San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Don’t Let Your Taxista Take You For a Ride

Diane Holman and a friend caught a cab in San José, hoping for a stress-free way across town.

Instead they were taken for a different kind of ride.

It began after they parked their car off Paseo Colón, a main artery leading into downtown from the west, and hailed a taxi to a restaurant near Calle 11 and Avenida 6 – a trip that should have cost less than $4.

When the taxi driver arrived at the destination, he demanded ¢12,000 (about


Holman, who has lived in Costa Rica for more than four years, didn’t notice a meter, just that the man was intimidating. When she questioned him, he emphatically repeated the outrageously high fare.

“I asked why it was so high, and he nearly snarled his one-word answer: Tráfico,” Holman said.

They wondered if he would let them out of the car if they didn’t pay up, so Holman and her friend forked over the money.

“I guess he thought we were plain old tourists,” she said.

Taxis are prevalent in the Central Valley and both tourists and residents rely on them regularly. Though many taxistas, or taxi drivers, are honest, stories of scams and ripoffs are common.

So how can you avoid being scammed? First, learn to recognize official taxis.

These are red with yellow triangles on the doors whose number matches the license plate and a sign on the roof of the vehicle.

According to Carolina Mora, spokeswoman for the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP), drivers also are supposed to dress in a uniform of blue or black pants and a white shirt. Inside the taxi, the driver’s identification should be displayed and the vehicle must have a working meter, known in Spanish as la maría.

Despite the existence of these regulations, they are not always adhered to, Mora acknowledges. “It’s a problem. The law demands this, but (taxi drivers) do not comply with all of the requirements.”

Though rural taxis and taxis in beach towns do not always have meters, in the Central Valley they should. If the driver does not start it, insist that he use the meter and verify that it starts at ¢405. Otherwise, demand to get out and find another taxi.

In beach towns, ask area residents or hotel staff what the usual fare is or the distance to your destination to get an idea what the fare should be.

Official taxi fares are likely to increase by about 8% in the coming months once a new tariff proposal is approved, but current rates for city taxis are fixed at ¢405 for the first kilometer and ¢380 for each additional kilometer. A higher “delay fare” is calculated when a taxi is forced to travel slower than 10 kilometers per hour as a result of heavy traffic.

Taxis outside of hotels may try to charge fixed minimum rates, but this is illegal for licensed red taxis. It is also possible to take illegal taxis, or piratas, though these do not use meters and fares should be negotiated in advance. Pirate taxis can be cheaper, but only companies that are recommended by residents should be used.

At the JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport outside of San José, a specific taxi company, Taxis Unidos Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría, has the concession to operate the official airport taxis.

These are orange and do not use meters; rather, a fare is paid in advance at the window inside the airport. Rates for these taxis have recently been increased and the new fees went into effect on Thursday. The fixed rate from the airport to downtown San José is ¢10,100 (about $20), up from ¢9,000. The rate for a minibus is now ¢12,150 ($24).

It is possible to bypass the orange taxis by walking out to the road in front of the airport and hailing a red cab, which should be cheaper, but, again, be sure the driver uses the maría.

Seeking Justice

If you’ve followed all of these suggestions, but the taxi fare still seems too high and the driver won’t budge, call ARESEP at 220-0102 or the Ministry of Public Works and Transport complaint line, 800-TRANSITO, or fill out a form online at www.mopt. You can also complain about dangerous driving or behavior.

Make sure to note the place, day and time of the incident as well as the license plate number of the taxi.



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