Taking a taxi in Bogota can be a bit of an ‘adventure’ to say the least; an un-seatbelted adventure which can leave you silently praying for your life, as most taxis do not have functioning seat-belts for the back seats. If you’re taking a taxi in Bogota, keep in mind the following tips, which include common scams and typical taxi driver behaviour:
..Or ask the hotel/restaurant/bar you’re at to call you one – I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. If you hail one from the street, you really don’t know who you’re going to get, and you won’t have the same peace of mind regarding safety. I will go on to explain why.
2. ‘Paseo Millonario’ – The Millionaire’s Ride.
If you hail a taxi in Bogota from the street, you risk being taken on a Millionaire’s Ride, referred to as el Paseo Millonario here, which is a LOT less glamorous than it sounds! It involves being temporarily kidnapped, held in the taxi against your will and possibly being drugged and joined by the taxi driver’s accomplices, before being taken to various cash machines and being forced to withdraw money from your bank account and handing it over. It’s not common, but it’s common enough that it has a name, I know two people it’s happened to, AND I know someone who ‘rolled’ out of a moving cab because he feared it was a case of ‘Paseo Millonario’. The taxi driver didn’t stop. Another reason NOT to take a taxi from the street!
3. ‘The Extended Tour of Bogota’.
This has happened to me a number of times and can happen whether or not you have called for a taxi; you tell the driver your destination, and the driver, guessing that you don’t know the city well (being a foreigner), will take you on the longest route possible in order to make the journey as expensive for you (and lucrative for him) as possible. If you’re not familiar with the city but you have a local SIM card and a smartphone, I would use Google Maps to try to work out the quickest route first, and then tell the driver, or write it down on a piece of paper and hand it over in order to try to prevent this from happening. You can then follow the route on Google Maps during your journey, if you have data.
4. Dangerous Driving.
Many taxi drivers drive recklessly and behave aggressively towards other drivers. Sometimes they can be speeding along inches from the driver in front of them and you just know that if the driver in front happens to brake suddenly, there WILL be a crash. Asking them to drive more carefully can provoke a defensive attitude and often won’t make a difference. All you can do is hold on tight!
5. Tampered-with Taxi Meter.
This will be pretty much impossible for you to detect unless a) you are a seasoned Bogota taxi passenger and are familiar with the speed at which the taxi-meters increase or b) you have taken the exact journey before and know more or less how much it is supposed to cost. What some drivers do is tamper with the meter so that it increases more quickly than it’s supposed to – it should go up by one digit every 100 meters. Again, if you suspect this is happening there’s not really anything you can do about it (unless it really is blatantly obvious, such as increasing every second – this has happened to me!) except report the driver on Tappsi if you ordered the taxi through that, or on the Calculadora de Tarifas app, whose main function is to allow you to calculate what you have to pay for a journey, or write down the taxi’s license plate number and report him to the police. And if possible, tell the taxi to stop, and then get out of the cab without paying (but only if you know more or less where you are!).
6. Bogota taxi drivers often hide the tariff.
The taxi-meters are not a transparent charging system – they don’t go up in amounts of money but start at the number 25 and go up by one digit every 100 meters. By the end of the journey, the number displayed on the meter corresponds to an amount you have to pay, which you are supposed to be able to check on the taxi tariff, which should be hanging off the back of the front passenger seat. I’d say about 50% of the time the tariff is not displayed, so you either have to ask what you owe (which is basically an invitation for the driver to screw you over) or you can download the Calculadora de Tarifas app onto your smartphone and easily check on there. Be sure to add the ‘Puerta a puerta’ option if you pre-ordered the cab, the airport charge if you’re coming from the airport (and this means the airport, not NEAR the airport as some drivers try to claim!), and the night-charge if it’s after 8pm.
7. Charging extra for dropping people off at different locations
Taxi drivers are not allowed to charge extra for dropping people off at multiple locations – for example, if you’re going home with friends and you all want to be dropped back at your respective apartments. But taxi drivers do sometimes add an extra charge at will, especially if you’ve taken it from the street. Know your rights!
8. Don’t try to pay for a journey with a $50,000 pesos note.
You would normally never expect to pay more than $20,000 pesos for a journey across the city, and taxi drivers will rarely be willing to give change for a $50,000 pesos note (even if they have change). If you say that’s all you’ve got, you should expect to be taken on the ‘Extended Tour of Bogota‘ while the driver tries to find someone to change the note, whilst hiking up the fare in the meantime (this has happened to me)! I’ve even heard of drivers becoming aggressive when people have tried to pay with a 50,000 note before. My advice: try to break a 50,000 note at any opportunity (i.e. in restaurants and shops) so that you don’t get stuck with them, and have plenty of change for the taxi!
One more reason not to take a cab from the street (and then I’m done, honest!): drivers have been known to sprinkle a drug known as burundunga somewhere around the back seats – for example, on the newspapers kept in the back pocket of the front passenger seat – so that when a passenger picks it up to read it, they become drugged and the effect is to make you do whatever the driver says, without afterwards having any recollection of what happened. The usual scam is to take you to a cash machine and force you to withdraw and hand over money. Again, not that common, but common enough that I’ve actually met someone that this has happened to.
10. Choose Uber!
If at all possible, use the Uber app to order a secure private cab to take you where you need to go. In order to use Uber you need to be able to register a credit card on the app. Nowadays an Uber X is about the same price as taking a yellow cab, and in my experience the drivers are honest, polite, they usually drive safely, some speak a bit of English, and you pay by your registered credit card, so you don’t have to worry about having change.
So those are my top tips for taking a taxi in Bogota! I know some of the things I’ve mentioned sound scary, but the worst things can be avoided if you pre-order the taxi using an app or by calling. The other scams are just annoying more than anything else.
Have you ever taken a taxi in Bogota? What was your experience? Are there any tips you’d add?