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CRUISING FOR CROWNS

'96 Taxi Survey

Ever taken a Bratislava taxi somewhere only to watch the price on the meter climb faster than America's national debt? Most residents here, especially foreigners, may be nodding their heads. The Slovak Spectator recently tested six major taxi companies in Bratislava to see how they fared in cost, service and honesty. We ordered taxis by phone from six different companies between the hours of 9:00 and 15:00 to make the same journey of approximately 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles), starting across from the Figaro building on Račianská cesta and ending at K-Mart in the city center. We observed whether or not the cabbies used their advertised rate. For each trip the passenger spoke English.

Ever taken a Bratislava taxi somewhere only to watch the price on the meter climb faster than America's national debt? Most residents here, especially foreigners, may be nodding their heads. The Slovak Spectator recently tested six major taxi companies in Bratislava to see how they fared in cost, service and honesty. We ordered taxis by phone from six different companies between the hours of 9:00 and 15:00 to make the same journey of approximately 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles), starting across from the Figaro building on Račianská cesta and ending at K-Mart in the city center. We observed whether or not the cabbies used their advertised rate. For each trip the passenger spoke English.

While our survey does not give sure-fire solutions for finding an honest driver or the cheapest fare, it does suggest that taxis ordered by phone generally inflate their rates only slightly, if at all. However, it pays to inquire about prices from the dispatcher when you call or make note of the price list posted in the taxi to find out which rate is appropriate for your trip. After all, information is power.

The survey

Five different routes were taken by cabs from six different companies. The distances varied from 3.2 km to 3.6 km. At most, the extra 0.4 km added 6 Sk to the final bill. However, because customers are also charged for time that a taxi sits at a traffic light, the shortest route is not necessarily cheapest. According to our test, it is difficult to say that the cabbies were padding the bill by taking a longer route. For example, Fun Taxi took one of the longest routes, but could justify it because the route avoided a busy intersection, thus saving time.

All the taxis we used had a price list either on the outside of the door or on the dashboard, and most of them even explained what the different rates meant. In general, though, the meter should be set on 1 for a ride in the city in a taxi found on the street. For a telephone order, per kilometer rates are generally cheaper, though the starting fee can be more expensive. Also, the number on the meter varies depending on the company and sometimes even within the company, adding to customers' confusion. Most cabs charge more for trips outside Bratislava and an even more expensive rate for trips outside the country.

So did the cabbies follow their price lists? Here the results are mixed. Yellow Express, Hapl Taxi, and Bratislavská Prvá Taxislužba all followed their price lists. In fact, Yellow Express has a flat rate regardless of the type of trip, so you are guaranteed to get their best rate, though it is the most expensive for telephone orders.

The others were not quite so honest. Vojtech Milan, the driver for Taxi BP Servis, started the trip using the proper rate but changed the meter to a higher rate while we were not looking, adding an extra 2 Sk/km to the bill. Ironically, it was the second cheapest trip in our survey. Erik Jankovič from Fun Taxi used a more expensive rate for the entire journey, which added an extra 3 Sk/km. However, the bill for Fun Taxi was still below average.

The worst offender was Taxi PSK. Their driver took the longest route through the busiest intersections and charged a rate higher than the published price list. The bill came to 120 Sk, well above their published rates of the trip costing between 95 Sk and 100 Sk. In addition, the meter was mounted in such a way that it was impossible for the passenger in the back seat to see it.

Beware the train station taxis

We also tried taking a taxi to the Hotel Forum from the train station, a place notorious for its expensive cabs. Ján Čukaš of Hapl Taxi wanted a flat 100 Sk for the 1.2 kilometer trip. When we suggested that he use the meter, he said, "100 crowns. If you want to pay it, we can go. If not, get out of the cab." When we pointed out the price list on his door, Čukaš and his colleagues let out a stream of curses in Slovak and English. We then walked 50 meters down the road and found a Yellow Express taxi that took us to the Forum for only 45 Sk.

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