The taxi gets its name from the taximeter, which was invented by Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn in Germany in the year 1891. In 1897, the first taxi with a fully functioning meter was invented by Gottlieb Daimler – it was called the Daimler Victoria. Anytime you enter a taxi or minicab – anything driven by someone else – you surrender a little control to another person. Often that person is completely unknown to you, so it’s important to think carefully about your personal safety while traveling in a taxi.
On the other hand, many taxi drivers are terrific sources of information about local customs, current events, best restaurants and entertainment, and more. Taxi drivers are often experts on safe and unsafe neighborhoods and what threats may lurk at your hotel or destination.
Many cab drivers are also great to talk with and an excellent opportunity to practice your language skills. Still, be cautious with over-sharing because they may pass the information on to someone else who does not have your best interests at heart. However, entering a fake taxi not only rips you off but also endangers your safety. The most likely locations of taking a fake taxi are China, Lebanon, Colombia, Brazil, Belgium, France (Paris), and Nigeria though it has and can literally take place anywhere in the world.
How to spot a fake Taxi
There are some common things you should look for with respect to fake taxis:
- Different color scheme from the dominant registered licensed taxis you see driving about
- No taxi license in the vehicle
- Cash only
- No presence of an actual meter
- Taxi driver approaches you and encourages you to use their vehicle versus waiting in a queue
- Physical characteristics (really a judgment call) on whether they look like an official taxi driver
- Several occupants in the vehicle
- Displayed photo identification does not match the driver’s facial features
- Removable or flimsy taxi sign on the roof
- Substandard working condition
- Invalid or non-existent license plates
- Non-existent dispatch system
- No GPS in the vehicle yet such units are readily seen in other taxis in the area you are visiting
How to avoid or deal with the fake
Tips on avoiding or dealing with fake taxis:
- Always travel with a companion, especially if you are a woman leaving a bar at the end of the night – a fake taxi driver will be less likely to target you if you are less vulnerable (with a companion)
- Do research on the internet (i.e. ihatetaxis.com) beforehand, to familiarize yourself with what official taxi cab companies operate in the city you are visiting OR upon arrival at the airport go to the information desk to ask “what does an official taxi look like?”
- Always call or book online for a taxi from a licensed company – Google such companies online, or have your hotel call you one (often called a ‘radio taxi’)
- If a radio taxi is not available, go to an official taxi queue line near a major hotel, shopping mall, etc.
- The taxi driver should recite your name when picking you up, and if they don’t, then they are not the designated pick-up person for you
- Always sit in the back seat of a taxi to avoid any contentious situation, albeit a legitimate taxi or fake one – you want to be unencumbered should you need to flee
- If there is a meter present, and it is behaving erratically without a legitimate explanation, if you are in a safe area, ask the driver politely to pull over, place the money on the seat and get out (while this may or may not be a fake taxi, there is a scam going on and best you remove yourself from the situation)
- Have your cell phone charged up and ready to either videotape and or call the police at a moments notice
- Carry small change so as to avoid getting fake currency change back – you should also be able to drop the exact fare (or a bit more) on the seat and walk off in a dispute
- Under all circumstances, where possible, travel with your bags with you in the car and not the trunk (access to the trunk will be used as unfair leverage if you refuse to comply with unreasonable demands)
- If you are being attacked or placed in a very vulnerable situation, scream or yell to alert nearby people of your plight – this could force the driver to stop his nefarious plans with you
Truth be told, fake taxi drivers are getting more and more clever all the time in order to dupe travelers, but if you follow the above guidelines you should minimize your chances of being in a very unfavorable situation.