Warsaw Taxicab Confessions

Filed Under: Travel

I’m in the midst of a US Airways 90,000 mile business class award to North Asia with my friend Andrew B. As you may recall, he’s the Helsinki contest winner thanks to his excellent memes, fellow movie and fetish night goer, etc.

I asked him to share our Warsaw adventures from yesterday with y’all!

Greetings from Warsaw!

So, apparently I’m a magnet for bad luck, at least when it comes to taxis. After passing very quickly through immigration and customs at Warsaw Chopin Airport, we went to the taxi stand outside. I momentarily let go of my carry-on, and it tipped over (I do not use Lucky’s scientifically-calibrated anti-tip system, which I believe was pioneered by Sir Isaac Newton). Unfortunately, it tipped in the direction of the cab we were about to enter.

The driver claimed that the plastic handle on my carry-on scratched the side of the bright-red car and caused 300 zloty (about $100) worth of damage. There was no red paint on the luggage handle after the incident, and considering that the bag did not fall from the top of the Empire State Building (or the Palace of Culture and Science here in Warsaw), I do not think it caused that amount of damage (or really any whatsoever). It certainly didn’t cause the other various scratches and dings that were all over the exterior of the vehicle.

The driver pulled out his cell phone to call the police. Rather than duke it out, Lucky (who had just taken out cash at an ATM), eager to avoid any drama that occurs outside an episode of the Real Housewives, just gave him the 300 zloty. Obviously, we took a different taxi into the city. (I will definitely be paying Lucky back, despite his protestations, once I take out some cash.)

Anyway, later in the day (after a glorious nap), we walked to Warsaw’s Old Town, which is about 25 minutes from our hotel. The area is quite beautiful (most of it had been destroyed in World War II, but it was meticulously rebuilt). We ate dinner, stopped for a quick dessert, and afterwards it was raining.

I wonder what Freud would say about my choice of dessert?

It was around 9 pm, and we opted to take a cab back to the hotel. Some were waiting on the outskirts of Old Town. We hopped in one. The driver said there would be an extra charge since it was nighttime. I have heard of a nighttime surcharge before, so I wasn’t too concerned.

Warsaw Old Town

There was a meter in the cab, which seemed legit (though in the darkness we could not see the readout on the meter until we arrived at the hotel). The 5-minute drive cost 90 zloty, or $30. We tried talking to the driver and he said he had warned us about nighttime. I ran inside to grab the concierge. I asked him how much it should cost for a ride from Old Town at night, and he said at most 30 zloty with nighttime and Sunday surcharges. He came out to talk to the driver, who told the concierge that he informed us that this was a private taxi service that would cost more money. The concierge was nice about it, but there was nothing he could do aside from tell us that it happens frequently. So we got taken for a ride in more than one way.

I promise to try to be more savvy in the future…but aside from being street-wise enough to avoid these situations in the first place, I wonder how others would have handled them. Any thoughts?

  1. I’m not saying you two can’t appear menacing – but next time bring someone like me who is big and menacing looking and the cab drivers will not take advantage of you.

  2. Based on two bad taxi stories, I am not sure I want to ever go to Poland. Simply, such a story turns me off and discourages me to even consider traveling to places.

  3. i HATE being swindled by local service providers. happens infrequently enough, but when it does, it just steams me to wits-end… they just seem to think that stupid foreign tourists will never complain, and, for the most part, they are right.

    they are just tarnishing their city and country’s image abroad, but could not give a rat’s behind.

    you could use a taxi or car service arranged by the hotel, but that also can be tricky if the hotel concierge is not too honest, and you are not very knowledgeable about the actual fares being charged locally. they usually get a kickback for this captive audience, and if they are greedy, allow their providers to overcharge their hotel guests…

    i would just chalk it up to a unique experience and local charm, and just let it go… try to enjoy the positive moments of your trip… 🙂

  4. The exact same thing happened to us last summer in Warsaw after we went into Old Town for dinner. My husband grabbed the first cab that he saw and didn’t bother to look at the rate on the outside of the taxi. It costs us about $25 or $30 USD when we had just paid $6 USD to get over to Old Town from the hotel.

  5. I actually prefer negotiating prices with taxis beforehand rather than going by the meter. Why? By doing so, the taxi driver is happy and will take you to your destination as fast as possible (and you’re happy too by paying a price you think is reasonable.) With meters, you never know whether the driver is taking the fastest route or the most circuitous route (and higher fare.)
    From the airport, though, if i am flying business or first class, i often contact the hotel where I am staying at and ask them to picl me up at the airport. Yes it is not cheap but I at least know it is 100% safe and the driver knows how to get to the hotel.

