During the earlier leg of our trip, we traveled to Milan, Venice and mostly around Florence. It was a rather pleasant experience – similar to travelling in other cities in Western Europe. But when it came to Naples, S and I were warned of taxi scams and pickpockets, and braced ourselves. Never did we expect to get ripped off by a female taxi driver in Naples.
From the Naples train station to our hotel
Our hotel was less than 2km from the train station, but we had to hail a cab given that we were carrying 12 bottles of wine in each of our suitcases following our trip to Montalcino, Italy’s premier wine region. Getting a cab from the Napoli train station was somewhat stressful. The taxi stand was not clearly marked out. When we did eventually find it, a swamp of taxi touts surrounded us, aggressively telling us to get into their taxi.
After finally getting into one cab, S insisted that the driver use a meter, but he declined. The driver told us the price – €13 or €30 (till today, I heard the former while S heard the latter). A tensed discourse with the taxi-driver soon ensued with S refusing to pay €30 for a 2km trip, while I was very puzzled as to why he would get so worked up over €13. When we finally alighted (the ride was about 5 minutes), the driver charged us €10. We expected the official rate to be much lower, but the amount was simply not worth arguing about.
From the Naples train station to our hotel
In view of this somewhat negative experience, we thought that we using a taxi-booking app would be better, for the short trip from our hotel to the train station. Interestingly, while Uber is available in Milan and Florence, it isn’t available for use in Naples. Only Free Now, a taxi booking app can be used.
We thought that the price would automatically be calculated with the app, thus avoiding the chances of being cheated. When the cab arrived, our driver was a young Italian woman in her twenties. I thought she must be pretty brave to be part of this operation filled with somewhat dodgy taxi-drivers.
She had some difficulty locating us and S used his auto-roaming to call her. When she arrived, she said she could deduct that phone call from the bill. That sounded pretty suspicious now that I think about it (which taxi driver would offer to compensate you for a phone call? Hmm..). She acted professionally, offering to lift our suitcases into the car boot.
Now we were extremely familiar with the route from our hotel to the train station. It was a straightforward route – all she had to do was to do a U-turn, travel down a straight road and we would have arrived at the train station, all in less than 5 minutes.
But instead of doing a U-turn, she turned into a narrow alley and started driving through the smaller streets. She also asked “How long have you been in Naples?”, to which I naively replied, “Just two days”. Five minutes into the journey, we were still driving through the narrow streets and I gave S a ‘something-is-not-quite-right’ glance. But thinking that we were using the app which calculates the fare automatically, we decided to leave it to her ‘expertise’ to get us there. 3 more minutes later, I couldn’t take it any longer and voiced loudly, ‘Wow we’re taking a while to get there’. There was no response from our driver.
Two minutes later, we arrived at the Naples train station. “€25 please,” our driver said, in a rather professional manner. Now we were not about to accept that, especially since our hotel was a 5-min car-ride from the train station. “Excuse me..” I interjected while clearing my throat. “There must be a mistake – our taxi ride from the train station to the hotel was €10.”
“There is nothing I can do, this is the price,” said our driver rather defensively.
“Now I am not sure, but it took us 5 minutes to get from the train station to our hotel. I am not sure what sort of route you took, but €25 is just too much. It’s more than double of what we had paid.”
“There’s nothing I can do, this is the price,” she retorted.
I glanced at S. We were very close to leaving Naples. If possible, we wanted to leave the city as quickly as possible, without any problems. I decided to put my bargaining skills to use – skills which have gone rusty since I stopped travelling around India and South-east Asia.
“The maximum we will pay is €20, and that is double of what we paid for the same trip.”
She nodded and made a gesture that we should hand her the money.
It didn’t help that we did not have small change on hand – only a €50 note to pay for our cab fare. (We didn’t think of getting small notes as we thought the fare would be charged to S’s credit card.) S handed her the €50 note and got back €30.
We got out of the car. She offered to lift the suitcases from the car boot. We said no thanks. I rolled my eyes. Gave a wry smile which also meant that we would probably not return to Naples if we can help it.
The Travelling Squid’s Take – Getting ripped off by a female taxi driver in Naples
The train station is one last interaction you’ll get with a place. To get ripped off along the way to the train station leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth, which can be hard to erase even after having one of the most delicious Neapolitan pizzas our planet has to offer. I may be exaggerating but the lasting impression I have of Naples is that its people are relatively dishonest. It would be wise to be on your guard during your visit.
As for our dishonest taxi-driver, I’m sure that her short-term gain of an extra €10 would not have been commensurate with the long-term loss of potential tourist revenue to the city. All I can say is that dishonesty is bad business, especially for a city which depends on tourism for a large part of its economy. We shall see.