A rant about taxis in Rome

There are many con-artists in many cities all over the world – and I have issues with them all, but there’s a special place in hell that I reserve for the crooked taxi driver who preys on someone who’s just arrived – sleep-deprived and jet lagged – putting a horrible start to their trip with a bitter taste in their mouth that’s hard to remove no matter how good the pasta and pizza.

Now I know a number of taxi drivers and although they aren’t all evil, I’ve had enough first-hand (and second-hand) experience with dishonest (or simply annoying) drivers, that it’s not a case of one bad apple ruining in the bunch – it’s more like a shitload of bad apples and one edible one.

There’s a few common scams that are worth noting when taking taxies around the city:

1.  Putting the fare at nr. 2 or 3 instead of 1 (which is a higher rate used for travel outside the city center).  Many drivers always seem to “forgot” to reset it to “tariffa 1″.

2.  Driving around in circles, jacking up the fare.  This is especially true when someone who doesn’t know the lay of land mistakenly requests a driver take them to an address only 2-3 blocks away. The driver, knowing they have someone on board without a clue, will probably take the scenic route.

3.  Taking a 50 euro bill (for example) and then insisting you gave them a 10 or a 20.  Most people don’t have the stamina to argue this out successfully, even when they know they’re right.

In my experience, these aren’t that common though – not enough to avoid taxis, in any case.  The fare starts anywhere between 3 and 6.50 euro (depending on the time of day and whether it’s a Sunday or holiday), and this changes often enough that it’s better to just give an estimate.   But the city is compact and you can generally get anywhere for 10-15 euro, which isn’t bad if you’re a few people, it’s raining, and/or you’re in a rush.

The Big Scam, though, the one that keeps me up at night with fictional arguments between me and the taxi drivers, has to do with the fixed rate to and from Rome’s airports.  The reason why this scam gets a capital “S” is that it’s made possible by the city itself, out of sheer incompetence, stupidity and (I wouldn’t doubt) a dose of corruption.

Ready for my rant?  Great – here goes:

So, the fixed rate is supposed to be 48 euro to/from Fiumicino and 30 euro to/from Ciampino.  This amount is valid up to 4 passengers WITH bags, any time of day, and to any destination within the Aurelian Wall (essentially the center of Rome).

Here’s some of the petty ways a dishonest driver will try and skew this in their favour:

1.  Driver insists it’s 45 euro/30 euro per person.

2.  Driver asks extra for bags or for nighttime supplement.

3.  Driver insists that this amount is just TO the city walls, and then from there it’s metered.

What’s annoying is that taxi drivers, all parked out in front of the airport, tend to work with a wolf-pack mentality, so if driver A tries to screw you and you go to driver B, they’ll often feel the pressure of the pack to say the same thing to you that driver A said.  For one of them to break off on his own and take you for the actual fare, is an act of rebellion – one that he’ll probably pay for later.

The fixed rate is well documented though – printed on most cab’s side exterior, and there’s a card inside the cab as well that repeats these details, in various languages.  There’s even a map that shows the area that’s considered “within the walls” in orange.

And that’s where my blood finds its boiling point – because the map is wrong.  

The Aurelian Wall was built about 1700 years ago and (obviously) – it hasn’t been moved around during the last millennia and a half.  Most of it is intact, and if you do a search for images for the wall on Google you’ll get a bunch of versions – from the antique to the more modern, showing where the wall is (and has always been).  It’s not really a debate, until you search for a map that shows the area within the walls, in regards to the taxi fare.

My favorite is this one, because it shows the area that concerns one of the densest areas in Rome for accommodation – the area just North of Termini Station (about 2:00 if the orange ring were a clock face).

Here’s another version with the area I’m referring to highlighted:

This was the original map and if googled, can be found on sites that posted it from 2012, when the fixed taxi rate went into effect.

Here’s another one that shows the wall outline, but for some reason excludes a triangle north of Termini:

And here’s what you’ll see in the back of the taxi and on the website of the Comune di Roma:

What happened to the little triangle where there are about 200 hotels?  Was this ancient wall moved?

Whereas the other scams are disputable, this one is institutional.  I’ve actually written the city of Rome, asking for some sort of explanation, and the only response I received was that it would be reviewed.  The person I spoke with didn’t seem to understand what the hell I was talking about anyway.

My suggestions, in light of all this:

1. If you suspect a taxi driver of scamming you, take a picture of their ID number, and the license plate, etc.  This will almost always change their tune.  But please, don’t stop there – file a report here.  If you don’t, you’re enabling them.  Report them.  Otherwise, it’s worth it for them to keep doing it.

