I’ve complained before on this blog about my dealings with obnoxious taxi drivers who make uncalled for remarks. Since then, I’ve also been dropped off in the wrong spot by a driver whose excuse was “I don’t have a map on me” and, worse, sexually harassed several times. One particularly noxious driver said that I was the first American woman he’d met who didn’t look like a man, among other comments about my looks, and kept turning around to leer at me with eyes that he should have been keeping on the freakin‘ road! A pervert and an idiot! What a treasure!
I used to wonder if I got targeted for obnoxiousness because I am a hua yi… but that’s not the case. Almost everyone I know — Taiwanese, foreigners, men, women — have their share of creepy taxi driver stories. My stories are bad, but they aren’t the worst I’ve heard. At least no one has ever tried to show me their collection of filthy movies while we were stuck in heavy traffic (I guess in-car DVD players aren’t always a good thing!).
I know I am painting all taxi drivers with the same brush and that is unfair because I usually receive perfectly competent service when I hail a cab by the side of the road. But the bad experiences with the loonies are made all the more unpleasantly memorable by the fact that you are pretty much locked in a car with said loony (and it doesn’t help that the crazier the driver is, the more likely they are to flout traffic laws). To be honest, whenever I hail a cab by the side of the road, I feel like I’m taking a gamble.
I prefer taking public transportation, but if I need to call a car, I use Taiwan Taxi (大車隊). Taiwan Taxi has a company policy where drivers aren’t allowed to discuss religion or politics (that pretty much takes care of 99.9% of harassing conversations) and you get a discount on the cab fare if you call ahead. There are instructions for calling a cab on the company’s Web site in Chinese and English. What I usually do is dial 55688 from my cell phone, press 3 and tell the operator my address (you have to physically be at your pick up location because Taiwan Taxi uses a satellite system to direct its fleet). An automated service then tells me the car number of my cab; to confirm, I press 1 (if you hang up before confirming, service is canceled). A taxi usually arrives within six minutes.
Taiwan Taxi keeps the last address you called from on record, which is handy if you intend to use their service often. The only problem I’ve encountered so far is that their 55688 number sometimes doesn’t work. 405-88888 is their land line number, which you can use at a pay phone.
In general, taking a taxi in Taipei is very safe, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. If you plan to take a cab late at night by yourself, the best thing to do is to use a taxi service, like Taiwan Taxi, and make sure that someone knows the name of the company and the number of your cab. If you need to hail a car by the side of the road, try to have a friend with you. Both of you should note the taxi number and you should say to your friend, audibly, “I’ll call you when I get home.” If a driver makes you uncomfortable, call a friend on the phone, have a conversation with them and make sure to note where you are and when you expect to reach your destination. Of course, you can always ask the driver to pull over and let you out if he’s being a jerk or you are worried about your safety. If you do that, keep your eye out for a convenience store or other well-lit 24-hour business to stop in front of.
If you have any other cab safety tips or taxi service recommendations, please let me know in the comments.
ETA: From one of my Twitter contacts: “I like 大都會 too (55178). Their service is similarly reliable. Was cheaper (7折) than 55688 (8折), but I think they’re equal now.”