By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Just yesterday, I got back from a week long stay in Lisbon, my first trip back in many years. I had heard the buzz about Lisbon new emergence as a fun capital. The good news is that I found the people there generally just as easy going as I remembered. And I love the food. But the taxis are another story.
I stayed at a hotel outside the city center so I had a choice of taking the metro or a taxi every day. I ended up taking taxis. The cost from my hotel to the center of town --by that I mean the main tourist areas of Praca Commercio or the main shopping drags --- was between 7 and 8 euros. Compared to Paris, London or other major capitals, the taxis in Portugal are inexpensive. A ride over a comparable distance in Paris would have cost about 18 euros.
The Aqua and Black Taxis Are Everywhere
Lisbon taxis have an blue-ish green top and a black body. They are easy to hail in the main areas and around the hotels. Just stick your arm out.
Most of the drivers speak Spanish as well as their native Portuguese and some understand a little English. But don't count on it. Always carry the address of your hotel on a card from the hotel and show it to the driver.
The rides start out with the meter showing 2. 90 or 3.25. I'm not sure why there was a difference.
But the uptick from there is slow. You know that sick feeling you get when you're waiting in traffic and the cab meter keeps ticking up fast? You won't feel that in Lisbon.
You Do Not Have to Tip Cabbies in Lisbon
By local custom, you do not have to tip taxi drivers in Lisbon. But some cabbies try to take advantage of tourists. Here is what I encountered several times. The driver takes you to your hotel. The fare is 7.25 euros. You hand him a 10 euro note. He says, loudly, "obrigado", meaning "thank you", as though you mean for him to keep the change.
I then had to say, no, my change please and hold out my hand. One driver doled out the remaining 2.85 in stages, 50 centimes at a time, each time pausing to see if I would lose my nerve and just say, "keep the rest". I held firm and kept my hand out until he had given all my change back. When I counted later, I discovered that he had shorted me 5 centimes. Oh well...
Then There Was the Time the Cabbie Insulted Us
This deliberate taking of the the leftover change was fairly consistent, and all but one case ended with me waiting politely and eventuallu, with patience, receiving my change.
Then there was the time I took a cab from the cab line in Praca Commercio. That cab line had always looked a little suspect. The drivers hung around and give off an air of a gang. But we were tired so, against our better instincts, we decided to give them a try. That was a mistake.
The driver started off normally. He took us down Avenida de Libertade, which gave me a chance to see Lisbon's version of the Champs d'Elysee again. Of course, nothing in the world really compares with Paris' famous, iconic Champs d'Elysee but Libertad has beautiful buildings lining both sides of the boulevard, and plenty of high end stores such as Dior and Bulgari. So far, so good.
Pulling up to the entrance to our hotel, the driver pointed atthe meter, which said 8.75 euros, higher than most of the rides but I figured worth it, since I had seen Libertade. I handed over a 10 euro note. He said something along the lines of "it's 10 at the hotel". I then explained that "no" there is no rounding up because the destination is a hotel.
Suddenly, the driver exploded, hurling a string of profanities. I understood something that sounded like a female name for a dog, then he made animal sounds, suggesting we were cows.
One of the doormen at the hotel ran out to rescue us from the scene. He later explained that the cabs are controlled by a "mafia".
This was the same thing I heard from several other locals in town.
Some of the better hotels actually recommend that guests use Uber or Cabify. Apparently, the problem with the blue and aqua taxis is widespread and well known among the locals.
I used a car service which is connected through Uber to get to the airport. Smooth, uncomplicated, no drama, no tip expected, none given.
The Downside is th Informal Cab Organization that Locals Call the "Mafia"
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