2.  Use a taxi app like My Taxi.  It’s free and works well and will have your route established and the fare recorded.

3. If you’re traveling solo, try Scooterino – a ride service app like *Uber but on a scooter.

4.  For airport transfer, book a hired car, called NCC (do this through us or your hotel).

5. Take the train or bus instead from the airport.  It’s quicker anyway.

 

* Uber is heavily fought in Italy and its legality is dubious.  There’s convenience, but prices are higher than taxis and not really worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

New Flat-Rate Taxi Fees for Paris Airports

For visitors to the City of Lights, the latest taxi fare law takes the financial guesswork out of grabbing a cab from either Charles de Gaulle or Orly airports into the center of Paris.

Announced in May, the new guidelines went into effect on March 1, 2016. The flat rates will be applied only to rides between the two major Paris airports and the Left and Right Banks.

What this means is taxi drivers must forgo the traditional metering system for aiport trips. Tariffs are set between €55 and 30€ depending on the airport and the side of the river Seine a passenger wants to go or come from.

Along with the price change (a cab from the airport into the center used to cost customers as much as €80), supplements for baggage and animals are no longer allowed. Drivers can, however, impose a surcharge of €4 per passenger when a group exceeds four (4), and if a rider books ahead for pickup, an additional €4 reservation fee (immediate pick up) and €7 (in advance) will be charged. Rates remain the same at night and on holidays. As of March 2016, prices are as follows:

Between Charles de Gaulle and The Left Bank €55
Between Charles de Gaulle and The Right Bank €50
Between Orly and The Left Bank €35
Between Orly and The Right Bank €30

The new rates are great news for travelers, but for cab drivers…maybe not so much.

Scooterino – Scooter Ride Sharing in Rome

I get excited about things that make life easier – even if they’re very simple and don’t really make life that much easier.  From low-tech office supply stuff, to great high-tech smartphone apps, I’m just attracted to the idea of things being efficient and functional.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered the Scooterino App for Rome.  It’s basically a ride sharing service for scooters.  When you need to get somewhere, you open the app, which knows where you are, and you put in your destination.  It gives you an estimate of cost, and shows you where nearby drivers are and how long it ought to take for them to reach you.

I’ve basically been dying to try it out and the other day I finally got my chance.  It was 4:00pm and I had to get from The Beehive Hotel near Termini to a lawyer’s office in the neighborhood of Parioli.  By bus it would have taken me 1,50 euro and approximately forever.  By taxi, it would have probably been 10-15 euro and slightly less than forever.

On the scooter, it was 3 euro, and took about 15 minutes, and was a fun ride.

 As far as essentials, the driver provides you with a helmet and a little skull cap to wear over your hair under the helmet.

Getting around Rome can be tough.  Public transportation is unreliable and crowded.  Taxis can be expensive and time consuming, especially if you’re alone.  Scooterino is the way to go.

As a tourist, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous and want the quintessential Roman experience – this is a great option to get from Point A to Point B at the lowest cost!  For a more comprehensive and guided scooter experience check out the folks at Scooteroma tours.

Download Scooterino here in the app store. 

London to Paris on the Eurostar

by Jessica Infantino Trumble

Crossing the English Channel is easier than you may think thanks to Eurostar’s high-speed trains, which began service between the UK and Continental Europe more than 20 years ago. In general, trains are a quintessential part of European travel and can often be more reliable and economical than flying. So if you want to enjoy breakfast in London and lunch in Paris, the Eurostar is a good option to maximize your time while minimizing stress and hassle. Here’s what you need to know.

Tickets

Eurostar tickets go on sale 120 days in advance and become more expensive the closer it gets to the departure date. So book early, or as soon as you know your travel plans, to ensure you can travel on the day you want at the best price. You can purchase tickets online through Eurostar’s website to print out at home or pick up at the station (select your country at the top of the page to pay in your currency), or you can book through third party sites like Rail Europe  to have paper tickets shipped in advance of your trip. It’s important to note that there is an hour time difference between London and Paris, so keep that in mind when buying tickets.

Stations

The first Eurostar trains ran between Waterloo in South London and Gare du Nord in Paris.

However, today trains use London’s St. Pancras International following the completion of its £800 million renovation in 2007. Dating back to 1868, the station’s glass and steel train shed interior has been beautiful restored and passengers now have access to amenities ranging from free Wi-Fi to the longest champagne bar in Europe. There are also plans for Paris’ 150-year-old Gare du Nord, which first opened in 1864, to undergo a €48 million facelift in the future.

