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About 1 AM today, my friend and I hopped in a taxi outside a well known nightlife area in Belgrade, Serbia and were the almost-victims of a taxi scam.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.11.04 PM
Sava and Danube Rivers Meeting in Belgrade

We were just taking a 4 km ride to another bar, and we hopped into one of several waiting taxis. The ride took under 10 minutes, with part of it at over 80 miles per hour as our taxi driver barreled down empty streets.

Late in the ride, I noticed the meter was over 2,000 dinar (110 dinar = $1.) That was ludicrous since the ride should cost around 400-500 dinar tops.

The meter had started at 170 dinar correctly and was ticking up in 3 dinar increments correctly, but it was ticking up about 10 times faster than normal.

When we arrived the meter was 3,050 dinar ($28.) I got out of the cab. I don’t want to get into an argument and be trapped in the car or within arm’s reach of the driver. My friend pulled out his wallet, sitting in the cab. I barked at him: “Get out of the cab.”

Through the window, I said: “How much?” And the driver said, “Three thousand dinar,” to which I burst out laughing.

Me: “You mean 300?”

Him: “3,000”

Then he said some nonsense about different prices for pink taxis, phone taxis, and his taxi that I didn’t understand because of his limited English.

At this point, I was 100% sure that 3,000 was an unfair price, but I wasn’t 100% sure that it was an illegal price. In some cities, taximeters can charge whatever they want (Charlottesville, Virginia) though everywhere I’ve been prices need to be posted somewhere, and they weren’t posted in this cab.

I decided to tell him flat out that I wasn’t paying 3,000 dinar and to call the police. I figured the worst that could happen–if the price was legal–was that a cop would tell me to pay the $28, an annoying, but hardly life-changing scam amount. In the best case, the cabbie was breaking the law and would back down.

The cabbie countered that I should get back in, and he’d drive us the two minutes to the police to sort this out.

Yeah, right!

I wasn’t getting back in the taxi, so I told him again to call the police if he wanted 3,000. We were going to get a beer. We walked over to an outdoor bar a few meters away and ordered a beer. The taxi driver “made a phone call” (possibly fake) in Serbian and walked over to tell us the police would be there in 15 minutes.

“Great, we’ll be right here drinking our beer.”

Not two minutes later, the cabbie drove the 20 meters to where we were made some offensive hand gestures, cussed us out in Serbian (I assume) and then reversed down the street.

Free taxi ride for us!

Draw your own lessons from the episode. I’m still going to take street taxis in Belgrade, and just dispute the fare if it’s outrageous. On our ride home later in the night, my friend was watching the meter like a hawk, and I joked, “I hope it’s too high. Another free ride.”

At least in Bucharest, my next stop, I’ll thankfully be freed from taxi tyranny and get to use Uber. (Check out this attempted Uber scam I foiled.)

Bottom Line

I’d like to say this shows that cheaters never prosper, but it shows the opposite.

If the ride should have been 400, and he gets even 2 out of 15 people (13%) to pay 3,000 he breaks even. I imagine he gets a much higher percentage of foreigners to pay the scam rate than 13%.

What travel scams have you encountered and how have you handled them?

 

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