Ten Rules for Taking Taxis Around Town

1. Never go with a driver who approaches you at an airport. Leave the building and head for the rank. As they are everywhere else in the world, airport taxis are the most likely to cause trouble, but drivers who approach you are usually hei che—illegal and meterless "black cabs."

2. Cabs waiting for business outside major tourist sights, especially those with drivers who call out to foreigners, should generally be avoided, as should cabs whose drivers ask you where you want to go even before you get in. Always flag down a passing cab, and 9 times in 10 the precautions listed here will be unnecessary.

3. If you're staying in an upmarket hotel, do not go with taxis called by the doorman or waiting in line outside. Even at some famous hotels, drivers pay kickbacks to the doormen to allow them to join the line on the forecourt. Some cabs are merely waiting because many guests, Chinese and foreign alike, will be out-of-town people who can be easily misled. Instead, just walk out of the hotel and flag down a passing cab for yourself. Take the hotel's business card to show to a taxi driver when you want to get back.

4. Better hotels give you a piece of paper with the taxi registration number on it as you board or alight, so that you can complain if something goes wrong. Often you won't know if it has, of course, and there's no guarantee that anything will happen if you complain to the hotel.

5. Look to see if the supervision card, usually with a photo of the driver and a telephone number, is prominently displayed. If it isn't, you may have problems. Choose another cab.

6. Can you clearly see the meter? If it's recessed behind the gear stick, partly hidden by the artfully folded face cloth on top, choose another cab.

7. Always make sure you see the meter reset. If you didn't actually see the flag pushed down, which shouldn't happen until you actually move off, then you may end up paying for the time the cab was in the rank.

8. If you are by yourself, sit in the front seat. Have a map with you and look as if you know where you are going (even if you don't).

9. Rates per kilometer are usually clearly posted on the side of the cab. They vary widely from place to place, as well as by vehicle type. Flagfall, not usually more than ¥10 ($1.25), includes a few kilometers; then the standard kilometer rate begins. But in most towns, after a few more kilometers, the rate jumps by 50% if the driver has pushed a button on the front of the meter. This is for one-way trips out of town, and the button usually should not be pushed, but it always is. As a result, it's rarely worthwhile to have a cab wait for you and take you back.

10. Pay what's on the meter, and don't tip—the driver will insist on giving change. Always ask for a receipt. Should you leave something in a cab, there's a remarkably high success rate at getting even valuable items back if the number on the receipt is called, and the details on it provided.

and flag down a taxi (not those waiting outside), and you can achieve the same thing by taxi for around ¥300 ($37). Branches of CITS and other travel agencies will also be happy to arrange cars for you, but at a hugely marked-up price.

Despite the language barrier, bargaining with taxi drivers is more straightforward than you might expect. In most areas there are far more taxis than there is business, and half-day and day-long hires are very welcome. To take Beijing as an example, about 67,500 taxis are cruising around empty for much of the time, the drivers typically taking in around ¥300 ($37) for a 12-hour day (the drivers of cheaper taxis earn more, not less); most are glad to have a change and a day's guaranteed employment. Start flagging down cabs the day before you want to travel, and negotiate an all-in price, using characters

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