¨Life is like riding in a taxi. Whether you are going anywhere or not, the meter keeps ticking.¨
John C. Maxwell
Until I was kidnapped in Puebla, Mexico, I always used taxis, tuk-tuks, and Ubers for most of my daily transportation needs outside of the US and Canada. While I continue to use them, I am more cautious than before.
Here is a guide for Fifty-Plus Nomads to help ensure that the rides go as smoothly as possible.
Taxis and Tuk-Tuks
- Fifty-Plus nomads should consider hiring someone to drive them around and/or give them a private tour in Third World Countries. The costs of hiring a car and a driver in much of Asia and Latin America for one day range between $60 and $150 per day. (Frequently this is not much more than the cost of renting a car). I hired a driver and car for two weeks in Kerala, India in 2013 for $60/day (plus $10 a day for the driver’s hotel) and considered it to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I let the driver make all the plans and enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about his life. Before I decided to hire the driver, I found traveling in India to be frustrating, with the driver’s help it was one of the most relaxing trips I have ever taken. It should be noted, however, that hiring a driver in Europe and North America is so expensive that it may not a realistic option. ($300-$600 per day).
- Many places in Asia do not have that many taxis, particularly outside of big cities. Instead, most short distant trips are in what backpackers have come to call ¨tuk-tuks¨ or motorized rickshaws. The word tuk-tuk comes from Thai and means ¨cheap, cheap¨. Tuk-tuk like vehicles can be found throughout Asia and increasingly in rural Latin America. As a whole, most of the time the rules for tuk-tuks do not vary much from taxis.
- In India and the Middle East, tuk-tuk and taxi drivers can be quite tricky. In India, no matter how hard I tried I would be either overcharged or (especially with tuk-tuks) I would be taken to souvenir shops on my way to and from my destination. These souvenir trip visits became so much a part of my tourist experience that when I refused in Kochi to be taken to another souvenir shop, the driver told me that he got the gas for his tuk-tuk by bringing tourists to these shops and that he would run out of gas if I did not go into a shop! (So I went into the shop and left as soon as I saw that he got his gas). I did, however, find that when I hired a driver for the day (usually through the hotel) that I normally was able to avoid being taken to souvenir shops. (Some of the drivers that I hired for the day were pleasant and interesting people).
- Know the address of your destination and, if possible, the telephone number. If the driver does not seem to know your destination (common in some Third World Countries), try to find nearby places that the taxi cab driver knows. Hotels can be challenging to locate. Names change (One time in Mumbai the driver could not find my hotel because the Taj hotel chain had recently changed the name from the President to Vivanta. Once he realized the name had changed, after asking several other drivers, we were able to locate the hotel quickly). Many chains have multiple locations throughout large cities. If the driver does not seem to know where the hotel is, see if you can access the hotel on the internet and show the location to the driver on Google Maps. (Increasingly taxi cab drivers will do this automatically using their GPS). If you can, show the driver the address in local characters, i.e., Cyrillic/Arabic/Chinese. Have the phone number of the hotel so that if necessary, the driver can call them for directions.
- Avoid being overcharged. Find out average costs from hotel clerk or websites. Ask the driver the price before you enter the cab and if necessary, haggle to get a price near the quote from the hotel. In my mind, if the price is close to what the hotel/website quoted and it is not very expensive anyway, I will not haggle if the difference in price is less than 10%. Most taxis in the developed world have meters. In Third World Countries, they often do not. At my home in Merida, Mexico, most taxis do not have meters. I usually do not ask how much the trip is going to cost before I enter the taxi. Instead, I give them what I consider to be a fair price (usually the same as I offer an Uber driver or one of the rare metered taxis including a tip): I have never had a problem with this strategy.
- Use taxis provided by kiosks or at the taxi stand at the airport. These taxis are expensive but safe. In many places in the world (including some developed countries) you will be approached by people who want to provide taxi services from the airport. Usually, they will charge you more and, in some places, they can be dangerous. In most developed countries, you can get Ubers at the airport. Some larger airports have Uber designated waiting areas. At others, you can use the Uber app, and the driver will pick you up at the airport.
