Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rogue Taxi Drivers

On Monday, Jim's last day of vacation, we went to IKEA. On the way there we took the subway, which, luckily for me, posts every stop in Pinyin, the Chinese-style of writing that uses Arabic letters. Jim also helped me get a "transportation card," which is a debit-like card that I can now use for any subway, bus or taxi.

Fast forward to the end of our IKEA shopping trip...
We were loading up some of our larger items onto the cart and were starting in the direction of the checkout lanes, when we were approached by a man with very broken English carrying an IKEA delivery service brochure. Now, we were planning to use the delivery service to have some of the larger items delivered back to the apartment so we could take the subway home, so we started conversing with the man. About a minute into the conversation, we realized he was wanting to charge us a rate comparable to what IKEA charges customers who live outside the city (120 RMB = $17.30). When we told him we were Shanghai-based, he told us it would cost more because we live in Pudong.

Quick Geography Lesson: Shanghai is divided into two parts by the Huangpu river that runs through it. 'Pu' means river, 'dong' means east, and 'xi' means west. So Pudong is to the east of the river and Puxi is west of the river. We live in Pudong, and IKEA is in Puxi.

We argued with him that the rate inside the city was the same, regardless of which side of the river you reside, as it stated in the brochure. At this point, he started to tell us that the rate included shipment of our goods and us. Jim was trying to communicate with the man in a mix of English and Chinese, when I realized exactly what the guy was... a rogue taxi driver!! I stopped Jim and told him that the man wasn't employed with IKEA, rather he was an illeagal taxi driver. He was just trying to rip off what he thought were stupid Westerners. Jim realized what I was saying and we told the guy we weren't interested and started to walk away.

The faster we walked away, the faster the guy's price dropped. He kept trying to close the deal as we waited in the check out line, which ticked me off even more. In the short time I've been here, I've become somewhat accustomed to being stared at, but with this guy haggling us, even more people were staring.

So we checked out and went home. The checkout process was enough of a hassle that we skipped the delivery service and found a 'real' taxi to take home, which as it turns out was the best thing to do.

Here's a breakdown of what our choices were:

  • Real Taxi Ride: 55 RMB = $7.94.
  • Illegal taxi driver's original offer: 120 RMB = $17.30
  • Illegal taxi driver's final offer: 70 RMB = $10.11.
  • IKEA delivery & Subway: 72 RMB = $10.40.

I know it's only change, but every penny (or RMB) counts, right?

Illegal taxi drivers aren't uncommon here, we had a similar encounter at the airport on Saturday when we arrived. We were walking out of the terminal with all of our bags, and almost immediately we were engulfed in a sea of taxi drivers making us ludicrous offers to go back to our apartment.

The flat rate they "promise" isn't the only problem, since they aren't licensed with the government, they may or may not have meters, which may not be correctly callibrated.

So the next time you're in China, keep a vigilant watch for rogue taxi drivers

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