Taxi Scams In Manila And How You Can Avoid Them
Taxi drivers in the Philippines are notorious rip off merchants. There are so many scams operated by taxi drivers it is almost impossible to know where to start. Let me start off by saying that taxis are a convenient, cheap and plentiful mode of transport, particularly in Manila. You can get yourself from one side of town to the other for less than USD8-10. Unfortunately, there are a number of taxi drivers that will try to extract as much money from you as they can. For some unknown reason, it just seems inherent for taxi drivers to be rip off merchants and taxi scams in Manila, in particular, are a common occurrence.
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to get an Uber or Grab Car (the SE Asia version of Uber), and not everyone has the Waze traffic app. Therefore, it is important that I talk about taxis and some of the tactics they use to try and extract extra money from you.
1). If you are a foreigner, taxi drivers naturally assume that you are a tourist. Therefore, they try to take advantage of the fact that you don’t know your way around. They do this by engaging you in a conversation once you hop inside the cab to try and distract you. While this is happening, they have conveniently “forgotten” to turn on the meter. The next thing you know you are 5 or 10 minutes into your trip and you have no idea how much it has cost you so far. So, of course, you ask the driver how much it will cost and he will always reply with “it’s up to you”. If you are new to the place, how do you know how much it should cost? Taxi Driver 1, Tourist 0.
2). Taxi drivers will try to take you on the longest route possible to try and justify charging you a higher rate. This actually applies regardless of whether or not they have used the meter. And of course, because you are new to the place, you don’t know how much it should cost and what is a fair rate, even if you are willing to pay a bit over the normal rate. Taxi Driver 2, Tourist 0.
3). Taxi drivers will look at you with sad puppy dog eyes and say “it’s very traffic”. They will then insist that you just pay them an agreed figure without turning the meter on. Of course, if you are new in town, and you have not taken your route before. Obviously, you have no idea how much it should cost and what is fair and reasonable. So they will then insist on a random figure. However, if you are in a rush, and there is a tropical rainstorm and you’re desperate, you will probably accept whatever they offer you. Taxi Driver 3, Tourist 0.
4). And last but not least, check if the meter hasn’t been tampered with. In Tagalog, this is known as batingting. This isn’t so common these days but there is still the odd taxi that does actually have the meter running, but they have tampered with their meter to display inaccurate readings. Of course, this is to the benefit of the driver. All taxis are required by law to have their meter sealed to prevent any tampering. This basically looks like a snap-lock plastic bag tie which you will see attached to the meter. If this is not there, it’s a tell-tale sign that the metre has been tampered with and it’s game over. Taxi driver wins 4-0 and you lose in a clean sweep.
I know I’m being a bit flippant here so before I continue, I would just like to acknowledge that we are not talking about a lot of money. However, it is the principal of the matter and the fact taxi drivers are taking advantage of the weary traveler. They should be helping the passenger, not trying to rip them off. I should also say that most taxi drivers are ok. However, you really do need to assert some authority over them.
Then, of course, the other thing you must avoid if possible is hopping into a taxi on your own late at night when you have had a big night drinking. Depending on how far you need to travel, it is possible that you may fall asleep in the taxi. Naturally, the taxi driver will play dumb and drive you around in circles trying to maximize his fare. As much as I would love to blame the taxi driver for this, the onus must still be on the individual. You need to make sure you are on the ball, and that the taxi driver does not rip you off (my tip is to wind the window down and turn the music up really loud. Make yourself as uncomfortable as possible so you don’t fall asleep).
I have heard of a couple of instances where foreigners have fallen asleep in a taxi cab. They are then driven to an unfamiliar, isolated place and robbed by accomplices of the taxi driver. The taxi driver texts his friend “hey pare (mate), I have a passed out foreigner in the car. Meet you in five minutes at such and such place”. It gets staged as a robbery/carjacking but the taxi driver is part of the heist. You have been warned!
How to avoid taxi scams: Ultimately, its best to use Uber or Grab but unfortunately, sometimes you have no other option but to take a taxi. Therefore, you cannot avoid the possibility of some of these scams happening to you. However, if you must use a taxi, my advice is do not hop inside the taxi at all until the driver is very clear on where you want to go, and that he is prepared to turn on the meter. This will usually be met with a frown and a screwed up face when you ask this. However, you can soften the blow by telling them that you will give them a tip. You must also check that the taxi driver has some identification. You also need to check that the taxicab is clearly marked with operators name and the appropriate license plates.
At the end of the day, we are not talking about a lot of money. So if the fare happens to be, for example, P180, you might just give the taxi driver P200 and tell him to keep the change (P20 is less than 50c). The main priority here is just to keep the taxi driver honest. After all, they are providing a service and that should be their job. All taxis should clearly display the name of the taxi operator, the number plates, the name of the taxi and the driver should display his ID on the dashboard of the taxi. Even take a photo of the cab and its plates. As stressed earlier, you should check these things before you even hop in the taxi. And, don’t fall asleep in a cab drunk, especially if you’re alone!
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