Standing Up to Cab Drivers in Istanbul

For the few readers who have wondered about my absence the last several days, I just returned from a wonderful trip to Istanbul.

Istanbul is a fascinating city--where east meets west like no other place in the world. This was certainly not my first time to Istanbul, but the trip was different this time. Although I flew through Istanbul several times last year because of their tremendous Star Alliance Gold lounge, this was my first venture outside the airport since 2008. Back then, I was still a bit of a greenhorn traveler, staying in youth hostels, using public transportation, and eating in overpriced and underwhelming tourist restaurants in Sultanahmet.

This trip was different. Better restaurants. Park Hyatt. And taxis to get around. Which leads me to the point of this post.

Taxis are very cheap in Istanbul compared to other places, like (ahem) my taxi ride in Iceland earlier in the week. Consequently, I elected to exclusively use taxis this trip (my impatience over Istanbul traffic moved me to try the subway once, but it took just as long and cost just as much). Taxi drivers live a hard life and it is easy to run into a dishonest one wherever you are in the world. Throw in about five taxi rides a day during this trip, and you are bound to run into a couple bad apples. Which I did.

The first was a short trip to from the Grand Bazaar to the waterfront. Drivers usually get angry at short-distance riders, but this one did not seem concerned. He asked me where I was from, and when I said "Los Angeles" he responded by pressing the meter a number of times, as if I did not notice. We get to the water, which turned out to be less than 2km away, and the meter reads 28.80TRY (about $16USD). It should have read around 5-6 TRY.

In the past, I would have paid the man what the meter said--as I think many tourists would. This time, I simply said no. He became flustered and said the meter was correct. I pulled out 5TRY, handed it to him, and said to call the police if he had a problem. He said nothing else...

The next morning, I was on my way back to the Park Hyatt from the Ä°stiklal Caddesi and noticed the cab driver did not reset the meter from the previous passenger, which registered at 17,20TRY. I also noted, having now been back and forth quite a few times from the hotel, that he took a blatantly circuitous route to get back to the property.

Chucklingly, as we neared the hotel I told him that his meter was incorrect. He insisted it was correct and blamed road work for the delay. Sure...

He was offered a 10TRY note (pretty generous, I thought), which he refused because the bill had a slight tear in it. So he got 5TRY instead. And did not protest.

It probably should not have taken me this long to realize that you can push back against cabbies big time, but the whole cab experience in Istanbul was very liberating. At the same time, it brings back lament over trips to Russia, China, and Jordan where I was totally ripped off. Who knows what circumstances I will find myself in next time around, but you can bet that the next cab driver who tries to rip me off--wherever that may be--will not get off easy.


Brooxh July 30, 2012 at 06:47 pm

I have been told by an Istanbul resident (the guide on my first Istanbul visit) that there are two types of cabs: those that have writing on the door and those that do not. The ones with the writing on the door are licensed and do not cheat you . . . the others do not. When in Istanbul, I walk A LOT, so I don't take cabs that often, but this advice has not failed me, even for fairly long rides, when I have used cabs.

Also, there are some set cab stations (in Pera, for example, just below Istiklal) where all the cabs are licensed and honest.


Brad July 30, 2012 at 08:12 pm

Great post--thanks, Matthew.

I'm trying to get to Istanbul later this year--I've never been and am excited about the trip. Quick question since you mentioned the Park Hyatt: did you feel you missed anything by not staying closer to the Bosphorus?

Santastico July 31, 2012 at 10:06 am

From my experience the worst place for taxi drivers is Bangkok. During rush hour they do not care for the meter and once you are inside the taxi you ask for the meter and they seem to not understand you. Many times I literally left the car in the middle of the traffic (with the car running very slow) since the driver would not turn the meter at all.

azm July 31, 2012 at 05:46 pm

Thanks for posting not just about Istanbul, which is a great city, but specifically about its cabs. My wife and I were there last Dec and did a combination of cabs, walking, and the trolley. I got totally ripped off our first night, but once I figured it out, and had a better sense of what rates should be, I started negotiating a fixed fare instead of using the meter. Of course, that requires one to know what the rate "should be." I think I ended up ripping off the cabbie once through that process (!) but didn't feel as bad knowing what had been done to me earlier. As great a city it is, I have to say all the scams put me off a little bit. The shoe-shiner scam was another one I read about later. But good to hear you took a firm stance, Matthew. I'll have to try your approach next time. Btw, we used SPG points to stay at the W, but next time we're there we may consider a local hotel in Sultanahmet. And the Turkish lounge is great!

Tri July 31, 2012 at 06:58 pm

Great post... Glad you stood up to the cabbies. What would have been the correct amount for the cab ride from the airport to the park Hyatt? I'm actually going soon!

Thanks all for your comments!

@Brad: I like being away from the hustle and bustle. The Park Hyatt was a great oasis and even though it mean 20 minutes in cab whenever I wanted to head into "town" it was worth it. The hotel itself is in a nice shopping neighborhood with some good restaurants nearby.

@Tri: About 50TRY door to door. For ~$30, it's not a bad deal.

Tri July 31, 2012 at 07:06 pm

Matthew -- how about from Park Hyatt to the old town...? Approx cost? I got scammed in Prague and I'll never forget or forgive myself for not saying something... Thanks

@Tri: 10-15 TRY, depending on traffic. Traffic will be bad--the only question is how bad. The meter still ticks if you are sitting in traffic.

tri August 8, 2012 at 06:55 am

Matthew - Well, i went and let me update you on what happened. From the airport to the Grand Hyatt, 55 lira. From the grand hyatt to Grand Bazaar, 15 lira (give or take). Everything is fine until it started pouring rain in the middle of summer! Lucky me. I didnt have an umbrella and i was getting pretty anxious to get back to the hotel. Silly me, i grab the nearest taxi that was available that was sitting in traffic and then decided to hop in. We discuss price. He says the Galata bridge is close, we have to go around. I say ok (turns out it was closed). He says there is a lot of traffic b/c of the rain. I said, "how much". he says 35-40 lira. I say "no way". I'll pay 25 max. he says there's a lot of traffic plus we have to go around to the other bridge... I say turn on the meter and we'll see... otherwise "ill get out right now". I have an iphone with GPS so im checking his route... his route is NOT the problem it turns out... I get to the hotel. 30 minutes later... with a lot of traffic and pouring rain.... Lo and behold... its 37 lira to get to the Park Hyatt. I get out of the cab, I ask the concierge... how much is it from Grand Bazaar... he says 15 lira. I say is the Galata bridge closed? He says yes. I ask him why the 'efh' does my meter say 37 lira. He gets this worried look and starts to yell at the cabbie. The cabbie points to his map and starts yelling about traffic and having to re-route b/c of the closure. After some more yelling by me, I begrudging settle on 30. I presume it was about +30 minutes (and probably more than the usual traffic) in the cab, but I KNOW he's ripping me off. It turns out, somehow after the bridge the meter goes from 8 lira to 20 lira. Im sitting there bemused. I hesitated to say anything BUT i should have... It didnt help that the rain left me little option. If I got out, I would have been where i started, in the pouring rain. In the end, i pay the 5-15 premium b/c i had no alternative means of transportation. Lesson learned... bad apples, make sure you get a taxi from the hotel or an official 'taksi' line. what an !@#@!#.

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