Suspiciously Nice Taxi Drivers…

Filed Under: Travel

Last week I shared a link to a cool Just The Flight infographic about 40 tourist scams to avoid this summer. As I mentioned at the time, I’ve fallen for a majority of those scams over the years, mostly intentionally. It’s often fun to “play along” and see how they operate, assuming it’s a harmless scam where at most you’ll be out a few bucks and/or a few minutes of your time.

When it comes to travel, the one area where I probably have my guard up most is in taxis. You’re literally getting in a stranger’s car, they’re taking possession of all of your belongings and placing them in the trunk, and often you’re in a new city so don’t know where you’re going, and they can take advantage of that. And that doesn’t even begin to address the safety concerns over the car, driver, etc. I once had a cab driver in China that — I $hit you not — fell asleep at every traffic light and I had to wake him up.

It’s actually one of the many things I love about Uber — perhaps it’s a false sense of security, but I feel “safe” given how transparent it all is and how much it’s tracked. At least I feel safe with Uber Black — UberX is a different story at times.

When I land in a new city I always have my guard up with taxis, and even so that doesn’t always end well. For example, in Warsaw we had two taxi problems in one day. Not only am I looking out the obvious things stated above, but if the driver is too polite, I’m also wondering what their spin is as well.

That brings me to this morning. I landed from Miami quite early in the morning and was rather exhausted after not sleeping on the flight. I got in a taxi to the Sheraton, and the driver was extremely friendly. Suspiciously so.

Lisbon, Portugal

To set the scene, he was in his 60s, wore fancy glasses and a beret (I’m guessing he put his pipe down when he decided to go to work), spoke English quite well, and talked nonstop. He asked if it was my first time in Lisbon, and when I said yes, he took out a city map and spent the 15 minute drive showing me everything. Like, it was almost a safety issue because he had the massive map on his steering wheel showing me all the different areas of town, how I should get around (and he wasn’t recommending taxis in most cases), the times of day I should avoid trying to get around, warned me of scams, etc.

He then asked me “what nationality are you?” I said “American and German.” He said “well in Lisbon you tell everyone you’re American, we love Americans.” I followed that up with “because we’re good tippers, or…?” He insisted that wasn’t the reason. Anyway, it’s rare to be told that you must tell people you’re American because you’ll be loved so much. 😉

I was thinking to myself that he was too nice, and was wondering what the catch was:

  • Was he going to try and sell me a tour?
  • Was he going to have me me use him for all my other taxi rides in the city?
  • Was the meter running double?
  • Was he going to give me fake currency as change?
  • Was he trying to rip me off in some other way?

Soon enough we got to the Sheraton, and he apologized that he couldn’t tell me more and that the ride was so short. I rounded up the fare and then added 5EUR since he was so awesome, though he gave me the 5EUR note back and said “no, you keep.”

As much as I talk about all the taxi scams, there are apparently just some really nice taxi drivers out there as well, I guess? It was a first for me…

Has anyone else had a taxi driver that just seemed to genuinely want to be nice and helpful?

  1. Our taxi got into an accident when we were living in Korea. He ran a stop sign and a car ran into him.

    He was just like, are you okay? Then casually left the car to collect the bumper that fell off, and went to speak to the other driver. It wasn’t a bad accident so we were fine, just shaken.

    So we got out and walked the rest of the way… But I suppose he was nice!

  2. Uber isn’t regulated at all. That’s why all the cab drivers believe it’s “unfair”. Cabs are a very regulated industry.

  3. @ Daniel — Uber isn’t government regulated, but there’s much more transparency and accountability. Between the instant star rating and ability to leave feedback, plus the “map” of the route, you have the ability to dispute anything if you think it wasn’t fair. That’s a lot more than can be said about taxis.

  4. Ratings are one thing, regulation is totally different. How is brake maintenance addressed in the Uber model.?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, but I don’t fe safer.

  5. Ratings are one thing, regulation is totally different. How is brake maintenance addressed in the Uber model.?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, but I don’t feel safer.

  6. @ Beachfan — I don’t remember the last time the breaks on an Uber I was in squeaked, while don’t remember the last time I was in a taxi where the breaks didn’t squeak. :p

  7. Your experience may be a Lisbon (Portugal?) thing. I was there last April and had a similar experience with a cab driver on the way to the airport. And we found most everyone else to be exceedingly helpful and friendly.

    I hope you get a chance to walk around and enjoy the city. It’s gritty, but charming and beautiful. There’s a great (super casual) outdoor cafe near the Jardim Augusto Gil with a killer view.

