Ah, the humble taxi. King of the road; saviour of heeled-feet and eternal cause of digress and unease…

Nothing grinds my gears more than taxis. They are by far the worst form of transport and often an ongoing source of distress when visiting foreign lands. And the worst of them – airport taxis!

No doubt on many an early morning you have stepped sheepishly through the ominous “beep-bop” of an automated airport door to be met by a powerful blast of tropical air, and a sudden surge of drivers intent on getting you in their particular car.

“Taxi, miss. Taxi, miss” – “WHERE YOU GO?”

It’s a situation we are all too familiar with. And as you stand there groggy from the 13 hours you just spent in the back of a Boeing, you are at their mercy. And nothing ruins a trip more than having a stressful arrival.

I thought this to myself recently as I wept silently on a curb in Cancun airport. The airport had no money in any of the cashpoints, and they wouldn’t allow me back into the baggage claim area, so I had taken refuge on the pavement, tired and alone and unsure as to how I was expected to get out of that situation. I couldn’t take a bus, I couldn’t take a taxi. It’s moments like this when I think I might be “done” with travel. I want to say I was one of those people who take issues in their stride, but I’m not. I’m the girl who commits emotional fraud by staring woefully with puppy eyes until some unfortunate member of staff comes to my aid. Thankfully, on this occasion, a man eventually appeared with a card reader and just 3 short hours later than planned, I was tucked up in only slightly stained hostel sheets.

Taxis must be the worst value form of transportation too. Nothing says “there is truly no value in this” than paying more for the taxi from the airport than the aeroplane ticket in the first place. In my ten years of travel, I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced taxi scams from all around the world. India still being top for rides take vs scams pulled. And also a driver who kept touching my hair?

Then there was the “karaoke taxi” in Bangkok. I had hailed a cab, and as I got into the back, the driver turned around and handed me a microphone with a warm, smile and gestured to the screen on the back of the seat. Feeling as though it would be rude to say no, I begrudgingly hummed along to some kind of K-pop en route to my destination. And, to this day I have never seen another one. But according to the internet, it’s a thing. I was consuming a lot of Thai whisky back then, so you never know.

Oh, and that time my Malaysian taxi driver screamed at me in the street, and people thought I was some kind of domestic abuse victim. I was consoled by a lady selling trinkets who allowed me to sit down and asked why my husband was angry with me.

Then there’s the time we drove a rickshaw down the street in Kochi because the driver thought it would be funny – which, naturally it was. Or the time we fit 3 girls plus driver on a motorbike taxi in Nha Trang. Or when I ordered an Uber in Hanoi, only to be greeted by a man on a moped sporting a little helmet that simply read “Uber”.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BSd8ccQBZZi/

So my experience in hating taxis has a long and colourful past, as you can see. And yet somehow the taxi economy is wondering why app-based private cars became a thing? You would have thought it might have kicked some taxi drivers everywhere into gear, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case: the private taxi remains one of poorest value ways to travel.

And so what’s the answer? We primarily need something between a private taxi and a bus – one that takes you relatively where you’re going but is shared to reduce the cost significantly and make it plausible for all parties involved. And it’s no secret – many countries already have these – shared taxis – and have for years. Or “collectivos”, “songthaews”, curious old school buses that race down Guatemalan highways and often pile hitchhikers into the stairwells and then there’s loud, whistling minibuses of Cape Town.

Depending on exactly where it is the service level can differ but generally speaking in most shared taxis drive a relatively set route – much like a typical bus. But – and this is what’s important – a lot of the time you can pay extra to have the driver make a detour specifically for you which is insanely convenient as this has to be the main grievance between getting a bus and a taxi – that the bus will drop you off somewhere and you’ll be back to wandering the streets. Additionally, some share taxis will let you buy more than one seat to make it extra comfortable. This is super popular in Morocco where regular taxis can only operate inside their city limits, and buses run set routes between major towns. And so what’s the answer – the grand taxi – usually a beige Sedan that can take 6 passengers and runs between places without a bus service. They can also be privately hired for a bartered price – and in some rural areas are pretty much the only sure-fire way of accessing smaller towns.

So, maybe you’re thinking – well, we kind of have something like that – Uber Pool. And while I have been in love with Uber Pool in many cities, sadly it’s not a global thing and outside of North America seems to be almost as expensive as just taking your own ride. I utilised Uber Pool consistently when I spent two summers in Toronto. If you’ve ever been to this compact but charming city, you’ll know the public transport leaves a little to be desired. Street Cars (basically trams) though super retro and cool, they take an age as they get trapped in traffic and stop every 10 metres! The city’s underground train system also is pretty lacking as its just two lines that intersect. The absolute best mode of transport in this pancake of a city is by bike! With loads of bike paths, very minimal incline, and drivers that are used to cyclists, Toronto in the summertime makes for some great rides. But failing that – or at any other time of the year – Uber Pool is king. For a minimum fare of around $6 – and considering Toronto is pretty compact – taking the streetcar for $3 when you could be in a nice Uber Pool.

However, there is, of course, a downside. The things that got me most in Toronto was that Uber Pool is very popular so you’d almost always have at least 2 of the other seats filled, sometimes all! So diversions, extra time and potentially crushed hip bones are all on the menu. What also used to get me is that because of this getting into an Uber Pool kind of feels like the equivalent of getting into a half-filled lift. Do you say hi? Do you give a firm nod? Do you wind up deep in conversation with the other drunk people who are now immediately your friends forever – but you will never see again. No one knows which way the dice will roll – and that’s part of the fun.

But Alas back in my hometown of London Uber Pool isn’t great. For starters, it’s expensive – like maybe 2/3 of the regular price. Also, if you live in zone 3 or further (like me) then you can only really call and Uber Pool to take you further into central – so no cheap fares for outer areas. What is excellent about Uber Pool and the ridiculous pricing structure is that I have legit never had any other customers in it with me! So essentially you just get a direct car for slightly less. Recently we have a newer service called ViaVan which also offers shared rides, supposedly from £5.00 and up – but every time I have tried to call them they have a long waiting time of like 15 mins and, quite frankly, ain’t nobody got time for dat!

On the positive, it seems with these newer ideas for shared transport, it’s only a matter of time until we see more functional forms of shared taxis all over the world. And I’m sure I don’t even have to tell you – it’s much better for the environment to carpool! So you can feel positive in your life decisions as your jostle into a sweaty old minibus to get tf home.