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Suggestions on how non-Chinese-speakers should deal with taxis in China?

Suggestions on how non-Chinese-speakers should deal with taxis in China?

Old Jul 7, 06, 1:14 am
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Suggestions on how non-Chinese-speakers should deal with taxis in China?

I've been hearing some interesting taxi stories as of late about non-Chinese-speaking visitors and their taxi issues. Some of these include stories about getting fleeced by cab drivers, not being able to get back to where they came from, etc.

Tips#1 Get the address of the place you are going to written down by someone presumably reliable; and get the same for the place you came from.

Tip#2 Get the fare's ballpark figure in advance of starting the taxi journey.

Tip#3 Get a cell phone and use telephone calls to the hotel staff to help where language barrier issues arise.

Any others that you recommend?
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Old Jul 7, 06, 1:24 am
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Originally Posted by GUWonder
I've been hearing some interesting taxi stories as of late about non-Chinese-speaking visitors and their taxi issues. Some of these include stories about getting fleeced by cab drivers, not being able to get back to where they came from, etc.
I've never gotten fleeced by a taxi driver in China, but see below . . .

Tips#1 Get the address of the place you are going to written down by someone presumably reliable; and get the same for the place you came from.
This is an absolute necessity. The anglicized version of place names sounds very different from the Mandarin pronunciation -- unless you've studied the language, you will almost certainly not be understand. Compounding the problem is that many taxi drivers in major cities are from out in the provinces -- THEIR Mandarin isn't going to be that good.

Tip#2 Get the fare's ballpark figure in advance of starting the taxi journey.
I do that if I'm going to the airport, someplace quite far, or I want to rent the taxi for the day. I don't do that for routine trips, though I do make sure that the driver starts the meter.

Tip#3 Get a cell phone and use telephone calls to the hotel staff to help where language barrier issues arise.
That's always a good idea, and not just for taxis.

Any others that you recommend?
Only ride in metered cabs. As is true anywhere else in the world, avoid the touts in the airports -- there are organized and supervised taxi lines outside the terminal. If there's any problem at all, note the taxi driver's license number (it's in Arabic numbers). Most any hotel in a major city will have English speakers on staff -- if you're having problems with a driver, or are simply lost (many drivers don't know their way around), go to any hotel and ask for help. Even though you're not a guest, they'll be happy to assist.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 1:49 am
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I am generally planning on several stops when I go out. I get a separate card for each destination, and get the hotel staff to write down the name in English and in characters. Then I can pull out the relevant card depending on where I want to head next.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 2:43 am
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Having your destination written down in characters or circled on a map (one with characters) is essential. The cell phone can certainly be useful as long as you have someone with good English and Mandarin on the other end (or you have enough Mandarin to ask them to tell the driver where they are).

1. NEVER go with a driver who approaches you at the airport (or railway stations). Leave the building and head for the rank. As with everywhere else in the world, airport taxis are the most likely to cause trouble. Drivers who approach you are usually 'hei che'--illegal and meterless "black cabs".

2. Cabs waiting for business outside major tourist sights, especially those who call out to foreigners, should generally be avoided, as should cabs whose drivers ask you where you want to go even before you get in. Always flag down a passing cab, and nine times in ten the precautions listed here will be unnecessary.

3. If staying in an upmarket hotel, do not go with taxis called by the doorman or waiting in line outside. Even at some famous hotels, drivers pay kick-backs to the doormen to allow them to join the line on the forecourt. Some cabs are merely waiting because many guests, Chinese and foreign alike, will be out-of-town people who can be easily misled. Instead, just walk out of the hotel and flag down a passing cab for yourself. Take the hotel's business card to show to a taxi driver when you want to get back.

4. Better hotels give you a piece of paper with the taxi registration number on it as you board or alight, so that you can complain if something goes wrong. Often you won't know if it has, of course, and there's no guarantee that anything will happen if you complain to the hotel, but hang on to it anyway.

5. Look to see if the supervision card, usually with a photo of the driver and a telephone number, is prominently displayed as regulations require. If it isn't, you may be going to have problems. Choose another cab.

6. Can you clearly see the meter? If it's recessed behind the gear stick, partly hidden by an artfully folded face-cloth on top, choose another cab.

7. Always make sure you see the meter reset. If you didn't actually see the flag pushed down, which shouldn't happen until you actually move off, then you may end up paying for the time the cab was in the rank. This is a particularly popular scam outside better hotels.

8. If you are by yourself, sit in the front seat. Have a map with you and look as if you know where you are going (even if you don't).