  8. About Taxis and Uber, let’s forget UberX exists, but other than that, most of UberBlack or UberLux drivers are doing Uber part time, from their usual limo company jobs, filling up the free time etc so 90% of those drivers are registered limo drivers, I would not even discuss uberX because I think the idea of some random person giving me rides is disturbing and I do not sit in mingy little cars, other than that Uber is very above board if you use the right service…

  9. @ stvr — I don’t have “beef” with UberX, but they’re unregulated and it basically boils down to random people giving you rides. Most Uber Black drivers are registered limo drivers so have appropriate insurance/training, while the same isn’t true with UberX.

    When everything goes right UberX is great, no doubt…

  10. I think you’ll find just about everyone in Lisbon is just that: Nice. Helpful. Friendly. I think you’ll also find the metro quite amenable for getting around town, and even getting to the airport when you leave (the Saldanha stop right by your hotel goes directly to the airport at the end of the line, about 15 minutes).

    You’ll find Americans are well-liked, though I suspect your taxi driver was trying to spare you any resentment that might still be held for the German bankers for their austerity measures of a few years ago. 😉

  11. It’s definitely a Lisbon, or rather a Portugal thing. Not all of Europe is as welcoming to tourists, much less American tourists but Portugal is different. After two weeks of vacation there I was surprised it’s not overrun (yet) by Americans. I hope you get out of Lisbon, it was by far the least impressive part of the trip. Douro Valley however…spectacular (or as Lucky might say AMAZING). 😉

  12. one of the great things about travel is you learn some amazing things about the rest of the world. and as an american, sometimes one of those amazing things is… there are genuinely over-the-top friendly people out there with no agenda! it can be a little disorienting when you encounter them.

    i’ve learned over time to hone a sort of personal instinct when it comes to trusting people or suspecting them of trying to pull one over on me. the former has resulted in some incredible travel experiences. but it always pays to go with your gut instinct.

  13. Portugal is probably one of the nicest “combos” for an European trip. Compared to other European countries (Italy, Spain, France, UK, etc…) it is probably the cheapest overall. People are friendly for the most part, food and wine are amazing and the country is truly beautiful. Portuguese people are also more laid back and that probably explains the guy being nice to you. It seems too genuine to be true but they really mean it.

  14. In many cities world-wide UberX is your only option as there aren’t too many sedans. Good example is Berlin. And I’ve found UberX drivers to be great.

    The problem with Taxi’s in way to many places is that they don’t like credit cards, there are a few bad apples that ruin it for everybody, their is no rating/traceability, and there isn’t one App for all countries. This is why Uber (at least for now) is hard to compete with.

    And all this stuff about regulation is the problem of the Taxi drivers. They should protest against so much regulation rather than Uber. They should add apps, ratings, traceability yesterday …

    I’ve had issues in cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Prague, DC, New Orleans, over the years that I would have for the most part avoided if Uber had been around. To be fair there are great cab drivers cities like Berlin, Barcelona or DC but once again it only takes a few fraudsters or exceptionally rude drivers to ruin it for everyone.

    The enemy of the Taxi industry is not Uber. It’s their own problem to fix and their decision to compete.

  15. You were “lucky”! Lisbon taxi driver at the arrival part of the airport are notoriously “scammers”. Once two people I know were taken from the airport to downtown (Amoreiras region) by going through 2 bridges (Vasco da Gama and then 25 de Abril). When I lived in Lisbon (until 6 years ago) I always, always took the taxi in the departure part of the airport for that reason. This might have changed as the last time I went there was almost 4 years ago, but I would still recommend taking the taxis out of the airport from the departures.

    And do not get me wrong, Lisbon is my favorite city in the whole world.

  16. Regarding Uber/Ride Sharing “Regulations”

    To me, for what it is worth, it is most appropriate to say that Uber IS regulated. Just because some elected people at the state capital don’t govern it doesn’t mean it is not regulated. Just all truly free markets, the market is the “regulator”.

    If people had a bad experience, Uber would start to get a bad reputation in the market. On the other hand, if it is a valuable service for people it will get a good reputation. The market “regulates” these services much more efficiently and less corruptly than some central planning board.

  17. Had a cabbie in Chicago get a flat tire halfway to destination, and refuse to take any money from us.

    On the other hand, have also had the sleepy, falling asleep while at lights and seemingly only half awake at best while driving cabbie – in L.A.

  18. One big advantage of Uber is that if you get scammed their is a map online of the route taken. Then, you can email Uber in America and someone will review the map and if you clearly got taken for a ride, refund your money. Maybe some people here have had great successes contesting fares to the local police but with uber I dont worry about getting ripped off since if I go on google maps later and see the driver scammed me I can (and have) sent off a quick email and had the charge refunded.

    Also, has to the vetting/regulations, I have had some cab drivers in DC who told me how they moved to America 18 months ago from all over the world. Vetting is great but no background check is going to turn up anything about someones past that occured in Eritrea, Pakistan, Spain or (or Canada for that matter). I would much rather have Uber know exactly where I am and who picked me up.

