Coming out of Athens International Airport, the Dutch couple was excited about visiting the Greek islands after a couple of days in the city. Instead of walking to the metro station, they decided to splash out on a cab to their hotel in the capital. They stood patiently in line at the cabstand, waiting for their turn. “Welcome, welcome!” the taxi driver greeted them with gusto. “Oh, hello,” they replied somewhat overwhelmed by his exuberance. “Is this your first time in Greece?” the driver asked them as they set off. “Yes, it is,” they answered – completely unaware that they’d just set themselves up to be fleeced.
“The first question taxi drivers ask foreign clients is whether they’ve been to Greece before. If the answer is ‘no,’ they’re done for,” says a taxi driver with 30 years of experience in the streets of Athens, on the deceptive ways of some of his colleagues. For obvious reasons, he asked that his name not be published.
“Customers coming out of the airport see the sign informing visitors that the fixed fare to downtown Athens is 38 euros. But the driver will strike up a conversation to gain their trust and then say something like there’s traffic on the Attiki Odos highway and he’ll need to take a different route,” says the veteran. “The ‘faster’ way includes tolls, because every municipality – he will say – has its own charge, and more stuff like that.” This, says the veteran cabbie, is how so many tourists end up paying 100 euros or more for a 38-euro ride.
According to the cabbie, some of his colleagues who work the airport route don’t wait at the taxi rank but sneak their way into the arrivals hall by pretending they are picking up a specific customer. Once they’ve gotten their story past the guards, they’re free to fish around for clients.
At Piraeus Port, the fixed price to the center of Athens is 25 euros during the day. Even though there are always lots of cabs waiting around for customers, Greeks often have a difficulty finding one that’s free. The drivers naturally prefer tourists. “They may ask for as much as 80 or 100 euros,” said the experienced taxi driver.
“I advise all my customers to book a taxi in advance so that the driver is waiting for them when they arrive rather than going to the cabstand,” the owner of a travel agency who has listened to many complaints about overcharging taxi drivers, told Kathimerini. “The savvy ones will ask how much the ride will cost before entering and decide whether to get in or not depending on the answer. One couple recently walked from Piraeus port to the train station because the price they were quoted at the cabstand was simply outrageous.”
The travel agent recently got some first-hand experience. “I was at Monastiraki and went to get a taxi from the cabstand. I approached the first one in the line but the cabbies at the front stopped me and sent me to one of the taxis in the back,” she recounts. “The driver who took me said that the first ones in line are waiting for foreigners to ‘score a 70- or 100-euro fare.’ It is scandalous that such a thing is allowed to happen out in the open. The amazing thing is that not even the presence of police has results.”
Another spot where such practices have been reported is the cabstand serving the Acropolis, outside the Dionysos restaurant. “No one will take you if you’re Greek. I start speaking English whenever I’m there and need a cab, only revealing that I’m Greek later,” says the travel agent. “They could place signs with indicative prices for certain routes so that tourists have some idea of what they ought to be paying.”
Obviously only a minority of taxi drivers engage in such activities, but the impunity they enjoy casts a pall over the entire profession. “Whenever I drop off clients at the Acropolis, I warn them not to pay more than 12 euros for the return journey,” says our taxi source.
Kathimerini contacted the president of the SATA union of Athens taxi drivers, Thymios Lymberopoulos, and asked whether he’s aware of the problem. He denied that there are taxi drivers at the airport who overcharge foreign visitors, saying that they are monitored by the Traffic Police and CCTV cameras. On the matter of Monastiraki, his argument was that the drivers fleecing clients there are a gang of Albanians who have set up their own illegal cabstand, “robbing people and controlling business with their own rules.”
In a raid on cabstands at the KTEL intercity bus depot and other busy spots last week, however, police arrested 13 taxi drivers for tampering with their meters so they wouldn’t print receipts, on top of another 31 nabbed earlier this month in another sweep.