  6. I see the level of petty corruption in Poland hasn’t improved much since I was last there in 1999. I was visiting an ex-pat friend you was stationed in Krakow to help launch and run a GM parts plant. Anyway we were on a road from Krakow to Warsaw. As we turned a blind-bend in the road, there was a motorcycle cop with a radar gun pointed at us, and he flagged us over to a pull-off where a patrol car and 2 other officers were waiting. Now my friend was admittedly speeding and deserved a citation. But, per my friend who spoke fluent Polish, the conversation with the police was not about getting a ticket but all about settling the matter “right here” because they didn’t want to do the “paperwork”. And so the matter was settled for the zloty equivalent of about $80 USD – which my friend explained to me would be divided between the 3 officers and was a common practice. My friend was also of the opinion that he got the “local rate” because we had Polish plates, a Polish driver’s license, and they didn’t know he was an American because he spoke the language. Later on that trip, I also experienced a couple of taxi “tourist surcharges”. They were a lot in zlotys but cheap in USD because of the high exchange rate and I felt the fare was fair in any case so I just marked it down to “traveling in Poland”.

  7. I go to Warsaw every year in Summer. I have never had problems with taxis. I usually let my friend talk, since she is Polish and has 0 accent.
    I use hotel taxi to move from Sheraton To Hilton.
    I usually agree on price before the trip as well.
    It also helps to be 2 good looking females:)

  8. Well, to take the pain away find a local Alcohool shop and buy some deliceous Soplica Orzech Laskowy. In fact, bring me a bottle home, if you don’t mind.

  9. As a Polish guy leaving abroad I have to say… Nothing worse than taxi drivers in bigger Polish cities and Warszawa especially. There is actually a taxi mafia. So… Be aware and… enjoy this beautiful country with all the positive things it has to offer!

  10. A cab in Krakow, Poland, did the same thing to me last year. 10 minute trip from Sheraton to Kazimirez was about $10. The same exact trip on return was $40. I learned my lesson and negotiated the price before getting in future taxis (and some of the taxis refused to let me in their cars because I wouldn’t pay ridiculous prices). For the airport, I paid for a premium ride through the Sheraton because I knew I was likely to get someone who wanted to rip me off.

  11. Interesting scam with the luggage at the airport Maybe it should be an episode of that scam city series that you watch, Lucky. I think I would have waited to see what happened when the police arrived, unless there really was some damage.

  12. For the second issue, there is no substitute – you need to know which are the official taxis before you need one.

    For the first issue, couldn’t you have just left? Normally I think involving a cop would be beneficial — but not the one he has on speed dial on his phone.

  13. Where were y’all staying? I walked from the IC (across from Warsaw’s Empire State equivalent) to Old Town last year without any problems (in November!) Sounds like a great trip so far!

  14. Tourists are exposed. It happened to me in Zurich, Phoenix, Washington, DC, Barcelona (much worse experience) – everywhere where it was obvious that I am a tourist. I have never had such a problem in Warsaw but, since I leaved in Warsaw for two years, I keep my old loyalty card to one of their cab companies and I use it when I travel there. Cabs come 5-10 minutes after calling them, are nice and charge 10% below the meter, so when they get the full fare, they are truly happy. (HALO Taxi (022) 8236342 if you want to know.) The general rule: do not use individual cabs; companies are less expensive and fully safe. If you follow this rule you will find that a cab is a very inexpensive and convenient way to commute in Warsaw.
    People who made comments about the level of petty crime on the basis of their two-day trip experience: stop talking nonsense and take a look at the hard data. Corruption and crime have been improving dramatically in Poland and Central Europe. And good news for Americans: the prob of being killed (intentional homicide) in Poland is about 1/4-1/5 that of the US. You can travel safely, just take the usual precautions.

  15. Just depends on how much time you had and how righteous you wanted to be……..another tack could have been “no sir, take an extra 10, I am filthy rich and am honored to help your children……it is always better to give than to receive” and smile and walk away……….think about it, only 10 more to leave a winner………

  16. The other idea is PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION………After our first taxi ride in London never set foot in another cab until leaving from hotel to train station……….Paris same scenario………Subways and buses are the way to see the heart of a city….not in a taxicab………

  17. I remember once my dad said he took a taxi (not in Warsaw though, can’t remember quite where) and the driver tried to charge him like a hundred bucks for a 10-minute ride, so he just walked away after paying like 10 bucks despite the driver’s protests.

