It only takes being ripped off once to question the honesty of every taxi driver you encounter.
It was January and one of my Turkish friends that lived rather far outside the city invited me to meet him and his friends in Besiktas. I didn’t want to keep them waiting, so I hopped in a cab. Besiktas is otherwise within walking distance from Cihangir, or you can hop on a dolmus in Taksim. The driver drove down the hill in Cihangir and noted that there was a lot of traffic on the sea road. He offered to take me another way. I agreed, which I’m sure was my mistake. He took me back up into Taksim and down the other hill by the stadium being built, only to bring me back to the sea road not far from where we had started. I wondered, what was the point of going another way if we were just going to end up in the same traffic?
When we approached Besiktas, he wouldn’t take me up onto the main street where I had arranged to meet my friend. He pulled over to let me out on the sea road. “31 liras,” he said. I knew that couldn’t be right… It costs 50-60 liras to get to the airport… Besiktas is only the next neighborhood over… I looked down at the meter which, sure enough, read 31 TL. Even in bad traffic, I knew this should have cost no more than 15-20 TL. When I went from Besiktas to Cihangir in October, it was only 11 TL. If I had taken the dolmus that we passed on the way, it would have been 2 TL. He must have tampered with the meter during the journey. It was entirely possible since the meter wasn’t up on the mirror where I could see it. Even then, I’m sure there are ways… It was either that or the trip up into Taksim and back down doubled the fare.
I didn’t know what to do. The driver had been friendly, spoke English (uncommon), and had been very talkative. Was his friendliness part of the trick? I mean, who yells at someone who has been so pleasant? I didn’t want to make a scene, especially since I was a woman alone. I decided to just suck it up and pay it, obviously without a tip. I handed the driver exactly 30 TL in notes and went to search for a coin. He told me that 30 was okay. Oh, how generous…
When I met up with the boys, I was so upset. 30 TL is not the end of the world, but it’s the principle of the matter. I told them what had happened and they told me that in the future, I should take a license plate number and file a complaint. Another friend explained how to calculate the approximate fare.
Another time, I needed to get to the airport quickly. There were several similiarities that may or may not have anything to do with anything, but I was still nervous… The taxi driver was chatty (and English speaking) and had a friend with him. The meter, again, was out of sight. He told me that in this traffic, the fare would be 75-80 TL, and that we should take a different route. I found a new cab, and sure enough, the fare was just about 60 TL.
Now, that said, I’ve had many uneventful and some very pleasant taxi experiences.
One time, I was heading to a concert. It was October or November of my first year here, so my Turkish was minimal. I knew how to greet others and introduce myself with things like my age and job. The driver didn’t know where the venue was, so he asked me to find another taxi. The next driver I found was awesome. He spoke a little Turkish, a little English, but mostly French. I had to dig into the depths of my high school brain, but we were able to converse between our three broken languages and find the venue together. In the mean time, he told me about a nargile shop that he runs, and he got out his phone to have me go through his music. I arrived at the concert smiling and the fare was an honest 11 liras.
My negative experiences are minor and have been few and far between. I have nothing on other stories I’ve read or heard. Drivers have tricks; charging you extra for the bridge, switching notes, tearing notes, and the worst of course is sexual harrassment. Therefore, I consider myself blessed.
What makes me feel awful is that it only took being ripped off once to become suspicious of every driver I encounter before I even get in the cab. That’s unfair to them.
For instance, in Trabzon recently, I had a driver that wouldn’t turn on the meter. It was early in the morning, there was no traffic, and I was going to the airport. I prepared myself to put up a fight. The ride to the airport from my hotel was only 4-6 kilometers. When we arrived, I asked how much it was and he said 25 liras. I scoffed and said that at most it was 10 to 15. I told him how much it cost in Istanbul where the distance is much further with much worse traffic. I handed him 15 liras and got out of the taxi. He didn’t put up a fight, so I figured I had still overpaid him. When I sat down in the airport, I looked up the fare, and much to my surprise, the interwebs declared the fare from the main square to the airport to be 25 liras. My insecurities from being ripped off before made me rip off this honest man. I felt bad… for about a minute… then I justified my actions as bargaining. Turks are great at bargaining. They just usually do so BEFORE they obtain an item or service…
Taxi drivers are not all bad. It’s a shame that I feel like I can’t trust them. If you’re anxious about it like I am, several friends have recommended that you go to a taxi stand. I’m told they are more honest than the guys you flag down on the street, and you’ll get to know the same drivers. Regardless of where you catch a ride, just be alert. If you feel cheated, don’t let it ruin your trip. Remember, even the locals deal with it. And it happens all over the world in one way or another. In the end, it’s just money and life goes on.