Photo courtesy of Aurora
Rule #1: It ain’t easy.
After seeing two guests in two days get ridiculously overcharged for a ride from Termini train station, I’ve come to the breaking point on this topic. I’ve seen this happen for years and have finally decided to throw my two cents in, with the hopes that it might help someone avoid getting taken advantage of.
Let me preface this by saying that NOT ALL taxi drivers in Rome are going to rip you off. My father in law was a cab driver here for 20 years, and as honest as they come. However, he personally refused to work at either of the airports or the train station, because he didn’t want to be associated with the group of taxi drivers most typically known for ripping off tourists.
Let me also say that getting ripped off by a taxi driver isn’t limited just to tourists or visitors who don’t speak Italian. Many Romans I know, including my own husband, son of a taxi driver himself, have been ripped off by a cab driver here. So it can happen to the best of us. Over my years of working with study abroad students and tourists, I have picked up a few tips (and horror stories!) to share.
1. Where it happens
Like I said above, the majority of the exorbitant fees are getting charged by cab drivers from Fiumicino airport and Termini station, but personally I think Ciampino airport is the worst. At Ciampino they won’t even take me and my husband as clients. They continually say “C’è da aspettare” meaning “You have to wait” while we observe a multitude of taxis actively soliciting English-speaking or foreign tourists, whisking them away with Euro signs flashing in their eyes. It’s a sort of organized ring of taxi drivers headed up by a gruff woman who farms them out to the unsuspecting tourists exiting the airport. Think Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf and you’ll get the idea.
I’ve seen at Ciampino that taxi drivers who aren’t part of this “ring” or scam won’t work there. They’re either intimidated or simply refuse, but I think it’s a circle closed off to drivers who aren’t in on it. The reason I say this is because, in addition to the level of organization (ie, refusing rides to residents who speak Italian), once when we took a cab out to Ciampino, the driver said he wouldn’t pick anyone up for the trip back into the city. He just alluded to the fact that he “couldn’t.” In addition, we’ve tried several times to get into taxis that had just arrived bringing passengers and weren’t part of this “ring,” and they have refused us rides and driven away from the airport without picking anyone up. There are police everywhere that turn a blind eye. I’ve even heard rumors that the drivers at Ciampino are police informants so are able to get away with ripping off tourists in exchange for the information they provide to the police. Boh. I have no idea about that, but I can assure you it’s a shady situation there and you’re much better off taking a bus service like Terravision or SIT Bus Shuttle.
The reason they won’t take us from Ciampino is that they know that we know how much it should cost for a taxi. One of the best city ordinances I’ve seen since I’ve lived here is one that came out last October, setting fixed rates for cabs from Fiumicino and Ciampino airport to the city center: €30 to/from Ciampino and €40 to/from Fiumicino. In my experience, the dishonest drivers are asking €60 from Fiumicino, making up reasons like extra baggage fees or extra passengers cost more. The fixed rates are for up to four people with luggage. For more information about the fixed rates, click here.
Termini is a bit trickier because it isn’t regulated by fixed rates. In general, a ride from Termini to most destinations within the downtown area should run you anywhere from €8 to €15. Unfortunately, I have had guests and students who have been charged anywhere from €40 to €75.
2. How they do it
I think most of the dishonest taxi drivers are preying on your insecurity regarding the city and lack of finesse with the local language. It always amazes me how many times people KNOW they are getting totally ripped off, yet still they fork over the cash, I suppose either out of fear, intimidation, or simply because they feel they have no way to argue.
There are many ways a taxi driver can manipulate the taxi meter to increase the fare, without you being aware of it. There are two tariff rates in Rome cabs: Tariffa 1 and Tariffa 2. Tariffa 2 should only come into play if you are leaving the city’s ring road, known as the GRA. Most tourists don’t need to go outside of the GRA, and although the airports are outside of it, they come under the fixed rate scheme so Tariffa 2 doesn’t count. In fact, with fixed rates, there’s no need for the taxi meter. Also, the taxi driver is obligated by city ordinance to inform the passenger when Tariffa 2 goes into effect. If they’re trying to cheat you, obviously they won’t tell you this. So keep your eye on the meter and when you’re within the city make sure Tariffa 2 isn’t turned on.
Some taxis have a timer below the meter that shows the time spent on the ride. Don’t let them try to trick you into thinking that the timer is part of the cab fare!
