Istanbul is my favorite city in the world, so when I got to return this past August for my cousin’s wedding, I was thrilled. After an incredible flight on Austrian + Turkish Airlines business class, I was looking forward to a seamlessly planned-out vacation. What I didn’t account for was the headaches I would deal with when ordering an Uber.
Whether it was the drivers themselves or the Taxi Mafia, it seemed that, as an Uber rider, I had a target on my back the minute I stepped outside of the airport.
It all started when I ordered an Uber at the airport. Cabs are actually cheaper in Istanbul than Uber, but since there were five of us and we had a lot of luggage, I figured the larger vehicles offered by Uber would be more convenient.
I will say, I did read in advance that Uber wasn’t legal in Istanbul, but that the police more or less turn a blind eye to it.
As we waited for our ride in the heat, a man approached us and asked if we needed a taxi. I let him know we had a ride and he told us Uber was illegal in Istanbul and he would call the police if the driver showed up.
We ignored him and he was soon joined by a guy who claimed to be working for the airport and warned us of the same thing. “Your driver will go to jail and you will get a fine.” I asked him for identification and he refused to produce it, so I told him to kindly f— off because I was not in the mood to get messed with already.
They badgered us a little more, I exploded and told them off for harassing two women traveling with kids, and they eventually stepped away. But then a police car showed up and we got worried. We didn’t want the Uber driver to get into trouble, so we cancelled the ride and got our own taxi. Far away from the two men.
Were they in the right? I guess so, considering Uber isn’t legal in Istanbul. But to call the police on someone who is trying to make a living, while harassing tourists who need better transportation options makes you a crappy person. Period.
Also, claiming to work for the airport and trying to intimidate tourists when you’re clearly part of the taxi mafia makes you a total jerk.
That’s not the scam in this story – just something you should be aware of when you’re hailing an Uber ride in Istanbul. During my nearly 10 days in Istanbul, I had several instances where I ordered an Uber, waited for it to show up, then got a notification that I had been picked up and the driver was dropping me off at my location. Meanwhile, I’m standing around miles from my hotel, with no idea who took my ride. I Googled this situation multiple times and have no idea if it’s a common scam or a simple mistake that kept happening because of a language barrier.
Any time I order an Uber, I text the driver to let him/her know where exactly I’ll be (i.e. “I’m in front of the Intercontinental Hotel entrance”) and what I’m wearing. I didn’t do that in Istanbul because most of the drivers didn’t speak English and I didn’t want to confuse them. I also noticed that none of them ever asked for my name when I got into the car. So my guess is they just randomly picked people up on the route, assuming it was the person who requested a ride. But if that’s the case, how come these people were picked up a good mile and a half away from where I was standing?
Uber customer service wasn’t helpful in resolving this issue at all, so I let it go. Every time it happened, I did cancel the ride while it was supposedly headed to the destination because it was seemingly the only way to avoid paying the full fare for a ride I didn’t actually take. Anyway, if you’ve taken Uber in Istanbul and had a similar experience, I’d love to read about it in the comment section.