- - - -
Arguably, the taxi is the most important initial method of transportation for first time visitors to global cities who are arriving at airports and train stations.
How reassuring to have a printout or a smart phone snapshot of one's hotel or business meeting venue and know that all you have to do is show it to a taxi driver and relax!
Photo: NYC Taxi (public domain)
Oh, if only life was so simple! Ignoring the not insignificant issue that the taxi driver might not be able to read the address in English (almost certain in China), there is the possibility that the driver does not know where it is (it is amazing how many Holiday Inns there are in some cities). I actually had to help some Dutch visitors who went to the wrong Holiday Inn in Shanghai last week. Yes, this is downtown but it is not the Downtown Holiday Inn; it must have been all double dutch to taxi driver!
Worse than that, one could end up with a pirate taxi driver who you are helpfully steered to on arrival and then pay three times the metered fare. In global cities, taxis normally have meters and roof signs. People taking them can be seen in long lines, patiently waiting, and any offered shortcut comes at a hefty price. This is all a bit disappointing as first impressions count and being ripped off by a taxi driver is not a great first impression.
Photo: Pirate taxi in Estonia (public domain)
However, in most cities the authorities try to banish the pirate taxis at airports. A good taxi driver can be a great asset when you're visiting some global cities. I have experienced this in Rio and in Mexico City. A taxi at the airport that not only charges the metered fare, but for a very reasonable fee is willing to be your private chauffeur, take you to appointments, wait for you and even become an unofficial tour guide.
In some global cities, taxis are essential. It would be crazy to rent a car and drive it because of the risk of accidents, getting lost, not finding anywhere to park or thinking you have and then finding your rental car has been towed - so that is what that mark on the curb meant...!
Using taxis in different cities can shake up some stereotypes. Growing up, I thought that a Mercedes saloon was an aspirational car to own until I visited major cities in Germany and Austria and found all the taxi drivers had them. Then in Ho Chi Min City, I found that the taxis for four people could nearly fit in the trunk of a Mercedes. It's better to take these with just one passenger if you have any sort of luggage.
It is hard to beat the London black cab for driver knowledge or passenger and luggage space, but they now face competitors in taxi design and it is perhaps not surprising that the company London Taxis International (LTI) had to be rescued by China's Geely Motors and produced in Shanghai (as well as Coventry, UK).
Photo: An LTI model from Shanghai in service in Hangzhou by Colin Speakman
The taxi industry is being shaken up by technology with taxi apps such as Uber and China's Didi-Kuaidi. Uber has provoked controversy in some global cities, but has generally helped lower fares and increase availability, except in China where the local app-based firms are handing Uber large losses. It's a double-edged sword as many visitors do not know how to access taxis on apps (especially in non-English speaking cities) and thus see a shortage of taxis not already pre-booked.
So, the taxi experience certainly varies by city and it is timely to look at services in CAPA's six global cities:
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
The airport for Buenos Aires is a long way out and a taxi is the simplest way of getting into town. There are some interesting views of very contrasting neighborhoods along the way. There are over 40,000 taxis or about one for every 70 locals - good odds! The most reliable sport a black and yellow paint job with Radio Taxi roof signs. Look for the red and white libre (free) sign on the upper left hand corner of the windscreen.
Photo: Taxi in Buenos Aires (public domian)
The Dublin airport is not far out from the city and I have used airport buses to travel downtown when my hotel was near the drop spot. If the destination is further, then a taxi from the airport makes sense. In friendly Ireland, the drivers love a chat. There are over 12,000 licensed taxis here, which is good for this mini global city. They all have a large yellow and blue roof sign and meter, of course.
The local airport is a little way out of the center of Florence. Plenty of taxis will be waiting there to take you into town. There is similar access but a shorter journey if you are arriving at the SMN main train station. Unlike other cities, taxis cannot be flagged down as they pass along the street. Instead, they are stationed at special taxi parking stands in most of the main squares of Florence. However, they can be requested by phone. A hotel or restaurant can do this which is useful if you are checking out with heavy luggage! Taxis are usually white, but may have colorful designs on top of the paint and a roof sign.
Photo: Taxi rank in Florence from the CAPA archives
The famous London Black Cab is one the transport name cards of London (alongside a London Red Bus). Black still dominates, but other colors do exist; the era of Henry Ford is well over! They are expensive, but if several people are traveling together it makes it cheaper. Five passengers can be carried in same cab. They can use bus lanes to speed through dense traffic if you're in a hurry. They are particularly expensive from Heathrow Airport as it is far out of the center, so consider booking a private airport transfer service or taking public transportation.
Photo: A black cab alongside a London bus by Colin Speakman
The Shanghai VW group effectively monopolize the provision of taxi vehicles in Shanghai. Most of the nearly 50,000 taxis are based on a VW Santana saloon. However, for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, an extra 10,000 taxis were added and these were based on VW Touran design. These "Expo Taxis" were more roomy and with more luggage space. There are about 5,000 left after the Expo, but gradually more of these type are being added now and their popularity has led to a two tier fare system with this new style costing a bit more. It is a long ride from Pudong International Airport to downtown and typically costs around US $30. Locals use an airport transfer bus at a fraction of this cost. To save money, this is worth considering and then hopping in a taxi once you're downtown if needed.
Photo: Shanghai taxis by Colin Speakman
There are plenty of taxis authorized to operate from Sydney's airport and it's a sensible way to get into the city. Regular cabs are supplemented by premium services and maxi cabs for bigger group needs. As an English-speaking country, foreigners who speak this language are encouraged to use taxi apps. Taxis are typically quite spacious and carry the roof sign. One unusual feature, since Sydney is well connected with water, there are also water taxis with roof signs!