Taxi scams happen everywhere in the world. And generally, taxi drivers in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey aren't any more dishonest than anybody else. And in most parts of Turkey you will have no problems at all with taxi drivers. But some taxi drivers, especially around tourist areas in Istanbul and other touristy towns, will try to cheat you using various scams (sometimes more than one, and even during the same trip!). They are especially effective when you're tired from a long trip, not paying attention, and don't want any hassles.
You can actually get around to most places in Turkish cities without taking a taxi. The public transportation system in Istanbul and most other cities in Turkey is first-rate, considerably cheaper, and often faster. Take a dolmuş, the city bus, a tram, the metro, or even a ferry instead. Istanbul and other large cities have airport transfer buses which will get you from the airport into town for around 20 TL.
Take a photo of every taxi or write down it's number before you get in. Taxis have identification numbers on the license plates, on the sides, and even on the top. If you have to make a complaint or forget something, you'll be able to positively identify which taxi you were in.
Have some smaller bills and coins to pay the exact fare. If you don't, ask the driver if he can change the bill that you have before you get in.
It's best to have your hotel call a taxi for you. The more reputable hotels only do business with certain taxi stands, and the hotel clerk can also help settle any disputes you may have.
After you arrive at your destination, get yourself and your luggage out of the taxi before even starting to deal with the fare.
Fare Payment Scams
Switching the Money
This is probably the most common taxi scam. You hand the driver a 50-lira note. He switches it with a five-lira note, and then swears on his mother's grave that you gave him five lira instead of 50. What he'll switch your 50-lira note with is an older, but still in circulation, five-lira note which resembles a 50-Turkish-lira note.
Hiding the Money
You pay the driver four 20 Lira notes. He hides one and says you only gave him three.
To counter these scams, hold up the money so both you and the driver can see it. Say something like "I am giving you 50 Lira." Make him acknowledge it. Don't give him the money until he has the change in his hand and is ready to give it to you. Make the exchange of your money and his change at the same time.
"I don't Have Change."
The driver owes you five lira in change, but produces only one lira, expecting you to accept that and let him drive away with four lira extra.
If a driver tries this anywhere near a business, tell him you will wait for him to go get some change. Usually that will cause him to find more change.
Asking for More Money or a Tip
At the end of a taxi ride, having nothing else to lose, the driver may try to get even more money out of you.
It is not customary to tip a taxi driver in Turkey. It is customary to round up the fare when it's less than one lira, but that's all. The only time you might tip a taxi driver is if he helps you with heavy baggage. In fact, most taxi drivers will also round the fare down if it's within one or two lira. Refuse any requests for tips unless you want to give one.
All over the world, this is the oldest one in the book. The taxi driver will take you the long way, or in circles, to make the trip as long as possible and charge you as much as possible. Sometimes this isn't an effort to cheat you, but an effort to avoid traffic, construction, and one-way streets.
Unfortunately there isn't any way to know this in advance.
One way to avoid this scam is to know the typical fare from one place to another, so you know the approximate fare in advance. You can find links to the typical taxi fares from and to various places in Istanbul and Turkey in the External Links section below.
Fixed Rate Scams
Taxi drivers are required by law to run the meter. If the driver is offering you a fixed rate which would ordinarily be covered by the meter. He is unlikely to be offering you a deal when he could make the same or more money using the meter.
For routine trips within the city, insist that the driver run the meter, and make sure he turns it on. If he says it is broken, then he shouldn't be driving the taxi. If he finds that you aren't going to go and then says the meter is working, still don't go. He's already tried to scam you once, so he'll probably just try one of the other methods instead.
Generally, you should only take a taxi off-meter for regular routes to nearby out-of-town tourist sites. These routes will have regular prices posted on a sign at the taxi stand or in the taxi itself. In this case, a taxi can actually be a better option if you have a small group and consider the cost of a rental car, petrol, and the hassle involved otherwise. In fact, some taxi drivers will even wait for you while you explore a local sight, then bring you back to city center when you're finished.
Another time a fixed rate might benefit you is for a long trip within the city, at night when most taxi drivers are just sitting around waiting and hoping for a customer. If you already know the meter price from previous trips, you can bargain the price down for a fixed rate. If a driver refuses, walk off to find another taxi. After you take ten steps or so, he will probably change his mind and call you back, then give you a discounted fare.
Taxi Meter Scams
The Too-fast Meter
Some tourists in Istanbul have reported encountering taxis with meters which click off the fare much faster than normal. Unfortunately we haven't been able to verify if this is true or not, but here's some information on how fast the meter should run (Istanbul prices show below):
- When the taxi driver turns it on, it should flash as if it is re-setting.
- The starting, or "flat" rate will display. In Istanbul (as of this writing) that's 2.95 TL.
- Every kilometer the meter should add 1.83 TL.
- Sitting in traffic or waiting, the meter should add .30 TL per minute.
If you think the meter is running too fast, it probably is. About the only thing you can do is tell the taxi driver to let you out at the next intersection or taxi stand. Of course he will insist that it is a standard meter and that he has won awards for his honesty and religious piety, but get out anyway and get another taxi. While you're at it, get his taxi number and report him. More on that later.
The Secret Button
The taxi meter clicks off at its normal rate. But just as you are about to reach your destination, the driver reaches down and pushes a button which suddenly adds 20 TL or more to the fare.
It is perfectly acceptable to sit in the front passenger seat of a taxi in Turkey. By doing so, you can keep an eye on the driver and the meter. Check the meter every few minutes, and especially as you near your destination. It's a lot more difficult for the driver to reach over and push the button undetected if you're sitting right next to him.
Some people use their personal cars as taxis. They will offer to take you somewhere for less money than a taxi. Besides being illegal, you will have no idea who or what the driver is and where you will actually be taken. If the driver was qualified to be taxi drivers, he would be in a legal taxi.
A legal taxi is yellow, with a yellow lighted sign on top reading "taksi." Besides the registration numbers on the license plates, sides, and roof, it will also have a painted logo on the doors which identifies it with a particular taxi stand. If it doesn't have all of these characteristics, don't get in.
"I Know a Great Bar"
Don't let a taxi driver take you to any bar he recommends. Another common scam (directed at single males) is to invite you to a bar where you will be charged exorbitant amounts for drinks. You won't be allowed to leave until you pay, and you will likely be taken to a back room and threatened, or frog-marched to the nearest automatic bank machine and forced to withdraw hundreds of lira to pay the bill.
This is the same same used by Turkish men walking along the street, a scam directed normally to single male travelers.
The Luggage Grab
A man grabs your luggage at the airport and hurries off with you in chase, then puts it in to the trunk of a taxi that you didn't ask for. You go because he has your luggage. Instead of the hotel, he takes you to a bar for the experience described in the previous paragraph.
Keep a close eye on your luggage at the transportation hubs. If somebody grabs it and walks off, taxi driver or not, make lots of noise and point to the person taking your luggage. Hopefully others will intervene and get your luggage back before it's too late.