|drawing by Suzanne Dunaway|
In the days before there were fixed airport rates and before all New York cabs were driven by foreigners who can’t tell Brooklynese from a southern drawl, I used to ratchet up my native Noo Yawk accent when climbing into a cab at JFK, to let the driver know I was a local and thus avoid being chiseled. Not good enough: once I was so sleepy heading to midtown Manhattan at 3 AM I didn’t notice I was being driven all along the Brooklyn seashore, doubling both the mileage and the tab.
But when it comes to fleecing passengers, Rome cabbies take the prize. A team of investigative reporters in the 1990s found that half the foreigners who take a taxi from the Da Vinci airport in Fiumicino got cheated. Nobody wasted gas on extra mileage like my New York cabbie – they’d just tell a packed cab that the meter rate was per person. Legit cabbies can’t pull that trick now that they have to post their rates in four languages, but tourists emerging from International Arrivals still run a gauntlet of unlicensed swindlers muttering “Taxi? Taxi?”
One taxi driver confided to me on the long drive to the airport that before taking off for a vacation elsewhere in Italy he always checked out ahead of time what the cab fares were supposed to be at his destination, assuming that his colleagues there would try to rip him off.
I once went to the American Embassy to plead an employee’s compensation case in front of a State Department lawyer who had been flown in from the States for the occasion. The lawyer had obediently followed the Department’s penny-pinching guidelines and taken a bus to town from the airport instead of spending 25,000 lire on a cab. When he got out at the bus station, he told me, he took a taxi straight to the Embassy half a mile away – had the 30,000 lire he’d paid been the right price? I had to break the news that on the meter it would have been about 3,000. His round pink innocent face had “Take me for a ride” written all over it.
But this is Italy, so you never know – another time the meter reads €10.50 and the cabbie says just give me ten.
Visitors take note: Italian cabbies don’t expect tips! And the fixed rates from Rome’s airports into town include your luggage!
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