Pre-Boarding Experience

You need to check in for Eurostar trains at least 30 minutes in advance, but don’t worry it’s a much more low-key process than what you would experience at the airport. Lines are shorter, you don’t have to check your bags and you can leave your shoes on. At St. Pancras station there is plenty of signage directing you where to go. Scan your ticket at the automated check-in gates, quickly pass through x-ray screening and passport control and then sit back and relax in the lounge area. Once your track is announced (generally about 15 minutes before departure), make your way up to the escalators to the platform.

Onboard Experience

The journey between London and Paris takes less than 2 1/2 hours on the Eurostar, which reaches a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph). After you settle into your rather roomy seat (as compared to airline standards), gaze out the window and watch the English countryside give way to darkness as you enter the English Channel Tunnel (or the “Chunnel” for short). Surprisingly, this underwater part of the trip is only about 20 minutes. Note that not all trains are direct, so check the timetable carefully before making your reservation. You also have the choice between 3 classes – Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier – the latter 2 of which offer more amenities like power outlets and regionally-inspired meals, so choose accordingly if this is important to you. All Eurostar trains are non-smoking and include 2 buffet cars with drinks and snacks for purchase regardless of class.

Connections

The biggest benefit over flying is that the Eurostar takes you from city center to city center, so you can hop off the train and hit the ground running. Taxis and public transportation are readily available at both train stations. In Paris, Gare du Nord is a major hub for regional RER lines (which connects to Charles de Gaulle airport) and D, metro lines 4 and 5, as well as several other suburban and high-speed trains heading north. St. Pancras in London connects with the King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground station (which serves the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria tube lines) and several other train lines including both the Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains to the airport.

Other Destinations

In addition to the London-Paris route, the Eurostar also has a train that takes you from London to the Brussels-Midi/Zuid station in about 2 hours with a stop in Lille, France along the way (again, don’t forget about the time zone difference). There is also a direct train from London to Disneyland Paris, perfect for a family daytrip with kids. On weekends in the winter, the Eurostar operates a weekly ski train to the French and Swiss Aps, and there are other seasonal trains to the South of France in the summer, with even more routes coming soon. And even though you’re likely to never run out of things to do in London and Paris (and yes, sitting in a café sipping your beverage of choice is a perfectly acceptable activity), the Eurostar can be your gateway to other parts of Europe. The sky, or rather the rail, is the limit.

Read more of Jessica’s travel tips for London, Paris, and Belgium on her blog Boarding Pass.

Understanding Italian Strikes

Another general strike in Italy has been announced for this Friday, November 14th, that will affect almost all forms of travel and public transport throughout the country.  Such a strike seems like a crippling affair when reported by English news sources, one with the potential to ruin plans and strand travelers.  However, as with everything else in the Bel Paese, strikes are not the same as they are “back home” and the amount of fear and panic they induce is mostly unnecessary.

So how do strikes really work here?  Well, strikes work pretty much the way other stuff works here – that is to say, not very well.  In the US, a strike means the negotiations have failed and the result is a total shutdown until an accord can be reached.  The threat of a strike is powerful because if a strike comes there’s guaranteed to be serious losses.  It’s the end of the line.  And if the strike was ultimately carried out half-assed, then it would undermine the threat of future strikes.

Here that’s not the case.  Here, they are optional.  They’re flexible.  It means, maybe the bus will run, and maybe it won’t.

To understand strikes you have to understand Italian unions.  They operate with or without the support of the people they are calling to strike.  They are essentially independent entities who lobby government for laws that govern workers rights and will affect different categories of employment, but they don’t require employees to join the union in certain sectors to lobby for them.

When you see news about strikes, what you’re seeing is not a notice from organized workers themselves, whose collective voice is being expressed by a union official.  Instead, it’s the union which is calling the workers of that sector to strike – and whether they do or not is up to them.

I get up and I go on strike

A few important things to note, to get a better grasp of how severe a strike can be:

- the trains to the airport from Termini station, such as the Leonardo Express, cannot be affected by strikes.  This is guaranteed by law.

- often, the Freccie, or high speed trains, cannot be affected by strikes – only the regional ones.

- for public transportation, the buses and metro are obligated to run for a few hours that are crucial to get people to and from work – around 8-9am and from 5-6pm.

- workers don’t have to notify employers that they intend to strike, and can’t be reprimanded legally for participating, so companies have to operate in the grey area of not knowing how much a strike will affect them either.

To sum up: a transport strike doesn’t mean that there won’t be buses or that you won’t be able to get where you’re going. It means there will be delays and you can expect to waste some time and have to be a bit flexible and easy going about it.

But, wait, that’s what it’s always like here, isn’t it?

Updated news about the actual hours and the companies/unions involved can be found at this Italian website which is fairly easy to decipher and updated regularly:  http://www.mit.gov.it/mit/site.php?p=scioperi