9. Rates per kilometer are clearly posted on the side of the cab, and vary by vehicle type. Flagfall of, say, Y10 ($1.25), typically includes a 3 or 4 kilometers, then the standard kilometer rate begins. But in Beijing
after 15km, the rate jumps by 50% [NB: In other cities this usually happens after a far shorter distance] if the driver has pushed the 'one way' button on the front of the meter. This is for one-way trips out of town, and usually should not be pushed, but always is. As a result it's rarely worthwhile to have a cab wait for you and take you back.

10. Pay what's on the meter, and don't tip--the driver will insist on giving change. Always ask for a receipt (fa piao). Should you leave something in a cab, there's a remarkably high success rate at getting even valuable items back if the number on the receipt is called, and the details on it provided. You'll need the assistance of a Mandarin speaker.

With the exception of half-day or one-day hires, or hires for long trips out of town it is not recommended to ask for a forecast of the rate. Do you really have enough Mandarin to ask and to understand the reply? Don't get into any conversation that suggests perhaps the meter shouldn't be used or that you've absolutely no idea what you are doing or where you are. Use the meter, pay the price shown, and ask for a receipt.

Follow this advice and better than nine times out of ten you will have no problems at all.

Peter N-H
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Old Jul 7, 06, 4:01 am
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imo, learning the relevant city map(s) is the most useful thing travelers can do anywhere (not just china).

as for touts, while many of them are crooked, i use them often now because i don't like standing in line and have had very good experiences. it's just important to deal with them in a controlling manner (i.e. clarify all relevant details up front and don't accept additional riders). and, for getting around town, 黑车 are often preferable to metered taxis (nicer cars, can pay by the hour, etc)
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Old Jul 7, 06, 4:28 am
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One recent experience at Honqqiao airport I don't feel particularly proud about:

I arrived at the "official" taxi stand with a Shanghai associate. He calmly jumped the whole longish queue and negotiated my fixed price out to Suzhou down to 300 RMB from the orginal 400 that most drivers wanted. The driver who agreed then threw out the bags of an SE Asian gent probably on a smaller fare and off we went.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 4:29 am
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Originally Posted by moondog
imo, learning the relevant city map(s) is the most useful thing travelers can do anywhere (not just china).

as for touts, while many of them are crooked, i use them often now because i don't like standing in line and have had very good experiences. it's just important to deal with them in a controlling manner (i.e. clarify all relevant details up front and don't accept additional riders). and, for getting around town, 黑车 are often preferable to metered taxis (nicer cars, can pay by the hour, etc)
Moondog is right. The black cabs at the airport/trainstation can be very useful if there is a huge line at the airport taxi stand (like at Hongqiao or Beijing Airport). The essential thing when dealing with these guys is to negotiate everything before (including whether or not the road tolls are included). To negotiate properly you will have to know how much an average cab ride to where you want to go costs. Therefore first timers should probably not use these black cabs. The first quote is usually something outrageous like 300RMB from PEK to downtown...just negotiate them down to a fair price. If you know the approximate cost, however, you can bargain them down to the same as a regular taxi and often their rides are more comfy.

As a guy I always sit in the front next to the driver and I've never had a problem.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 10:16 am
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Originally Posted by Peter N-H
3. If staying in an upmarket hotel, do not go with taxis called by the doorman or waiting in line outside. Even at some famous hotels, drivers pay kick-backs to the doormen to allow them to join the line on the forecourt. Some cabs are merely waiting because many guests, Chinese and foreign alike, will be out-of-town people who can be easily misled. Instead, just walk out of the hotel and flag down a passing cab for yourself. Take the hotel's business card to show to a taxi driver when you want to get back.

Peter N-H
I believe its common for drivers to pay kickbacks to the doorman. That means
the driver should have to double the actual fare inorder to pay the kickback.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 12:09 pm
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How well some of these replies indicate the obliviousness of some residents, Mandarin speakers, and frequent travellers to China as to how different it is to be a first-time or casual visitor there.

Using a 'controlling manner' isn't going to be easy for someone numb from a plane ride, who obviously doesn't know where he or she is, with no Mandarin and no knowledge of the city at which he has just arrived, not knowing whether there are toll roads between himself and his destination, nor what the meter rate would be as a basis for negotiation, nor able to insist on other fine details.

While buying a map should be one of the first tasks on arrival, this will usually be in characters only, and it's hardly reasonable to expect visitors hopping around from city to city to have much of a grasp of all the places they'll arrive for the first time during the period of just a few days. Hapless visitors, and those who think they are being smart to negotiate deals, are ripped off by taxis at airports every day, and the chances of that are significantly increased by choosing illegality to start with. Amongst the 'black cabs' it's not that 'many of them are crooked', but that they all are, and it's only a matter of degree.

