By far the most convenient (but not always the quickest) way to get around in Istanbul is by taxi. They are plentiful, operate day and night, take up to four persons, are compared to the US or Europe fairly cheap, and they can be easily hailed on the street or found at taxi ranks. Unfortunately, a small percentage of the taxi drivers are either lunatics or con-artists. Luckily most are neither. But just in case, you may want to keep on reading and be well prepared before you get into a taxi in Istanbul.
Official Taxis – Only take official taxis. They are bright yellow and have a sign on the roof with the word taksi on it. Furthermore, their taxi plate number (and sometimes company logo) should be clearly visible on the front doors and the roof. And most importantly, all official taxis have digital meters!
- No Meter, No Go – Always insist to switch on the meter! Some of the previously mentioned con-artists may come up with an excuse that the meter is broken or offer to drive for a flat fee. Accept neither, get out of the taxi and look for another one. Even if the taxi driver suddenly changes his mind. Also, if at any point during the ride the meter isn’t running, get out. If the driver protests, muttering the word polis may do wonders.
- Find The Taxi Meter – Whereas in Europe or the US taxi meters are mounted in such a way that they are clearly visible for the passengers, in Istanbul they are more often than not well hidden behind the gearshift. This makes it virtually impossible to see it from the backseat. Locals use the reflection in the front door window to monitor it. Since you’re probably not experienced in reading mirror images, lean over to check the meter at the start of the ride and at certain intervals. This is not considered rude. On the contrary, you’ll gain the taxi driver’s respect for knowing the ropes.
Day & Night Rates – Upon entering the taxi, a flat or starting rate will appear. After that, the rate will increment every 400 meters. Check out the current cab rates and taxi fares between popular Istanbul tourist destinations here. When the taxi is not moving (at traffic lights or while being stuck in traffic), the fare should remain more or less the same! During the day, the word gündüz should appear onscreen at regular intervals. At night (between midnight and 6 am), the word gece will appear. Since the night-rate is 50% higher than the day-rate, make sure the gündüz rate is applied when appropriate! This too is a popular tourist scam.
- Bridge or Highway Toll – In case you take a taxi to cross either of the Bosphorus bridges or drive on the TEM highway, toll (not more than TL 4) has to be paid. The taxi driver will pay that for you, but will add this to the fare.
- No Tipping – Unless the taxi driver helped you load and unload your luggage, he won’t expect a tip. If you’re happy with his performance, you can roundup the fare to the nearest convenient figure. Some taxi drivers may claim to be out of small money, hence try to make a few extra liras. Just stand your ground and make him go change the money somewhere if you feel he’s deceitful.
- Say What? – Most taxi drivers speak very little to no English at all. Having said that, chances are that your knowledge of Turkish is similar to his English skills. It’s therefore not a bad idea to have the exact name and street of your destination written down on a piece of paper.
- Seemingly Lost – Taxi drivers are not too streetwise. And in their defense, Istanbul is a giant city and expecting taxi drivers to know every single street by heart is unfair. It is therefore not unusual that taxi drivers are unfamiliar with the exact location of lesser known places. You may find him ask you, other drivers or pedestrians along the way. If you have a phone number on your destination, he’ll be glad to call them for precise directions.
Unsafe Driving – Time is money. It’s a cliché, but it’s still very true for Istanbul’s taxi drivers. They may take alternative (and a tad longer and more expensive) roads when the main roads are congested. That’s perfectly fine and will benefit both parties. What they shouldn’t do though is race through the narrow streets. If at any time you feel unsafe, you tell the driver yavaş gidin (’yavash gidin’ pronounced) or just daha yavaş lütfen. Both mean more or less the same and order him to slow down. If he doesn’t obey your wishes, just get out at the first occasion that arises.
Now don’t get me wrong! I’ve been using taxis in Istanbul for over four years now, and I can count the times I felt unsafe or was hustled on both hands. Taxis in Istanbul are a cheap, reliable and more comfortable than most of the public transportation available.
Of course, if you had any good or bad experiences with Istanbul’s taxis, I’d love to hear your stories!