Like all big cities in the world, taxis in Istanbul are infamous for their scams - designed to get extra money out of foreign guests unfamiliar with the city's transportation systems. Whilst the yellow taxis do offer a convenient and somewhat affordable way to get around Istanbul (if the traffic is flowing) one bad experience is enough to damped your spirits on your trip of a lifetime in Turkey.
Here are a few insider tips to successfully use the taxis of Istanbul—all inspired by the unfortunate experiences of other tourists and your's truly over the years!
1. Use licensed taxis
Fake taxis do operate in the city, despite being illegal. If you need a taxi, make sure it's a licensed yellow taxi (as pictured above). Theses vehicles will display a code starting with 34 on the front driver and passenger doors. That is the vehicle registration number also displayed on the numbers plates at the front and rear of the vehicle. It pays to take note of this number and the driver's ID on the dashboard in case you leave things in the vehicle, and in case you need to make a complaint - because although they are licensed, some are far from reliable.
2. Do not barter for a price upfront
All Istanbul taxis have metres. Asking for a price upfront to get to your destination - before the journey starts - is a rookie mistake. Whilst most good-hearted taxi drivers will tell you (or gesture) that they use a metre, some see this foreign request as a big welcoming, flashing neon sign to scam you for a bigger fare.
3. Do not accept a price upfront from a driver
In Istanbul, if you get in a taxi and the driver asks you for a fare upfront, get out of the taxi. You're about to be ripped off. A reliable taxi driver will never ask for a fare upfront - they will put the metre on instead. If the driver does ask for a lump sum payment, find the next taxi that will do the right thing. Do note, in towns outside Istanbul, it is common for taxis to offer a flat fare for long distances. Check your local hosts in towns outside Istanbul for more information.
4. Make sure the flagfall and the tarif is correct
The most important things to check when you get in a taxi to avoid being scammed is:
- Make sure the metre is on. The metre is either displayed on the rear-vision mirror, or the centre console of the vehicle.
- Make sure the flagfall is 3.20TL (price as of November 2015)
- Make sure the tarif is set to 1.
The last point is where taxi drivers scam passengers the most. The flagfall for day and night is the same. It wasn't a few years ago. These days the driver can manipulate the tarif to get extra cash. This is a small number on the same screen as the flagfall/fare. A shifty taxi driver will set the tarif to 2 or more to increase the price. Make sure it is set to 1 when the flagfall is set, or get out of the taxi.
5. Avoid hailing taxis off the street, especially in tourism hotspots
Avoid the taxis that slow down and drive near you to get your attention, and ignore the parked taxis in tourism hotspots touting their fares - they're renowned for ripping off tourists. Hotspots include along the tram line in the vicinity of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) and Hippodrome in Sultanahmet, outside major shopping centres where tourists frequent, and around Taksim Square. If you can, ask your hotel or restaurant to book a taxi for you, or go to a taxi stand, or if you can't do either then follow the advice in this article.
6. Write down your destination's address and phone number
Turkish is difficult to master for foreigners, even for those who have lived here for years, and most taxi drivers don't speak English. So to help overcome the language barrier and avoid unnecessary confusion on the roads, write down your destination on a piece of paper and always carry your hotel business card to present to the driver when returning back to base. If you have a phone number for your destination, and the driver is lost, most of the time they will be happy to call your destination to get the right directions.
7. Know the approximate fares
This is harder to master unless you live here. On top of the flagfall, approximately 2TL will be added for every kilometer. Delays in traffic and toll roads will incur additional charges. The following is a guide for what you can expect to pay as of November 2015 for popular routes - if the traffic is flowing:
- Ataturk International Airport / Sultanahmet, 40 - 50TL
- Ataturk International Airport / Taksim, 50 - 60TL
- Taksim / Sultanahmet, 20 - 25TL
8. Use the BiTaksi App
Our saving grace in Istanbul is the relatively new App called, BiTaksi. Simply download to your smart phone, sign up, and place an icon on a map indicating where you wish to pick up a taxi. Then press a button to order a taxi and watch it come to you. And the best part is - these taxi are accountable and reliable because you have the driver's name and contact details and can rate them via the App. A fare calculator and English instructions make it one popular travel App to have in Istanbul.
9. Using a GPS is not the norm
Whilst more and more taxi drivers use their phones and BiTaksi for GPS, using one is not common. After all, once you see the maze of streets and the absences of street signs in Istanbul - with all of their one-way roads, a GPS is almost redundant!
10. Watch what notes you give to the driver
The government has started phasing out orange-colored 5TL notes because they look like the 50TL note. Until the old 5TL notes are phased out completely, avoid handing over a 50TL note for fares. With a quick switch the driver can say you paid 5TL. Get confused and you unwillingly could pay more!
11. Avoid taxis altogether. Use public transport
Istanbul is blessed with some of the best public transport in the world. Trams, buses, the underground Metro, funiculars, a cable car, and cross-continental ferries all run frequently connecting most of the major tourism attractions around the city. Timetables for all modes of public transport can be accessed via Trafi, a reliable App that offers real-time traffic updates too. Public transport fares are currently 4TL per person per trip, but purchase an Istanbulkart for discounts on travel for up to five people.
Iyi yolculuklar (Have a good journey)!
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