No matter how long you are in China for, where you go or what you do, you’ll find your self catching taxis and experiencing first hand some of China’s best and worst drivers. Your experiences can range from delightful and refreshing to forgettable and hideous and depend entirely on the person behind the wheel who for a short period of time has your life in their hands.
The following tips will help ensure that your experience catching a taxi in China is positive not negative.
Tip One – Have the name of your destination in Chinese
Before you jump in the taxi, have some one from your hotel/hostel write the name of your destination very clearly in Chinese characters and in pinyin on a card or piece of paper. That way as soon as you catch the taxi, you show the driver your destination and there will be no misunderstandings or communication problems.
Most cities are very big and even the best taxi driver can’t know every major travel spot. If your destination is not well known or of the beaten track, make sure you also have simple directions in Chinese.
Tip Two – Know the fare in advance
Depending on which city you catch the taxi in and how long the trip is, the fare can range from 5rmb to way over 100rmb. Before you catch the taxi, find out roughly how much your trip will cost. Then after you catch the taxi and tell show the driver your destination, you clearly tell them the fare. This way they will not take the long route because they know that you know how much the fare should be.
Tip Three – Make sure they use the meter
A lot of taxis in major cities like Beijing are illegal or black taxis that are not licensed and generally operated by very shady characters. These taxis normally don’t have a meter and if they do, it will often be fake. If you get into a taxi and the driver does not use the meter, get out and catch another taxi.
Even if your taxi is a genuine taxi but the driver refuses to use the meter, there is probably a scam in the making so best to get and catch another taxi.
Tip Four – Don’t use the seatbelt
In most cities, both drivers and passengers don’t use seatbelts. The seatbelt will normally be extremely dusty and dirty and if you use it, you’ll have a thick brown stripe across the front of your body.
Tip Five – Don’t panic if other people jump in and share the taxi with you
During peak hour in the larger cities catching taxis is extremely difficult so taxis are often shared by complete strangers going in the same direction. So if your driver stops to pick up additional passengers, don’t panic. You are not about to be sold into slavery or robbed and sharing taxis is very safe. You’ll probably pay the metered fee or receive a small discount.
Tip Six – Carry Change
Make sure you have a pocket full of small denomination notes not 100rmb nots. That way the driver has no chance of giving you fake 50rmb notes. It is also courteous to the driver who may not have enough change if you use a 100rmb note.
When the meter is started, there is always going to be an initial fare that will vary from city to city with 10rmb in Beijing and up to 15rmb or more in Shanghai. The meter should not start ticking over for at least the first 5-10 minutes and each kilometer will cost around 2-3rmb.
After eight years of catching taxis in China I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 3 main types of taxi drivers. Those three types are the nice ones, the cheats and weirdos.
The nice ones – They’ll make your trip a joy, entertain you, help you with your luggage and give you invaluable tips. They are professional (sometimes), courteous (always), friendly and will go out of their way to make your brief trip in their car a pleasant one. They’ll take you to fantastic little restaurants that never show in the travel guides, swap photos of wives/husbands/kids with you and spend the whole trip learning English and/or trying to teach you Chinese. I’m happy to say that most drivers will be nice ones.
In another trip my driver turned to be an intellectual and historian and we spent the entire trip discussing the cultural revolution and comparing the merits of Mao Ze Dong versus Deng Xiao Ping. He was an ardent communist, surprisingly open minded and a delight to talk to.
The cheats – These are the ones who will use every trick in the book and some that have not yet been published to extract every last RMB out of you they can. Common tactics range from taking the “scenic route” to rigging the meter giving you counterfeit money for change.
The weird ones – They can be creepy, loud, scary, obnoxious, argumentative, racist nationalistic, crazy and the list goes on. They are the kind of drivers that make you wish you sat in the back seat or just walked and they take very little time to make their presence known.
Last week I had the nerve to criticise a driver for taking the long way. What a mistake. Spent the whole trip copping an ear full. Pleaded guilty, begged for forgiveness, feigned head ache (not hard) and pretended to sleep. No good. The passionate monologue continued unabated. Could not get out of the taxi fast enough.
Problems and Scams
If a problem does arise and you are firmly convinced you have been significantly over charged, politely try to communicate an offer to have any nearest police mediate the dispute for you.
When all is said and done, most of these drivers are honest, hard working and make very little so if in doubt, smile, pay the fare and continue on with your holiday. I’d rather lose a few RMB than take the chance of arguing with an honest driver.