Often when an unscrupulous driver wants to rip off a passenger, he or she will purposely NOT bring the passenger to the requested destination. This unfortunately has happened many times with my guests, the taxi driver leaving the guests “stranded” on a nearby street. Why do they do this? Because they know that most likely the guests are going to a hotel or in any case to a destination where someone will speak Italian, and they are trying to avoid arguments when the Italian speaker at the destination realizes the exorbitant amount being charged. That’s why you should always be sure that you have a way of knowing exactly where you are before getting out of the taxi…either ask someone at your destination for a landmark or to wait for you. I always tell guests that if they have a cell phone they can call me and put the driver on the line so I can talk and give directions (a common refrain of drivers is that they “aren’t sure” where the address is, or in neighborhoods like Trastevere, that a particular street is “closed to traffic” which often isn’t true).
3. How to avoid it
Here are the steps I would take to protect myself against getting ripped off:
a) Don’t ever get into any car that isn’t an authorized Rome city taxi.
You’ll know the city taxis because they are usually white, and will have a coat of arms with “SPQR” marked on them, and should have a sign with “TAXI” on the roof. They should have a taxi meter and I highly recommend that you only take a taxi with a phone number written on the outside of the car. This is proof that they work with a radio cooperative and therefore theoretically the journeys are tracked by a dispatcher and theoretically you’ll have recourse if something goes awry during your journey. The phone number is four numbers and you have to add “06″ before those numbers if you were to call.
b) Always take down the taxi driver’s license number and be obvious about it as soon as you get in.
I’m not talking about the car license plate but the actual license number of the driver. Don’t be embarassed to make sure the driver sees that you are taking down his information. All taxi drivers are required to post their license number and name or taxi cooperative name on a plaque on the inside of the back seat door. Write it down. But don’t forget to ALSO GET THE PHONE NUMBER. It’s no good having the license number if you don’t know what company they work for. Again, the number is usually displayed on the outside door.
c) Be informed.
Try to know the general rate for where you’re going. Be vigilant about watching the meter for tricks with Tariffa 1 and 2. Know where you’re going, at least try to have looked at the route in advance or check for landmarks to make sure you’re going in the right general area. Don’t get out until you’re sure the driver has brought you to where you asked.
d) Don’t pay more if you are positive you’re being ripped off.
I know it can seem intimidating to argue about a fare if you don’t speak Italian. I speak Italian and have found it difficult to argue once the ride is over. That’s why it’s best to try to prevent it from happening by taking the steps above. But if you are absolutely SURE you’re being taken advantage of and you feel comfortable with trying to argue, don’t just pay what is being asked. If the driver insists that you pay, tell him you’re going to call the carabinieri (the number is 112). If you don’t have a phone and you are able to get help from someone at your destination who speaks Italian, get them to help you.
If all else fails, ask for a receipt and make sure you have the license number and phone number of the cab company written down. This will give you the information you need to try to get your money back.
On an amusing side note, don’t worry if your receipt ends up advertising the Cica-Cica Boom Night Club. Most receipts I’ve gotten look like this:
Thanks to Kitchaboy for the photo. I’m wondering where the friend could have possibly gone that cost €65, but that’s another story…
This is the official city form you can use to make a claim. Personally I don’t know if filling out the form would do much good or actually help you get a refund, but I suppose it couldn’t hurt trying. Another tactic would be to call the taxi company directly and report the offense, and see if they will try to help you get a refund.
I’ve never been able to try to help someone get a refund because usually the person doesn’t have any information about the cab, driver, company, etc. What’s more, I think that most people who take that information down don’t get ripped off because it’s not worth it for the driver to even try. So prevention I think is the best step to take.
4) General information about fares
A couple things to note before you get a taxi:
When you call for a taxi, the meter starts running the minute the taxi is dispatched to your location. So, for example, if the taxi dispatcher or recording tells you that “Taxi X” is arriving in 5 minutes, you should know that there will be 5 minutes’ worth of fare on the meter when it arrives.
There is always an initial fare on the meter, as follows:
€2,33 from 7 am to 10 pm on weekdays
€3,36 from 7 am to 10 pm on Sundays and holidays
€4,91 from 10 pm to 7 am all days of the week
Baggage is charged at a rate of €1,04 per bag
The taxi meter will go up 89 cents for every 141 meters (about 460 feet) on Tariffa 1, when traveling at a speed of 20 kph or more.
There is a lot more general information about how to call for a taxi and about taking taxis, identifying official taxis, cab company phone numbers, etc. to be found at this Slow Travel page.
Like most things, knowledge is power in this situation. I wouldn’t worry too much about riding in a taxi within the city limits, especially if you take the information down. It’s pretty safe to say that most rides of about 15 minutes in the center will run you anywhere from €8-€12. The riskiest rides are from the airports and train stations. I always recommend public transport as a better alternative if feasible.
Does anyone have a Rome taxi story to share? Or any taxi tips in general?