Many locals and expats troll the streets day and night trying to find the taxi that will take them to their destination. We all know the basics of getting a taxi: Tell the driver the address, pay the taxi fee (with an added RMB 2 tax). But soon, we all discover that it’s more complicated than that. How do we make sure we won’t get scammed by a driver? How do we make sure the driver is taking the best possible route? We don’t recommend being bossy to your neighborhood “friendly” taxi driver, but here are tried-and-true tactics on taking a cab.
1. Run around looking for a taxi
Taxis in Beijing have become scarce, with drivers from the inner city and outskirts of Beijing earning enough to make a living, despite their attitudes that have become lazy, relaxed, albeit arrogant. During the hours of roughly 5-7pm and midnight-3am, drivers change shifts and have become very picky about which direction they are heading in when taking passengers. The biggest perpetrators are taxi drivers that hang out in the Sanlitun and Gongti area late at night. Their common tactic is refusing to use the meter. When looking for a taxi during busy hours and shift changes, remember to be extra aggressive. It really helps if you just walk an extra block rather than standing around near other people looking for a taxi; they’ll most likely steal yours.
2. Don’t get lost
You may ask: Who doesn’t get lost in Beijing? The easiest way not to get lost is to look up the directions online beforehand. Make sure you are carrying the address in Chinese and pinyin – as well as a phone number of someone that can direct your driver. Survey your situation with the driver, but from personal experience, I find it best to pretend you know where you’re going, even if you don’t. If the driver thinks you don’t know the address, the driver might take the long route or refuse your fare all together.
Use phrases like:
I roughly know where it’s at.
wǒ dàgài zhīdào zài shénme dìfāng
我 大概 知道 在 什么 地方
I’ve been there last week but can’t remember the exact place anymore.
wǒ shànggèyuè qùguò dànshì jìbùqīng quèqiè wèizhì le
我 上个月去过 但是 记不清 确切 位置了
My tale of horror: I was the victim of a taxi scam when I was traveling to my friend’s house. She lived 10-20 minutes away, yet I was charged RMB 99 in a legitimate taxi. I kept telling the taxi driver I was calling my friend to get her address, and I also kept telling him I wasn’t sure where I was going. He did not stop the meter like other lost drivers I’d encountered. This driver assumed I was lost and kept circling Fifth Ring Road – hoping I wouldn’t notice.
Sir, can you stop the meter for a while.
Shīfu néng tingyīxià biǎo ma
师傅 能 停一下 表 吗.
In another instance, I once told a taxi driver that I was going to Houhai. He asked me where specifically, but I didn’t know, so I told him "the lake area." He replied:“You actually mean the lake? I’ll throw you into the lake.” I didn’t find him dangerous, but he was a little too talkative for my taste, so I stayed quiet the rest of the ride. Engaging in conversation with taxi drivers is nice, but sometimes we need to be able to weed out the sensible friendly drivers from the downright crazy, know-it-all drivers who are disrespectful to their passengers.
3. ASK FOR A TAXI RECEIPT
Even if you don’t get reimbursed for work, you should always, always ask for a taxi receipt. This seems redundant, but you never know what day you’ll forget your backpack/guitar/phone in the backseat. The biggest mistake is to put your valuable items in the trunk and then forget to retrieve them when you get out of the taxi. The driver sometimes forgets that you have luggage sometimes.
4. Be aware of fake bills
Although identifying fake money is not always easy, stay alert when exchanging money with taxi drivers. Some drivers carry fake money and can easily swap out a real 100-RMB-bill for a fake one. I know someone who was a victim of this swap. Fakes tend to be thicker and feel like writing paper.
5. Ask them to stop the meter
Don’t be shy about asking the driver to stop the meter, especially if they’re taking the long route, there is serious traffic, or if both of you are lost. On the other hand, if you are sharing a ride with a friend, tell the driver at the start:
Head to ____ don’t stop the meter and then continue heading to ____.
Qù ____ bùtingbiǎo ránhòu jìxù qù ____
去 ____不停表 然后 继续 去 ____
From my eight years of taking taxis in Beijing, this is what I have learned about taxis thus far. If you have any tips on taking taxis in Beijing or taxi stories of your own to share, feel free to comment below.
Note: All tips mentioned are from personal experience, and do not work for every situation. Please try to assess your own “taxi situation” before deciding to use these tips.
Image via chinatravelcompass.com.