When in a Big City in Mexico, Watch Out for This
This post is not for the obvious "watch out for drug cartels" which is a statement high on the "duh" continuum. It is about the taxi driver. I will start by saying not all taxi drivers are crooked, and not all are looking for a quick buck, but there are those who will take advantage of you if you look like a dumb North American (as I did).
My story begins after getting off the bus at my destination: Monterrey, Mexico. There are many people who I know that warn me of travelling into Mexico, Monterrey notwithstanding. However, my trip was specifically done to attend my father-in-law's funeral and church service. Admittedly, I was time crunched when I arrived and had to quickly find transportation to my hotel to change, and since my Uber app was not hooking me up, I had to resort to using a cab (Yellow and/or White).
Finding one at 5:45 pm was tough, but eventually I found one. The taxi was clean, but never as clean as an Uber car, and the driver was playing rock music. He asked a few questions on the drive to the hotel, but in my current mood, I was not very talkative. The driver began to look tense when getting close to my hotel. He said there was a shooting at the intersection of our exit, so he elected to continue to the next exit. I am always alert for any potential diversion from my destination and as this was one of those potential diversions, I questioned him about his experience driving a taxi. He ended up making the appropriate turn, and he rushed through traffic, as it was the beginning of the rush triple-hour (in Monterrey, rush "hour" lasts from five to eight in the evening).
The taxi driver pulls up to the side of the road, which is 100 yards from the hotel's entrance and never a place an Uber driver has dropped me off before. Then the driver says some number for the price. I didn't hear him, but I thought he said 180 pesos, which is double the price I typically pay for the same distance traveled. He said "no, 600 pesos." I exclaimed "what!? How come!!" He continues saying that he "soy del sitio," which I had no idea what he was talking about or if there was a special connotation to it that I had failed to know about in the months regularly coming to Monterrey. Angrily I handed him the money, then I said "600 pesos should at least get me to the hotel's entrance." Now, already suspecting the driver is a rat liar, he decided to confirm it for me by answering confidently "We are not allowed to enter the mall's entrance." I didn't argue with him, knowing that taxis regularly were inside the mall's interior dropping and picking people up in my past trips.
I had the sensation that I was robbed, but feared at that moment to ask for authorities or to challenge the driver by refusing to pay. I did not have sufficient information to make a quick judgment and my immediate risk assessment concluded toward conformity. After dropping off my things at the hotel, I was able to get an Uber. I explained the situation that just happened to the Uber driver, and he told me of others who were taken advantaged of, in some very inventive, as well as, common ways.
From my conversation with the Uber driver, and my own experiences, here is what you will need to do if you decide to use a taxi.
(1) Before getting into a taxi, do not assume your rules for fairness is the same as the other. Cultural differences exist, granted, but not in terms of fairness in a transaction. The other may treat you as a naive rich foreigner and believe that taking advantage of you is fair. In this respect, the cultural training to be agreeable should be abandoned, and assume that fairness is expected and that you might need to demand it.
(2) Ask how much, approximately, is the cost for a ride from your current position to your destination. A usual response is "I don't know" or say something vague like "Not that much." If this is what you hear, change taxi.
(3) Make sure he puts on the meter. If he passes the first question, watch for failure to put on the meter. Drivers who are going to charge you more will nonchalantly fail to put the meter on. You might feel embarrassed to ask about it, and, if you do, he will say some obscure regulation to support his lack of use. There are no regulations other than their own interest in making more money. You tell him to put on the meter or drop you off.
(4) Keep an eye on the route taken. Before you reach the city in the country that you will be visiting, get a general idea of the route to your hotel or destination, as the driver may try to distract you with conversation and make a number of route changes to increase the fare. My Uber driver told me of a lady who was taken in circles around the airport in order to increase the fare.
(5). Use Uber. Uber gives you all that you need to help you feel safe: approximate fare, driver's name, license, number of trips, and reviews. This is the main reason that they are sought after so much, motivating taxi drivers to try to compensate for the lack of fares in most major Mexican big cities. Note: Uber is not available from the airport in Monterrey because of local policy to protect taxi services. You will need to check with the Uber driver when leaving the hotel to see if they are willing to make the trip to the airport to drop you off.
Monterrey is a lovely place and the vast majority of the people are fair and fun and considerate. However, as with any city that experiences low salaries, disproportionate income, and government corruption, there will be motivation among the select few who will be opportunistic and take advantage of a person, regardless of economic station