  18. For the first one, I would have encouraged him to call the police, and then I would have walked away.

    For the second one, after similar attempts at shenanigans in Rome and Prague, I always ask what the price is going to be before I get in the taxi. If they say it is metered, I ask what the maximum price will be. If they refuse, I find another taxi.

    When they tried to scam me in Rome (40 euros for a ten minute ride), I said it should be at most 10 euros, handed him 12 euros and walked away. In general if you project toughness and awareness of pricing, they’re more likely to back off in my experience.

  19. Hi Lucky,

    Off topic from this post but I’m too lazy to find the original “new blog” announcement.

    I am a relatively new reader of yours, but have been religiously checking your blog about twice per day over the past several weeks. Love everything you’ve got to say.

    The new blog looks great… but after thinking about this for days, I must confess that I don’t like it nearly as much. The clean layout is a huge access restriction to content.

    I miss the old blog where I could load up one url and read through the majority (if not all) of several posts at a time. Even things that are far irrelevant to me (flight reviews of a route that I likely will never take, a hotel club lounge, etc) can become quite interesting after several paragraphs of your tale coupled with some pretty pictures – then I often ended up clicking on the link to finish reading the story. It’s great at work or on the phone, where I can casually scroll down a single web page and skim through the words and pictures.

    Ever since you made the switch over, I’ve read maybe only half of your new posts. Sadly many reviews remain irrelevant to me and the two-sentence abstract + 0 or 1 picture are often not enough to energize me enough to click on the “read more”. I know this laziness is as first world as first world problems get, but really miss the slightly less tidy yet more reader friendly blog layout.

    Thanks for your attention.


  20. Well, what to say…. as a frequent traveller one should know that taxi drivers may always and everywhere try to get as much money as possible from tourists…… One shouldn’t be naive when travelling, always agree upon the price before entering a taxi!

  21. Don’t feel bad, I had the same thing happen to me in Warsaw last year (i.e.,”nighttime” surcharge at 400% of what the normal fare should have been.) Taxi driver ended up getting really confrontational with me and pushed me against his car when I refused to pay the whole tab. I ended up breaking his nose and dislocating his elbow and spending a few hours in a police station.

  22. With all due respect Ben, stop wimping out. We fought our way out of a bar in Budapest that tried that crap. Stand up to them, dare them to call the authorities, stand your ground.

  23. I’m going to Warsaw and Budapest soon. Can people actually chime in with some helpful tips. How much should a cab cost from the airports to town where most hotels are?

  24. I think this advice applies to countries like Poland and Czech etc, NEVER get a cab from the street. I have encountered similar situations in Czech, I just call the cops. I NEVER GIVE IN, NEVER. I would have never paid the guy $100, I never believe in rewarding this sort of nonsense, so now he is going to be running his scam over and over. I would give NOTHING, not even $10 bucks, unless I am convinced I caused the problem.

    You should NEVER take a cab from ANY PLACE, other than calling for one. I hope I do not have to give you a list of countries this would apply to, generally if it is not a G8 type country lol which leaves almost all other countries.
    I made a mistake thinking a cab parked at a hotel would be ok, NO, I ended up with the guy trying to charge me 3 or 4 times the actual price. I said ok, I will pay just wait for the police to get here to tell me if that is correct and I shall, he said ok he would wait then went back to his cab and drove off.

    There is no such thing as private taxi, most countries if you have a meter you are regulated, and regulated means the price is regulated, you cannot have your own private meter with your private rates. I have never been to Poland , nor do I think it is some place I would bother visiting BUT.. if you EVER intend to go to Czech. try this http://www.modryandel.cz/ it is a bit irritating to use the app you need to register and be provided a password which is not easily forthcoming and might get lost in your junk mail BUT I anticipated that and I have it all set up for my future trip, which is probably months away if that soon.

    Always have phone service and data wherever you go, always research transportation and taxis before visiting the country. For example in Thailand luxury sedans cost around 1100 baht which is about $36 an hour, we are talking BMW 7 or Merc S, usually minimum 2 or 3 hours. At that rate why bother with taxis in Bangkok which agree to the price and either try and convince you to pay more or drive you around the city in loops, I have no energy for a fight each time I get into a cab. I rather sit back and enjoy my trip. Oh and now there is Uber in Bangkok, sit back let them make as many mistakes as they like, if you are overcharged go back email and Uber will fix it.

