Uber or the Belgrade taxi jungle?

Uber is well integrated into Croatia’s tourism infrastructure, and as a regular user, one forgets the joys of dealing with taxi drivers where no Uber is to be found. A visit to Belgrade on February 22, 2018, was a reminder of how taxi life in Croatia once was pre-Uber. 

I blame Uber.

Since Uber came into my life about 18 months ago, taxi travel has never been the same in Croatia. Rather than stressing about the price of a Zagreb taxi and how much I am going to get ripped off, here was an efficient system, where the price was fixed before you got into the car, it was paid automatically by your credit card, you could see the arrival time to the nearest minute, have information on exactly where you were on the route. And you if you didn’t want to interact with the driver at all, there was no need to even open your mouth.

It was all a big difference to the battlefield mentality of entering a Croatian taxi, where meters were arbitrary (I have still yet to see one on Hvar), official receipts rare and pricing often plucked out of the air. 

I use Uber a lot and I probably interact with their drivers more than I have ever done with taxi drivers in the past, for I see Uber drivers and their stories and experiences as an interesting snapshot of the Croatia today. Some bitch, some cannot sing Uber’s praises highly enough. What is certain is that Uber has created more new jobs, both part and full-time, than any other company in Croatia since it launched a couple of years ago. Pensioners who cannot make ends meet in The Beautiful Croatia, entrepreneurs who divide their Uber time between Dubrovnik in the tourist season and Zagreb in the winter, people who have been looking for a job elsewhere and like the idea of being able to manage their own hours. While Uber is far from perfect and has many critics, life as a consumer is considerably better for users in Croatia, and the unreported effects Uber rides are delivering to families in Croatia where other jobs are scarce are, I suspect, becoming increasingly significant. 

And as for the international tourists coming to a new country for the first time, knowing that Uber is there removes that welcome rip-off threat that is always possible with taxis in a foreign city, whatever the city. 

Not having taken a taxi for 18 months, and comfortable talking to Uber drivers, I was a little off my guard looking for a taxi in Belgrade last week, where TCN spent a very productive couple of days at the Belgrade Tourism Fair, the largest in the region. 

It was a fun first evening, catching up with a friend and business contact, who is now operating in Montenegro. After a few beers, we decided to head for home, he to the Radisson Blu, I to stay with friends about 5km from the centre. My friends told me that I should pay no more than 1000 dinar (about 9 euro) for the ride. As it happened, we would be driving right past the Radisson, and so we decided to share a taxi. 

There was what looked like a taxi stand in the centre of town, with a couple of waiting taxis. My Radisson friend got into the front and started chatting to our driver, while I commented on occasion – the chat was all in Croatian/Serbian. It turned out that our driver had some land to sell in Montenegro, and he managed to show us both the land and his daughter in a boat near the land from pictures on his phone as we drove. It was a very jovial chat.

We said goodbye to my friend and continued on our way, the pleasant conversation turning to Croatia. I cannot remember such a pleasant chat with a taxi driver in a while, and as we approached my final destination, I was in good humour – an excellent day and evening, and now a couple of drinks with friends and then bed. For some obscure reason he did not quite explain, my driver did not take me to the exact address, but somewhere 200m past it. No problem, it was only a short walk.

Suddenly a taxi meter appeared.

“That will be 4,930 dinar.” Or 41 euro!

Not comprehending the number initially, I handed over 500, congratulating myself internally that I had managed to get home for less than the 1000 guide price. 

“No, Four Thousand, Nine Hundred and Thirty.”

And so the fun began. 

In my favour was the fact that I spoke the language and had fifteen years’ experience of dealing with this bullsh*t. Very much against me in my bargaining position was the fact my suitcase was in the boot of the car. 

We went through his tried and tested reasons for the price – he had to drive halfway across the city to take my friend to the Radisson (an argument refuted by my GPS on my phone), 1000 dinar (9 euro) would not even cover the cost of the gas for the 5km he drove, and so on, and so on. 

His price came down to 3,000, and finally we settled on 2,000 and I retrieved my suitcase, which is when I took the opportunity to take a photo so I could follow up with the taxi company the next morning, an action which was not best received. As this is a family portal, I will spare you the chat on that one.

There was one final rip-off trick to combat. I handed over the crisp 2,000 note I had recently exchanged. He turned to go, then turned back, thrusting a crumpled note in my direction.

“You only gave me 200. It was 2,000.”

I looked and smiled and suggested he disappear. He did.

How much did you pay for the taxi, was the third question I was asked over the first welcome beer.

“Oh, I had quite an experience. 1,300”, I lied – I didn’t want to come across as a total idiot. But I had quite a time. Can you tell from the lead photo above which company he was from as I would like to complain in the morning. 

Ah, you took one of the wild taxis, ufff!

Wild taxis?

Yes, in Belgrade there are registered, legal taxis, which are reliable and affordable, and then you have some stands where cars look like taxis, but they aren’t registered, and locals avoid them at all costs. They are easy to spot. Simply check the licence plate, and if it is a legal and registered taxi (see photo above), the licence plate will end in TX. If it doesn’t, then the taxi is not a legally registered one, no matter how much it appears that way. 

Or so the locals told me. 

Not that I would want to give the impression that you will be ripped off in an official Belgrade taxi. Far from it. I took the very same route the following day, waving to the Radisson as I went. Price 700 dinar (6 euro). Official Belgrade taxis – in my very limited experience (4 rides) are very much ok.

I had one meeting in the centre of Zagreb before my bus home. I wanted to make sure I got to the bus station on time, so ordered my Uber. He was there in 2 minutes, and this time I did not really want to chat. A few minutes later, and 14 kuna poorer, I was at the bus station, with plenty of time for a celebratory beer that I had not been ripped off before heading home. 

Uber is many things to many people, but for me at the moment, it is most certainly an added comfort when travelling in this beautiful country, and a brand that tourists associate with and feel comfortable with. I hope to see them soon in Belgrade.  

By Paul Bradbury

(Total Croatia News, 25.02.2018)

https://www.total-croatia-news.com/travel/26178-i-blame-uber-avoiding-the-rip-off-wild-taxis-of-belgrade

 

This post is also available in: Italiano

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