- Find out about the taxi experience in your destination before you arrive. You should be able through Googling to learn about any potential scams and problems with taxis in your destination. (Make sure the information is up-to-date, some sites report issues with taxis, for example, in Mexico City that was common ten years ago but has all but disappeared today). The most common problem is that pirate taxis exist that have meters that will severely overcharge for your trip. Usually, via Google, you will be able to learn which taxicab companies are legitimate. Most legitimate taxis will have a taxi sign and a license.
- Often in Europe taxi companies add legitimate surcharges onto the costs on the meter such as an airport pick up, an additional surcharge for Sunday and Holidays, etc. Researching the taxi rules online or in guidebooks will help you identify these surcharges. These surcharges can be substantial. One time in Assisi Italy the surcharges were more than the fare! (The hotel owner advised me that this would be the case beforehand).
- All these provisos aside, I have had some great experiences with taxi drivers. One time, for example, I was in San Jose, Costa Rica around midnight in a taxi and we got lost and ended up in the middle of the red-light district. I told the driver that it was clear that we were lost and when he saw how nervous I was, he said to me that he would charge me a minimal amount (about $1, as I recall) and that he would keep driving me until we found the hotel.
- I also had the worst experience during traveling in my life in a taxi when I was kidnapped for two hours (called an ¨express kidnapping¨) in Puebla Mexico in 2020.
Uber is an alternative to taxis. After installing an app on your telephone, using Uber, you can call for a car to pick you up and take you to your destination. The vehicle and driver are not associated with a taxi company.
It is relatively easy for anyone with a car and a clean driving record to become an Uber driver. Uber drivers (unless taxi drivers) do not require a taxi license. Generally, because the drivers are private contractors, the cost of Uber trips is 10-30% below a comparable taxi trip.
Uber uses GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to:
- Tell the drivers where the customer is automatically (using GPS technology) and let the customer know (and if necessary change) where the driver will pick them up.
- Show the customer the name (and sometimes a photo) of the driver, the license number, and what type of car will pick them up (also sometimes with a picture).
- Display where the driver is in relationship to the pick-up point in real time.
- Provide an estimate of how long it will be before the driver will arrive and how much the trip will cost.
- Allow the customer to enter the name or address of their destination (most businesses and landmarks are already programmed in the app).
- Show, once the destination is selected, the recommended route (taking into consideration as much as possible the road and traffic conditions) to get the customer to their destination.
- Display where the driver is in relationship to the GPS recommended route once on-the-road.
- Let the customer know the costs of the trip and allow them to add a tip for the driver once the trip is finished.
- Keep a record of the customer’s trips. Once the customer has done the same route a couple of times, he or she can program the same trip easily in the future.
To use Uber, you should have both a relatively new (no more than five years old) cell phone (the app takes up a lot of space on older phones) and an unlimited data plan. (You want to be able to use Uber whenever and wherever you need a ride rather than waste time trying to find a wi-fi signal).
There are several similar apps to Uber available. However, since I have used only Uber, I will limit this discussion only to Uber.
Since I do not have a car, I have used Uber over 300 times in the past two years and a half in over 20 destinations in the US, Canada, and Mexico. I still use regular taxis for about one-third of all trips (for reasons you will see below). Here are some of the things that I have learned about Uber during this time:
Advantages of Uber versus Traditional Taxis
- Since a computer algorithm determines the pricing, Uber is less likely to overcharge you than a taxi driver.
- Since the driver is supposed to follow the GPS recommended route, it is unlikely that you will get lost. If the driver gets lost, Uber will not charge you.
- You do not need cash. You can often use credit cards in traditional taxis as well. However, sometimes it can take time for the taxi driver to run the credit card charge and not all taxis have the necessary equipment to process credit card payments. In Uber, the cost is automatically applied to your credit card.
- You have a lot more information at your fingertips than with traditional taxis. You know the driver’s name, car license number, type of car, etc. You also have a history of past trips taken.
Issues with Ubers
- Uber will not always pick you up/drop you off where you are or want to go. Often, the driver will pick you up on the other side of the street from where you are standing. Sometimes, the driver will call you to help arrange the pick-up point.
- You may pay a fee if you or the driver cancels the trip. (You will be charged if the driver comes to the destination, waits for you, and then leaves if they cannot find you). A couple of times I have been charged this fee because the driver could not see me. (Unlike taxis, Ubers are not marked). Sometimes it is difficult to know where the driver is supposed to meet you, especially if the driver is on the other side of a road with a lot of traffic.