    So my advice for you travellers out there, sometimes it is worthwhile to do your research and weigh your transportation options. I for one have lever left it to chance, usually I never take taxis when I arrive some place anyways, I always secure ‘limo’ to and from the airport, at the very least. And I make sure I call for car service or cab the rest of the time. I NEVER FLAG CABS. Even in Singapore where I live, where flagging is possible, I do not, calling cabs (I use the cab company app), gives me a record of which cab I sat in etc, very useful for safety and if you lose shit.

  25. I have to second the suggestion to use public transport, it’s been a while since I was in Warsaw but I remember it being pretty easy and I speak zero polish.

    I do use taxis and it is worth researching what the local norms are, whether you insist on using the meter, or pre negotiate or whatever. Whatever I do I’m going to agree it before I get in the car. If we’re going on the meter I’ll make sure it is on and ticking over as we go along the first couple of blocks.. It works both ways, once when i was living in Pittsburgh I got a cab out to the airport and as we were pulling up to the airport the meter was only showing $20 when a ride from my place cost between $45-$60 depending on traffic. Naturally I gave home $55 (my average including tip) and he went off to get his meter fixed.

    I certainly wouldn’t have handed over any cash for the ‘damage’, I’d class that as fair wear and tear on an old cab.

  26. I second (or third) the suggestion to try using public transportation more often and to stop handing over hush money instead of standing your ground or simply walking away. Otherwise you’re just rewarding abusive behavior toward tourists and helping to perpetuate the problem for the next victim.

  27. Isn’t Uber already in Warsaw? They certainly are hiring people based on what it says on their website. Everybody needs to find out before going anywhere if Uber is around and use that service. Eventually the other service providers will fix things or go out of business.

    I was talking with an Uber driver in another European city whose brother works for a Cab company and he said that the regulators have all the tools to fix the issues with dishonest cab drivers and to keep them from driving. But they don’t step in. So it’s Uber everywhere for me.

  28. I’d recommend that you always negotiate a fare with the driver or at least getting him/her to provide a quote. If the driver is unwilling to negotiate, provide a quote, or quotes an unrealistically high fare, don’t get in the cab.

  29. Lots of legit comments.
    In Budapest I was also cheated, I negotiated and only ended up paying 1.3x the legitimate rate.
    In Warsaw, you should always look at the rate before entering the cab. Or ask the hotel to call you one. Good hotels have premium cabs waiting outside for reasonable rates. The thing is the second cab driver didn’t actually cheat you – in Poland they’re allowed to have higher rates as long as they’re advertised. Sorry!

    Patience is key, unfortunately you can’t know before knowing the city a bit.

  30. It’s a common problem in Eastern Europe. Last Summer we went to Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, and in all those countries, we had to battle the taxi drivers from overcharging. Most of my friends from Eastern Europe just laugh and say it’s a common problem. People there aren’t wealthy, and they see us tourists as a quick way to make a few bucks.

    When leaving hotel, always ask hotel to call the taxi. Coming back is tricky however. You can ask hotel staff to intervene on your behalf, but you always waste a lot of time in the heated arguments.

  31. Can people please tell us how much zloty it should be from the airport to most hotels? Same question for Budapest.

  32. Would stand my ground when it comes to the luggage/taxi incident; if a police officer comes, make sure it’s a real one and not someone impersonating one to intimidate you.

    For the second cab, as long as the rates were posted, probably not much you can do. With Uber spreading out, that’s a good thing to use. FWIW, in Prague my family was summoning cabs via SMS and that was pretty convenient too.

  33. Their coverage is by no means universal, but worldtaximeter.com is a great site for getting a rough estimate of likely cost in advance. I’d agree re trying to use public transport instead though. I’ve also found one of the most routine places for ripping passengers off is Las Vegas, so I wouldn’t overly criticise Warsaw!

  34. One word. Uber. And if its not yet in Poland, just wait. I wont use a metered cab in Australia or the US ever again if its an Uber city.

    And to put things in perspective. The 2 taxi experiences cost you both $130. You didnt get mugged, robbed, or have anything stolen. Yes, it was annoying I’m sure (and its happened to me) but be thankful that all it was is money.

  35. You are travelling a lot and you dont know that you have to ask at the hotel which taxi to choose, or better use app like myTaxi, UBER or BLACKLANE

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