  19. When I was there last year, I found that taxis in Portugal were pretty much on the up and up. They usually expect you to round up to the nearest euro as a tip. When I gave one of them a 1,50 tip, they were beside themselves.

    If you have time, get up to Porto. 4 hour train ride from Lisbon but totally worth it. Or Coimbra, which is two hours out.

  20. The comments Lucky posts here show much hypocrisy. Lucky takes solace in the fact that “Most Uber Black drivers are registered limo drivers so have appropriate insurance/training”. And isn’t a fan of UberX because it’s basically unregulated.

    In other words, the appropriate registration, insurance and training that the Taxi Commissions provide are providing you with solace in your car rides even though you and many other Uber fans otherwise bemoan the power, influence and cronyism of Taxi Commissions. And the lack of regulation makes you uncomfortable with UberX?

    Uber is fighting the Taxi Commissions tooth and nail. They insist on selective compliance / lack of compliance with established rules. The argument boils down to ‘we are separate but equal [or better]’ in terms of insurance, training, etc and those rules are out of date. But don’t forget, Uber refuses to comply with Taxi Commissions rules because that would then require them to do many things they don’t want to do — like guarantee service to all customer neighborhoods, regulated (and non-peak) (and lower) prices, commercial driver licenses, etc. And they defy court orders, which is just indefensible.

    What you seem to want, is Taxi Commissions regulations, insurance and training benefits but with Uber convenience. And that’s hypocritical. As a consumer, you can’t want the regulation and licensing benefits of the Taxi Commissions but encourage Uber to defy them to avoid those exact things, and back them when they are found to be unlawful.

  21. You didn’t “share[ ] a link to a cool Just The Flight infographic”; you republished the entire thing. Unless you had permission, that’s copyright infringement.

  22. My wife and I landed after midnight in Penang, MY, after a long delayed flight. You play a flat price at a kiosk for a ride into the city. (After hours the price is all jacked up). Our driver was pretty hyper — particularly in light of our exhaustion — but announced that we were his last fare of the night, and insisted on giving us a tour, at no cost to us. We ended up cruising around Penang in a cab with techno blasting from the stereo, as the driver pointed out the hippest spots. It was cool I guess, despite our exhaustion.

  23. Well said, AS (and Roger’s right, too).
    Soooooo much hypocrisy and self-serving nonsense here. Such an “expert”.

  24. @ AS — To be clear, my actual beef with UberX is that the handful of times I’ve taken it the driver has been lost, I’ve been told to sit in the front seat, etc. I’ve yet to actually take an UberX and get to my destination in the same amount of time as an Uber Black. So my beef comes with lack of experience and consistency, as opposed to anything else.

    I hadn’t been following the insurance “battle” for UberX lately, but it looks like I was wrong. When there’s a passenger it seems the insurance policy is fine. So I’m perfectly fine with the level of regulation there, my bigger issue with UberX is the bad experiences I’ve had in terms of service.

  25. Your take on UberX is “When there’s a passenger it seems the [UberX] insurance policy is fine”. That’s reassuring. Invite an UberX car to your house, the driver isn’t vetted or licensed commercially, and until you step into the car they aren’t insured by Uber; you’re on your own.

    Better hope the driver only damages any of your property or person while you’re in the car, not while pulling up to your house to pick you up or leaving after dropping you off then…

  26. Lucky – welcome to Lisbon! =)

    That’s just the way it is. Most people are very proud of their country and want to share it with you. Tipping is not expected at all, maybe with the exception of occasionally rounding up your restaurant or taxi bill to the next euro. For cabbies in Lisbon, I would literally just worry about them taking a bit of a longer way around with tourists, but even then it won’t be blatantly obvious either…

    Just don’t worry – relax and enjoy!

  27. Surprisingly enough, I had a really nice cabbie in Chicago last fall. I took a cab from ORD to the Dana Hotel. As a female solo traveler, I was a little nervous about where to go and where not to go. My cabbie gave me restaurant recommendations, told me not to go south of a certain street, etc. He took a direct route and I was to my hotel within about 15 min! I was highly impressed.

  28. Do you mean when you landed in Lisbon? Blog post says “when I landed in Miami”… threw me for a moment. Sorry to nit pick, but you seem particular, so thought you’d want to know.

  29. On a long layover at LIM, we caught a taxi into town for some sightseeing. We used Taxi Green, which has the airport concession and has a pretty good (for Lima) reputation. Our driver was super friendly and offered to pick us up for the return trip to the airport, to which we agreed. As got out at the Plaza de Armas, to my astonishment, the driver told us “you can pay me later.” I mean, he was so nice about it, it felt like it was some kind of bizarro-world scam. But sure enough, he showed up on time, took us back to the airport, and charged the same flat fee that we’d agreed on.