Taxis are regulated to prevent overcharging and to provide a measure of safety and security for passengers (although dangers in China are few) by providing a published rate, a metering system (occasionally tampered with), and a reporting system--name and number of driver with photo clearly displayed in the front of the cab, often with a telephone number for complaints. By the late 80s taking a cab in China was a complete nightmare, and the relatively stiff regulatory regime that appeared in the early 90s is much to be welcomed. Taking ?? black cabs for a reasonable price is not feasible for most visitors, and if things turn nasty (and there are accounts of renegotiation beginning in dark and lonely spots) the average non-Mandarin-speaking visitor, sans 'controlling manner', will quickly be out of his or her depth. If you want to have 'taxi issues' as the OP mentioned, taking a black cab can be an express route to doing so.

Taking these cabs also short-changes the registered cabbies who are paying for licences, insurances, taxes to keep officials in big dinners, and at least the appearance of having qualified to drive.

It incidentally also leaves foreigners with no moral high ground or room to complain when registered cabbies cheat foreigners by taking long routes, having the meter running while in the queue, etc.

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Old Jul 7, 06, 1:08 pm
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Peter N-H, I just checked out the links in your sig, and want to say how much I appreciate a travel writer contributing here. I'm very impressed that you find the time to do so, and with your recommendations. I hope that you stick around and continue to help us.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 2:51 pm
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The cards that the hotels give out are priceless, especially when they include a list of major places in the city all written in the traditional characters. What I did on my trip was to have the concierge at the first hotel right down the names of all of the rest of my hotels for the next six cities on different cards so when I got to the airport in each city I could just walk out and show the card to the driver.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 4:31 pm
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Originally Posted by Peter N-H
black cabs for a reasonable price is not feasible for most visitors, and if things turn nasty (and there are accounts of renegotiation beginning in dark and lonely spots) the average non-Mandarin-speaking visitor, sans 'controlling manner', will quickly be out of his or her depth. If you want to have 'taxi issues' as the OP mentioned, taking a black cab can be an express route to doing so.
Peter N-H
I once had an issue with a black cab in Beijing that ended by me telling the hotel I stayed at that I was going to check out if they didn't provide a security person to make sure the driver didn't come back to cause trouble. Sure enough there was a guard outside my room for the next 2 days. This is a very bizarre incident which I have never encounterd in China before...but I know the hotel manager was in on the scam and he was being a real a**hole.
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Old Jul 7, 06, 6:07 pm
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Originally Posted by Peter N-H
Taking these cabs also short-changes the registered cabbies who are paying for licences, insurances, taxes to keep officials in big dinners, and at least the appearance of having qualified to drive.
I willingly concede all that and pretty much everything else you said. However, I feel compelled to point out that the registered guys are increasingly annoying these days. They hate using their air-cons; they don't want to wait near the Kerry Centire while my friends pull money from the ATM to pay them, they don't want to do jack.

While they ..... and moan, the 黑车 are ready to serve. So, I have no problem giving the underground guys my cash.

And, I readily concede that the whole map concept is a bit much for sleeply travelers, I'm absolutely positive that you guys are much smarter than the average Beijing cabbie so show them your true colors and make us proud!
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Old Jul 8, 06, 2:33 am
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When travelling on biz (and often even when travelling on my own nickel) I often arrange for the hotel to send a car. Definately will cost a premium, but when arriving late at night in an Asian city totally jetlagged -- nothing beats having a hotel mercedes waiting for you.

Here's a fun story -- I was staying at the Beijing Hilton and I had yet to learn all of the tips above (which I learned the hard way) I had the doorman instruct the driver to take me to kerry center. The driver ended up taking me to my company HQ in beijing. He must have seen the name on my shirt sleeve! The driver had no idea where the kerry center was (and neither did the doorman at HQ and it took a phone call back to the hotel for more detailed instructions.
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Old Jul 9, 06, 12:59 am
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My two cents: Even as a fluent mandarin speaker (have lived in Taiwan now for 10 years, been to the mainland at least 30-40 times), I try very hard to stay away from black cars that approach me. That said, I always ask whoever I am with (customer or supplier) if they have a car/driver that they could call for me. As mentioned above, often the cars themselves are much better condition (Passats, Toyoto minivans?) and drivers like this will never want to screw you. They depend on their honesty.

Taxis in general are often uncomfortable, smaller (jetta or santana or worse). The one redeeming quality is they are registered and the chances of something going south are extremely low.

I mostly let the doorman call their cab --- even if there is a kickback, so what? I would rather the hotel be on my side for supporting their "friends" in case of an issue. Some doormen have told me (in mandarin) that "that other cab company always seems to try to screw people so we strongly suggest you wait for a guy from our recommended company". Might be BS, but you can only do so much to reduce your risk.
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