Istanbul taxi drivers’ ‘overcharging’ scam exposed
Savaş Özbey - ISTANBUL
A team from daily Hürriyet have disguised themselves as “foreign tourists” to document the reckless attitudes of taxi drivers in the streets of Istanbul. Their intentions were not to single out a single person but to expose how taxi scams work.
The move came after local media run a story recently about a Thai tourist who was allegedly overcharged and sexually harassed by a taxi driver in Istanbul.
She recorded what happened during the trip on her mobile phone. After the footage purportedly showing the drivers’ reckless behavior had gone viral on social media, the cabbie was detained.
It was not the first time local media reported an incident that a taxi driver cheated foreign tourists. However, the case with the Thai tourist was different as she had recorded everything on camera.
On the other side of the coin, taxi drivers have had it rough for some time, squeezed by rising costs, fewer customers and competition from Uber and illegal taxis.
They are trying to make their voices heard by staging protests. Not all taxi drivers commit unlawful practices such as overcharging customers, however, rotten apples among them have spoiled the reputation of the profession.
Turning down local customers
Around noon, cabbies strategically position themselves at a location just across the historic the Spice Bazaar, in the Eminönü district, a popular destination for foreign tourists.
They tend to turn down Turkish customers.
One person from our crew approached one of them and told him she wanted to go to Sultanahmet. The driver refused to take her in his car and referred her to another taxi.
Ten minutes later, we, disguised as foreign tourists, asked the very same driver if he could take us to Sultanahmet. He agreed.
However, he told us he would not take the regular route to our destination because of traffic. In fact, there was no traffic congestion at that time. Moreover, he did not turn the taximeter on.
If he had taken the regular route, he would have charged us 10 Turkish Liras (around $2). When we arrived at our destination, he asked for 75 liras. When we objected, he generously offered us a 5 lira discount. We ended up paying 70 liras for the trip.
We witness similar scenes in front of the popular Cevahir Shopping Mall in the Mecidikeköy district. A driver refused to serve a woman who ended up yelling “but you take Arabs!” The driver was rude with her.
While traveling in another taxi, we overheard the driver’s phone conversation, most likely with his colleague.
“Four Arab women came over. They wanted to go to Cehavir. I said ‘40 liras’–in fact, it should only cost 20 liras. I also said, “no taximeter.” When she insisted, I said, “go metro.” She yelled, “no metro, yes taxi.” The police were looking at us. So, I had to pick them up [referring to us],” he said.
He was confidently chatting over the phone because he thought we were foreigners.
“The reason behind those unpleasant events is because taxi services have become monopolized. There is no competition, thus the service is poor. Taxi drivers are also under intense financial pressure. They also work very long hours,” said Aziz Koçal, the president of the Consumer Protection Association (TÜKODER).
“We often receive complaints about drivers who unnecessarily extend journeys and refuse to take customers short distances,” he added.
On average, taxi drivers work between eight to 12 hours and make 125 to 150 liras a day.