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Gypsy Cab Culture – Smart and Safe Travel Advice
Since independent travelers are dedicated to staying away from organized tour buses and are generally focused on cost, they will undoubtedly encounter problems with ground transportation in foreign cities. While from an eco standpoint public transportation is always preferable to any form of individual driving, be it taking a cab or renting a car, for the new arrivals it can be confusing and finding route information and timetables for buses and trams can be a challenge, especially in the developing world. Hence the occasional cab drive is inevitable even for the eco-minded globetrotter, but since (fortunately) transportation culture in most countries differs from Western standards, how to avoid being charged the “clueless tourist rate” and more importantly, how to know you’re not getting into a gypsy cab driven by a sociopath?
A recent post on Matador, an independent travel resource, lists excellent advice on safety and tips on how to avoid being overcharged by cabbies. I would like to add a few of my own, after spending months learning gypsy cab tricks in Moscow. The idea of hailing a “cab,” i.e. a car driven by a Muscovite driving around looking for customers, or simply someone driving home from work looking to earn a few extra rubles with no taxi sign, let alone a meter, is intimidating. Once you realize that it is virtually the only way to get a cab in the city – “traditional” cabs are few and over-priced – and most locals use gypsy cabs daily without a blink of an eye, it is time to get on board and forget about your ideas of legitimate-only cabs.
How much to pay?
First, since there are no meters, negotiating a price before jumping in is crucial. Check an updated travel guide for estimating a price to ask for within the city, and expect to be engaged in bargaining. The beauty of abundant gypsy cabs is the system’s ultimate manifestation of the free market (if you forget about the fact that it’s all black market) and the tried and true principle of supply and demand. When you hail a cab, it is likely that within a few seconds two or more cars stop and wait for you to reject the first driver’s offer. You therefore tend to have more bargaining power, and a good chance to get a going market price for your cab ride.
How to stay safe?
Secondly, although a majority of the drivers are your average joes (or ivans) with their only intention being making some money, it is good to have a healthy sense of self-preservation and go with your gut instincts about the driver. If for any reason you get an iffy feeling just wait for the next one. Also, one of my rules of thumb is to try not to get into a gypsy cab alone, especially when stumbling out of a club at 5 a.m. Plan ahead and share a ride with friends or fellow-travelers from your hotel.
We are believers of everything sustainable at Global Basecamps , including public transportation and we encourage everyone to experience rickety trams and high-speed subways on their travels. With that said there will probably be a time when every indie traveler needs to rely on cabs to get around, so be prepared and chances are you are about as likely to be ripped off in your home town as out there in the world.