Wily ways of cheat­ing cab­bies

Pro­fes­sion­als of­fer tips on how to avoid taxi driv­ers who reg­u­larly fleece tourists

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY LINA GIANNAROU

Com­ing out of Athens In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the Dutch cou­ple was ex­cited about vis­it­ing the Greek is­lands after a cou­ple of days in the cap­i­tal. In­stead of walk­ing to the metro sta­tion, they de­cided to splash out on a cab to their ho­tel in the city cen­ter. They stood pa­tiently in line at the cab­stand, wait­ing for their turn. “Wel­come, wel­come!” the taxi driver greeted them with gusto. “Oh, hello,” they replied some­what over­whelmed by his ex­u­ber­ance. “Is this your first time in Greece?” the driver asked them as they set off. “Yes, it is,” they an­swered – com­pletely un­aware that they’d just set them­selves up to be fleeced.

“The first ques­tion taxi driv­ers ask for­eign clients is whether they’ve been to Greece be­fore. If the an­swer is ‘no,’ they’re done for,” says a taxi driver with 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the streets of Athens, on the de­cep­tive ways of some of his col­leagues. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, he asked that his name not be pub­lished.

“Cus­tomers com­ing out of the air­port see the sign in­form­ing vis­i­tors that the fixed fare to down­town Athens is 38 eu­ros. But the driver will strike up a con­ver­sa­tion to gain their trust and then say some­thing like there’s traf­fic on the At­tiki Odos high­way and he’ll need to take a dif­fer­ent route,” says the vet­eran. “The ‘faster’ way in­cludes tolls, be­cause ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity – he will say – has its own charge, and more stuff like that.” This, says the vet­eran cab­bie, is how so many tourists end up pay­ing 100 eu­ros or more for a 38-euro ride.

Ac­cord­ing to the cab­bie, some of his col­leagues who work the air­port route don’t wait at the taxi rank but sneak their way into the ar­rivals hall by pre­tend­ing they are pick­ing up a spe­cific cos­tumer. Once they’ve got­ten their story past the guards, they’re free to fish around for clients.

At Pi­raeus Port, the fixed price to the cen­ter of Athens is 25 eu­ros dur­ing the day. Even though there are al­ways lots of cabs wait­ing around for cus­tomers, Greeks of­ten have a dif­fi­culty find­ing one that’s free. The driv­ers nat­u­rally pre­fer tourists. “They may ask for as much as 80 or 100 eu­ros,” said the ex­pe­ri­enced taxi driver.

“I ad­vise all my cus­tomers to book a taxi in ad­vance so that the driver is wait­ing for them when they ar­rive rather than go­ing to the cab­stand,” the owner of a travel agency who has lis­tened to many com­plaints about over­charg­ing taxi driv­ers, told Kathimerini. “The savvy ones will ask how much the ride will cost be­fore en­ter­ing and de­cide whether to get in or not de­pend­ing on the an­swer. One cou­ple re­cently walked from Pi­raeus port to the train sta­tion be­cause the price they were quoted at the cab­stand was sim­ply out­ra­geous.”

The travel agent re­cently got some first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence. “I was at Mona­s­ti­raki and went to get a taxi from the cab­stand. I ap­proached the first one in the line but the cab­bies at the front stopped me and sent me to one of the taxis in the back,” she re­counts. “The driver who took me said that the first ones in line are wait­ing for for­eign­ers to ‘score a 70- or 100-euro fare.’ It is scan­dalous that such a thing is al­lowed to hap­pen out in the open. The amaz­ing thing is that not even the pres­ence of po­lice has re­sults.”

Another spot where such prac­tices have been re­ported is the cab­stand serv­ing the Acrop­o­lis, out­side the Dionysos res­tau­rant. “No one will take you if you’re Greek. I start speak­ing English when­ever I’m there and need a cab, only re­veal­ing that I’m Greek later,” says the travel agent. “They could place signs with in­dica­tive prices for cer­tain routes so that tourists have some idea of what they ought to be pay­ing.”

Ob­vi­ously only a mi­nor­ity of taxi driv­ers en­gage in such ac­tiv­i­ties, but the im­punity they en­joy casts a pall over the en­tire pro­fes­sion. “When­ever I drop off clients at the Acrop­o­lis, I warn them not to pay more than 12 eu­ros for the re­turn jour­ney,” says our taxi source.

Union’s po­si­tion

Kathimerini con­tacted the pres­i­dent of the SATA union of Athens taxi driv­ers, Thymios Lym­beropou­los, and asked whether he’s aware of the prob­lem. He de­nied that there are taxi driv­ers at the air­port who over­charge for­eign vis­i­tors, say­ing that they are mon­i­tored by the Traf­fic Po­lice and CCTV cam­eras. On the mat­ter of Mona­s­ti­raki, his ar­gu­ment was that the driv­ers fleec­ing clients there are a gang of Al­ba­ni­ans who have set up their own il­le­gal cab­stand, “rob­bing peo­ple and con­trol­ling busi­ness with their own rules.”

In a raid on cab­stands at the KTEL in­ter­city bus de­pot and other busy spots last week, how­ever, po­lice ar­rested 13 taxi driv­ers for tam­per­ing with their me­ters so they wouldn’t print re­ceipts, on top of another 31 nabbed ear­lier this month in another sweep.

A po­lice sweep last week led to the ar­rest of 13 taxi driv­ers who had tam­pered with their me­ters.

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