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.