  30. First time I flew into Damascus airport, the BA flight was early at 3 am and there was no sign of my hotel car. Virtually the last guy at the airport asked me “taxi?” and when I asked him how much would it cost to go to the Four Season hotel. He told me fifteen dollars, but is made him write it down as I wanted no confusion on fifteen vs fifty and dollars vs pounds. Once we walked out of the airport and got into his car, he started the engine turned around and told me “it’s still only fifteen dollars!”

    We got to the hotel and he informed me it’s still only fifteen dollars! He had sensed our anxiety of arriving in Damascus!

    When I tried to give him a$5 tip he told me no sir, it’s fifteen dollars. Best taxi ride of my life!

  31. LIS arrival taxi scam: charging for each bag you put in the trunk up to 2 euro/each bag.
    I know, mass transit except planes, is not your thing, but Lisbon AeroBus is very efficient for solo traveler. It has a stop next to Sheraton. You can use the ticket for the rest of day to go to the city center and back to hotel.
    If you need to change hotel for an extra stay, Hilton’s DoubleTree is in walking from Sheraton. It is modern, clean, inexpensive (from 65 euro) and has the same as Sheraton glass bathroom wall (only w/o blinds 🙂
    Across from DoubleTree is kind of hidden indoor produce market with good selection of local fruits. Your mother and me will be happy, if you will have some real vitamins. I am sorry, but after reading your blog everyday, I feel responsible for you 🙂

  32. @Adriano – did you send your uncle to meet Ben at the airport? I’d like to have your Lisbon guide, my FT name is Tatyana Mok. Obrigado 🙂

  33. @Tatyana – maybe it was me in my cabbie disguise 😉

    Just PMd you my guide on FT. Enjoy! 🙂

  34. I had heard that you can trust cabs in Lisbon *except* for the ones at the airport, so I guess you lucked out. I agree that people in Lisbon are exceedingly friendly and helpful.

    We went on a walking tour and just as we got to the meetup point, I realized I had left my phone in the ladies’ bathroom at the hotel restaurant. Our guide pointed out the nearest TI center and waited for us until we got it settled. The tourist info lady called our hotel for us and explained the sitch. The hotel desk clerk took her number, went and found my phone, then called her back to tell me they would keep it at the front desk for me.

    Our last morning, my BF had some sort of issue with his metro card after I had already gone through. This was on a Monday during the morning rush. 2 total strangers stopped to help him figure it out, even taking it over to the machine to check that it had enough cash on it. Didn’t speak a word of English, either. These posts of yours are making me want to go back!

  35. I am a cab driver in Key West, and I love picking up people, and helping them out with all the cool things to do and see in town. I feel a strong sense of responsibility in that I am often the first person they meet on the island, and I want them to have an awesome impression. I am always happy when I have passengers that talk about how nice everyone was to them during their stay. And it makes me even happier to know that I played a small part in their adventure in paradise, and that I am a good ambassador for my island, and my species. I get hugs from my passengers, have been invited to their weddings, and formed lasting friendships, all from behind the wheel!

    Of course, there are some cab drivers on the island who do not enjoy their job as much as I do, but I don’t think we have too many dishonest ones down here.

    I also travel the world, and I have some GREAT cab drivers, and I seek them out in a new town as a valuable source of information and entertainment. I have given and received free rides! Of course, I have had a couple of less than perfect cabbies, but nothing more than some crankiness, and I realize there are good and bad employees in any profession. I look for the good in everyone, wherever I go, and it’s funny how I usually end up finding it. I keep my eyes and ears open when I am traveling, mostly solo, and have avoided scams without closing myself off from positive human interaction.

    That’s my 2 cents as a driver, and if you come down to Key West, I will welcome you! This week I am looking forward to meeting some Turkish cabbies on my trip to Istanbul!

  36. Great experiences in Portugal’s Alentejo region with friendly, chatty drivers.

    As for Portuguese love of Americans, mightn’t it be more that they still resent the Germans for the austerity measures imposed on them due to financial crisis? There is huge unemployment, which many folks blame on austerity measures. Angela Merkel is not well loved in southern Europe, right?

  37. My all time favorite taxi experience was in South Korea many years ago. I found a form I could submit in case of “unsatisfactory intercourse with the taxi driver”.

  38. Maybe he just wanted to join you in the hotel for a cuddle. 😉

    Small typo in your post: “… he apologized that he couldn’t tell me more and that the right was so short.” Assume you meant the ride was short.

  39. Why do you say German and American? Are you somewhat ashamed of your American citizenship abroad? Especially in places like Qatar and UAE.

  40. @ Sean — No, because my nationality is German and American. I’m 100% German but was born in the US.

  41. @endlos your comment sounds quite misleading, there is ‘normal’ UberBlack in Berlin…. Berlin is NOT one of those cities with ONLY UberX or UberPOP, that city would be Brussels.

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