- Ubers do not go everywhere and are not available in many small towns. I have a friend who lives in a small suburb near Boston, called Nahant, that is on a peninsula. I found that I could not get an Uber to pick me up there. (I think it is hard for the drivers to find the address in the town). I was able to get Ubers to take me there from Boston without a problem.
- Uber may not save you money during peak hours, particularly in developed countries. Unlike taxis, Ubers have something called surge pricing. With surge pricing, the cost of the route increases whenever there is more demand for Ubers than usual in a given area. (With surge pricing, I have several times paid more for Uber trips after a concert than for a taxi).
- Uber has engendered a lot of problems with taxi cab drivers. Traditional taxi drivers have a lot of investment in the business including the cost of the license and the fees that they need to pay to the taxi companies. Taxi drivers often protest whenever Uber comes to town. These protests can be heated. In Cancun, the protests were so heated that Uber no longer operates there. When Uber came to Merida, Mexico, the drivers were reluctant at first to go to the bus stations, airports, or anywhere near a police station until the community accepted Ubers.
- In my mind, one of the best benefits of Uber is that regular cabs have gotten significantly better throughout the world to compete with Uber. As a result, taxis are still often a viable alternative to Uber. I use Uber whenever there is not a taxi stand at my pick-up point. I usually take taxis whenever there is a taxi stand nearby. (You will have to wait at least 5 minutes for an Uber, and you can get a taxi at the stand right away. I also suspect that Uber will get worse if there isn’t competition from local cab companies).
- Uber may be great if you don’t know where you are going. You can enter either the destination’s address or the name of your destination (make sure that it is the right hotel if the hotel is part of a chain) and the driver will take you there. I have had a lot of problems finding the right place if a traditional taxi driver has not been to an address before and he or she does not have a good GPS in their taxi.
- Uber chooses the route the driver follows based on the information that the GPS has about road and traffic conditions. If you know the route between your pick-up and destination well, the way the Uber driver chooses may be different than you expected. Once in a rare while, in Montreal, I have noticed that the course selected by the GPS was not the best available. (Probably because the information in the GPS was out-of-date).
- Always double-check to make sure that you are going to the right destination. It is easy to select the wrong destination if you are not careful, especially if a business has several locations within the same city. It is also possible to accidentally select the wrong place.
- Be prepared to get into the car quickly after you call for an Uber. While most Ubers arrive five to seven minutes after you place the order, I have occasionally had Ubers come within a minute after the call. (On the other hand, if your pick-up point is in a rural, out of the way place it can take up to twenty minutes to get an Uber).
- Here is some information about Uber safety and the advantages and disadvantages of using Ubers versus traditional taxis.
Some Additional Transportation-Related Posts
- Lessons From An Express Kidnapping in Puebla, MexicoIn January 2020, I was a victim of an express kidnapping in Puebla, Mexico. I discuss what happened to me and what I learned about travel safety from the incident.
- Extra Fees: What are Ancillary (Extra) Fees and Why Are They Increasingly Becoming A Travel Industry Lifeline?More and more the travel industry depends on the sale of other products to expand and maintain its profitability. Expect to be bombarded with hints to buy other things (ancillaries) on your next cruise, flight, etc.
- Why the Sharing Economy Has Become So Popular in the Travel Industry?The sharing economy like Uber and Airbnb has made a major influence on the travel industry and will continue to affect the industry far into the future.
- Taxis, Ubers, and Tuk-Tuks 101: A Guide to Safe, Inexpensive, and Trouble-Free RidesDiscover multiple tips to help you avoid being ripped off or worse while using taxis, tuk-tuks, or Ubers.
- Car Rental 101- How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off at the Car Rental CounterRenting a car is probably the travel decision most fraught with potential problems. Long-term travelers should ask themselves if a car rental is really necessary. They should also watch out for car agency rip-offs and other problems.
- Getting to the Airport Trouble-Free: 6 Simple TipsGetting to and from the airport and airport parking will be easier if you follow the six simple tips in this post.
- Public Transportation 101: A Guide to Finding the Best Options Around the WorldA basic primer on finding the best transportation options for travelers. Learn how to avoid costly mistakes and potential safety issues with buses, trains, and subways.