Czech journalist threatened for lifting lid on Prague taxis ‘ripping off’ tourists
Unscrupulous Prague taxi drivers use a number of tricks to overcharge foreign tourists, a Czech journalist’s investigation has found.
With its architectural glory and miles of narrow cobbled streets, Prague has become one of Europe’s premier tourist destinations.
But one of the city’s residents has lifted the lid on part of the Czech capital’s underworld that cheats foreign tourists out of thousands of pounds each year.
Using a video camera to document his efforts, Czech journalist Janek Rubes for stream.cz has gone after unscrupulous taxi drivers who charge tourists extortionate fares.
For his efforts, he claims to have been assaulted and warned that one of his videos would be his “last”.
“I hate it when tourists are robbed,” Mr Rubes told The Telegraph as to why he is prepared to run the risks. “I have friends and family who travel a lot to Prague and they always get scammed by taxies. And this has been going on for 25 year and nobody has stopped it.
“The mayor? The police? They haven’t stopped it and it’s always the same guys.”
Prague has a set rate for taxis of 28 Czech crowns per kilometre. But by using a number of tricks the unscrupulous drivers are able to charge as much as £5 per kilometre.
Methods include agreeing a higher set price in advance, installing a hidden “turbo” button that makes the taxi meter accelerate, and obscuring the meter’s decimal point to trick customers into paying 10 times the correct fee, said Mr Rubes.
“When it’s time to pay, the driver is very careful, doesn’t say anything, just points at the meter and the customer pays 10 times the correct fee. If the drivers get questioned by the police they just say they thought it was a tip.”
Mr Rubes said that his research into the underworld of criminal taxi drivers has attracted unwelcome attention, and that he has already had a number of threats against him.
“All their activity adds up to hundreds of millions of Czech crowns each year, and when someone likes me tries to stop the flow of money they get really angry.”
(Source: The Telegraph, 2015)
Prague’s Mayor has had the Chance to See for Himself whether the Many Accounts of City Taxi Drivers Ripping off Unsuspecting Tourists are True
Posing as an Italian visitor, in a fake moustache and sunglasses, Pavel Bem hailed a taxi for a short ride – and was promptly overcharged by some 500%. Mr Bem said he was shocked by the extent of the problem and has vowed to step up controls on taxi drivers. The undercover operation in the Czech capital was thought up by a newspaper. The daily paper, Dnes – which has been campaigning against overcharging – persuaded Mr Bem to dye his hair black, slick it back and put on a moustache, goatee beard and pair of expensive shades for his disguise.
Once dressed as an “Italian”, the mayor caught a cab for the 3km (1.8 mile) journey to Prague Castle. He found himself in a taxi with a rigged meter and was charged the equivalent of 26 euros (£18; $34) for a trip which should normally have cost 4.3 euros. “Disguised the way I was, I was certainly expecting to be charged a higher price, but not to such an outrageous extent,” Mr Bem said. Drivers caught overcharging face a fine or could lose their licence “The driver deserves to be severely punished – I am putting the matter into the hands of officials at city hall.” The cabbie could face a fine of up to 33,000 euros ($43,000), he added, and is in danger of losing his permit if caught re-offending. In another taxi, Mr Bem saw his fare shoot up by 200% when he asked if he could pay in euros, rather than koruna. He said more town hall staff would be tasked with going undercover to find cab drivers who were flouting the rules. Prague taxis have regulated meters but some drivers are said to have installed devices which speed the meters up to increase the fare. A German parliamentarian complained last year she had been overcharged during a visit, while most locals use only reputable minicab operators booked over the phone. Officials fear the city’s notorious cabbies could put off some of the millions of tourists who flock to Prague each year, bringing valuable income. In the meantime, Mr Bem’s advice for visitors is to agree a fare before getting in the taxi.
A BBC correspondent in Prague says stories about dishonest taxi drivers have become part of local folklore, with stories of drivers wiring up passenger seats to give customers an electric shock if they object to the price. (source BBC)
Read more about sad taxi stories here.