxi charge. For example, the hotel should know the approximate cost transport from the airport.
-- Pay for a trip at an official "Pre-Paid" booth when possible. Many airports offer this option. (Just beware of the still-lingering variety of scams.)
3. Use Metered Vehicles
-- Typically, fixed-price taxis are more expensive than metered taxis. The difference in Bangkok, for example, was 400 vs 211 Thai Baht, the fixed price being nearly double!
4. Clarify the Price
-- If you can't get a metered vehicle or pre-paid taxi and thus have to negotiate a price, write down the agreed upon price. Before closing the door have the driver confirm the figure. This will, of course, require you to have easy access to something to write with and onto.
5. Carry Small Denomination Money
-- It's not unusual for taxi drivers to at least claim they don't have change. So avoid the hassle and have small denomination currency/coins available to render the exact amount.
6. Remember: The Taxi Driver is NOT Your Friend
-- As engaging and polite as the taxi driver might present himself, remember that he may well be "scouting" you to detect your vulnerability to various scams. For example, a common question I hear is..."Is this your first trip to India, Sir?". In tenuous situations act self-assured and be direct rather than trying to make a buddy.