One of the first warnings given to tourists in most countries is to not let taxis rip you off. Stepping out of the airport, this is one of the initial experiences of a country we encounter, so tired and sometimes over excited, we are oblivious to what is happening right in front of us as we ache to get to our destination. Basically we walk around with a big cash register on our head.
Bucharest, Romania is no exception to this rule and the taxi system is perhaps a little notorious for blatantly overcharging patrons. But we can take solace in that it’s not just foreigners they try to rip off. They will try it on with anyone, including locals. The funny thing is normally taxis are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to travel around the city…if you get it right. Here are a few hot tips to keeping your precious cash where it belongs, in YOUR wallet!
Fighting dodgy taxi drivers is Bucharest’s top tourist-related problem. It leaves a bad first/last impression when tourists get victimised right out of the airport or train station. The police take infringements seriously, but you must do your part by ordering them, or at least getting the number of taxi, and company (take a photo), or licence plate. You can’t report a taxi rip-off unless you can pinpoint exactly who it was.
Find the right Taxi
Avoid the independents and head for the trusted established taxi company. Easier said than done, you moan. Here’s how to put the ‘spot the difference’ skills you learnt as a child to good use. Look for an emblazoned name and phone number of the company they are with. Some independents will try to do the same but with a keen eye, you’ll learn the difference. Avoid anything displaying Taxi Bucharesti or Taxi Arsenal, they are generally more expensive. Look for about 1.39 or 1.40 lei per kilometre. Always ask if they give receipts first. If no, go on to the next one, or if you must get in, record the name of the company and taxi number. That way, if something goes wrong you can report it.
Ignore the hustlers
At the airport, ignore any taxi drivers who approach you as you leave arrivals. You can order a taxi using the multi-language easy-to-use touch screens in the arrivals hall to choose from a wide range of reputable Bucharest taxi companies, all with tariffs in plain sight. Once ordered the screen will tell you how long the taxi will be and its ID number and you wait outside. Easy peasy. Well so long as you can manage to get yourself into the right one, that is!. Another trick is to walk through to Departures and pick up a standard cab as it drops somebody off (following all our tips of course).
Be a baller
If you’re feeling cashed up and want to have some comfort in your life, head into town with TransVision. They provide Bucharest airport transfers in nice vehicles from €5 per person.
Don’t take a taxi at all
You can take Bus 783 into town, which stops underneath the arrivals hall (just follow the signs). This line leaves for the city centre (stopping at Piata Victoriei, Piata Romana, Piata Universitatii and the X Hostel Bucharest stop Piata Unirii) every 30 minutes during the day, and then every 40 minutes through the night. Purchase an Activ Card from the little booth to the right hand side as you exit, and load it with a return journey of 7 lei (you can use your return at any later stage) and 3.70 for the card. These can then be recharged at any ticket kiosk in Bucharest for use on buses and trams.
Use technology to your advantage and plan ahead
Call or book online using Meridian or Speed Taxi. Some of Bucharest’s taxi companies now have iPhone apps using your phone’s GPS to get a taxi straight to you quicksmart. Check out Star Taxi. Or get your establishment to order it, i.e. when leaving a hotel, hostel, or restaurant ask them (nicely) to order you a taxi.
One single tariff will be displayed on the driver and passenger door of all taxis. A lot of taxis will try to disguise how much they charge per kilometre. Whether this is by blocking the door, or not displaying clearly how much by adding other numbers such as Tariff 1. Generally be sure not to pay more than 1.69 lei per kilometre. Otherwise do a Johnny Walker and keep walking.
Areas to avoid
Be extra vigilant in areas such as Gara de Nord, Baneasa Airport, Bucuresti Mall, Piata Universitatii, Piata Unirii and the Old Town/Lipscani area. Avoid scary taxi drivers, especially at night. If you don’t think you can take this guy in a fight, then don’t take his taxi. Yes, this may seem discriminatory, but when you’re taking taxis off the street at night, the odds are high you will get in some kind of argument.
Arming yourself with knowledge is a safe tactic in any situation. So keep these tips in mind:
- Remember you ARE the customer, and ask first. Taxis should be catering to your needs, not the other way around. You should have no problem finding an english speaking driver, and verify he knows where the place is, and even that it should be between X-Y lei. If not, move on to the next one.
- Make sure the meter is on. And watch it.
- Carry small change. “I have no change” is not the response you want to hear. Because you won’t get it!
- Do your research. If you can, google the address first to get an idea of directions and how long it should take. If taking a taxi to X Hostel, it is good to say near Piata Unirii. There is another road that sounds like our road, and the taxi will take you there for a bigger fare, just to have to bring you here after.
- Speak up. Pay attention. Learn a little Romanian. Tell them you’re onto their game if you smell something fishy that’s not the Ciorba de peste. It is expected of Romanians to question everything, you should too.
- Don’t make yourself an obvious tourist…put the camera away.