Manila taxi drivers have a bad reputation. When I first arrived, getting scammed was one of the first things that the locals would warn me about.
I was told that they will always try to rip me off because I am a foreigner.
On my first night out here that is exactly what happened. But this was through my own stupidity more than anything.
Scammed on Day One
To give you the gist of the story I made the following mistakes:
- I was noticeably drunk.
- I asked how much the fare would be rather than just getting in and starting the meter.
- When asking about the fare I said I was going to a hotel, another indicator that I had zero experience in the Philippines.
- The meter then started at the agreed fare (p500), and went up from there (approx. p700).
- I was comparing the amount to Australian dollars and despite the excessively high fare it was still a reasonable price in comparison. A $20 cab fare home isn’t that bad in Australia.
So the outcome was I paid about p700 for a fare that should have been about p120 on a normal day.
It is embarrassing to admit now, and I have a good laugh about it. I have no one to blame but myself though and I really invited the guy to do what he did through my naivety.
While my first experience was not good, this was the only time that I let this happen to me.
Taxi Drivers are Mostly Honest
For the record, I think the vast majority of taxi drivers are decent and honest people.
I have dealt with probably 100+ in my five years in the Philippines and I would guess that only about 20% of the drivers are looking to rip you off.
You can usually spot them a mile away.
Easy Ways to Spot a Dodgy Taxi Driver
1. “Where Are You Going?”
If a taxi driver slows down to pick you up and asks you through the window where you are going, don’t bother. Let them go.
More often than not you will be offered a fixed fare that is two or three times the metered fare.
2. “Trapik Trapik”
If you get in a taxi and when say your destination they start complaining about traffic in that direction, best to just get out and find another taxi.
They will sit there complaining about traffic and say they will take you for a certain number, or meter plus extra.
I get annoyed very quickly at these people so I just get out before being drawn into a pointless argument.
It is Manila, show me one place that doesn’t have fucking traffic!
3. Forgetting to Turn on the Meter
This is the most common way to get a higher fare out of the passenger. Just forget to turn on the meter.
Most will turn on the meter without a fuss if you remind them. So this is an easy one to get around.
If they don’t turn it on though you are leaving yourself open to them making up whatever number they feel like at the other end and you will have little option than to pay up.
2 Meter Tampering Scams
1. Accelerated Cost Accumulation
Unless you have experience catching taxis in the relevant city, and have a feel for what a fair rate is, you will have trouble spotting this scam before it’s too late.
I have encountered this once in a yellow airport taxi.
This had always been the most reliable and safest type of taxi available in the Philippines. So this scam took me by surprise!
These taxis are already more expensive but this is made worthwhile by the convenience factor in the airport.
Previously I had made dozens and dozens of trips from the airport to the city so I knew exactly what my fare should cost.
My regular trip in the yellow metered taxi would usually be somewhere between p280 and p350 depending on traffic.
Given that I have never had a problem with these taxis I just wasn’t paying attention to the meter. By the time we got off the skyway on the Makati exit, I was surprised to see the meter at p380!
I thought that maybe they had just put the rates up.
We hit some traffic and without moving more than 50 metres the price had climbed to p400. At this rate I was looking at a p1,000+ fare! So I had to say something.
The driver did not argue at all when I asked if his meter was broken. He just asked what I normally pay, we agreed on that, and the meter was turned off.
After sitting in Makati Av traffic for 15 minutes he then asked for more.
I did not engage in that conversation. I just looked at him in the rear vision mirror, shook my head and said I should be reporting him.
The scam was not very sophisticated, just a bit of meter tampering. To anyone who had not taken this trip before though they would never know they were paying two to three times the standard fare.
But people figure it out eventually and scamming new arrivals is a bad first impression for a country to make.
2. Manually Boosting the Fare
This one probably doesn’t count as meter tampering, but the other trick I have seen is just hitting a button on the meter that adds to the total.
There may be legit uses for this, like adding tolls to the fare. So just keep an eye on this and don’t be afraid to question what they are doing.
Bonus Tip to Avoid Taxi Scams
Learn some basic Tagalog!
If you can at least give the impression that you are not a tourist it will discourage 90% of the scams out there.
Helpful phrases to use:
- Magandang umaga/hapon/gabi – Good morning/afternoon/evening
- Kumusta ka – How are you?
- Hey Kuya – Hey brother!
Saying any of these when you get in the taxi will go some way to discouraging any scammy tactics.
When I originally wrote this post I was singing the praises of ride-sharing apps.
Since then Uber has been all but driven out of the country after a series of run-ins with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board which led to suspensions and massive fines.
This led to Uber selling their local operation to Grab creating a near monopoly in the local market. Much to the detriment of long suffering commuters.
Uber was by far a better user experience on the app, better vehicles, cheaper and more reliable.
My experience with Grab is somewhat dated now. But I will share my experience anyway.
I was a daily customer for about a year back in 2015. This was until their fares escalated to the point where the same ride on Uber was half the price.
Initially, a Grab Car was about the same price as a taxi. The fare was calculated as the meter, plus a booking fee.
The booking fee changed frequently and moved up from p40 to p70. Which was already higher than a regular taxi – if you could get one!!
So the fare became uncompetitive.
The fare then continued to climb to p140, p150, p160…. then it seemed to stay at the p170+ mark.
When compared to a p80 Uber trip it made the choice to switch very easy.
So over to Uber I went, and I was a devout fan for the rest of my time there. But they are no more.
At Least You Have Choice
If you are willing to pay up you can avoid having to stand on the side of the road for hours in rush hour trying to wave down a taxi.
You also have the additional protection of driver profiles in the app which reduces the temptation for scams to creep in.
There are still some drivers who are just plain assholes, but it is a minor occasional annoyance. And you can leave them feedback reporting this.
As is the case all over much of the world, taxis offer a second rate service compared to rideshare apps. So your best protection against taxi scams is to just not use them.
This is unfortunate for the many good trustworthy drivers out there.
I hope they find their way over to these new services and contribute there.
As for those who make a living taking advantage of people, there is no room for your antics in the new age of transport. I will have no sympathy for any hardships you endure as a result.