Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Taxi Story

Since the Jewish Week still hasn't fixed their website, and some readers are traveling to Israel and have requested my taxi article, I'm posting most of the text here. (I'm leaving off the first few paragraphs -- the "lede" -- since they don't contain practical info, and the JW edited it -- which was fine, by the way -- part of the job and they did it well, so I don't mind.)

I want to thank the Jewish Week for hiring me to write this story. They've been a client of mine for a long time, and they are really terrific to work for: the editors are reasonable, when they change my stories they don't muck anything up, and, though they don't pay a fortune, they do pay promptly.

Anyhow, here it is, the main body of "Cab Fair?":

The first step to avoid being ripped-off is to know your rights as a passenger. According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, drivers are required by law to turn on the meter – which starts at 9.50 NIS and increases at increments of .30 NIS – for all intra-city rides. For rides between cities, the passenger may choose between the meter or a flat fee as indicated on the driver’s “mechiron,” a standardized price list.

There are indeed extra charges sometimes. Prices rise by 25 percent between 9 pm and 5:30 am. Telephoning for door-to-door service (as opposed to hailing a cab) incurs a fee of 3.60 NIS. The presence of a third passenger over the age of 5 costs 3.3 NIS; a suitcase is 3 NIS. Travel on Highway 6, a toll road, involves an extra charge of 11 NIS, and having the driver wait for you at any point costs 60 NIS per hour.

In reality, many drivers will attempt to establish a flat fee rather than use the meter even for intra-city rides, a practice generally accepted in Israeli culture, and often advantageous to the passenger if traffic is heavy. In both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the fare from the Central Bus Station to any other point in the city is normally, at most, 45-50 NIS. A driver asking for 80 NIS is certainly trying to cheat you, but paying 30 NIS for a ride of a few miles during rush hour is a good deal.

However, since tourists are often unfamiliar with what constitutes a reasonable fare from point A to point B, drivers themselves advised that visitors insist that drivers follow the law. Any higher cost incurred because of traffic, they said, more than pays for the peace of mind which comes from knowing one is not being cheated.

“Always, always take the meter,” said Asher, a driver for Kartel Taxi in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Aviv. “If the driver refuses to cooperate with you, take their registration number and details and report them to the Ministry. They can be fined thousands of shekels.” Ayal Ben Ovadia, manager of the Bar-Ilan cab company in Jerusalem, added that one should never ride with a driver who claims the meter is broken. “Get out of the car, take down the details, and report him,” Ovadia said.

Playing hardball was overwhelmingly the first advice from new immigrants, who often confront the challenges of being unfamiliar with Israeli culture and having an American accent.

“If they ever really try to rip me off, I just wait for another taxi or call for one,” said Carrie Lee Teicher, a Barnard graduate who is now a student at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. “At any hour of the day in Tel Aviv a taxi is no more than a 5 minute wait or a 3 minute walk away.” Vicki Peskin, a law student, tells drivers “no way, I’m not paying that. Don’t think just because I’m American you can rip me off.”

Another immigrant, who wished to be unnamed for privacy, suggested that tourists always carry a pen and a little notebook, and start writing down medallion numbers if a driver refuses to use the meter. “When he says ‘what are you doing,’ you say ‘I’m going to report you to the Taxi regulators.’ That should get him to turn the meter on.”

Problems can be avoided by using a driver who is recommended by friends. “Find a driver you trust and stick with him,” Cohen said. It is possible to arrange for a driver to take you around wherever you wish for the entire day, for a price you agree upon privately.

If you hail or call for a cab, the driver might attempt to pick up other passengers along the way; this is a common practice in Israel, but if you insist on remaining alone in the taxi the driver must abide by your request. Additionally, by law drivers may not smoke while passengers are in the taxi, and they are required to turn the radio on or off at your request.

Have a complaint about a driver? Send the cab’s medallion number or the number appearing on the side of the car; the driver’s name or his description; the date, time, and location of the event; names of witnesses; and the printed receipt to the Office of the Public Complaints Commissioner at whichever of the following offices is closest to the event’s location:

Tel Aviv and Central Region: P.O. Box 57659, Tel Aviv, 61574. Telephone: (03) 565-1799

Jerusalem and Southern Region: Clal Building, 97 Jaffa Street, Jerusalem 94342 Telephone: (02) 622-8550

Haifa and the Northern Region: 121 Jaffa Street, Haifa, 35252 Telephone: (04) 853-6711.

Also, here is a sidebar I wrote to go with the story. I have absolutely no idea whether it was printed in the Jewish Week or not. Even if they had space for it and decided to run it, the sidebars often don't show up online. :-( But here it is for your convenience:


By train: Over 60 trains operate on the line from Be’er Sheva in the south, through Ben Gurion Airport, and on to points north: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, and Nahariya. Though not recommended for travel between the airport and Jerusalem, the train is a comfortable and inexpensive alternative to buses or taxis. The trip to Tel Aviv costs 12 NIS and takes about 10 minutes; the trip all the way up the coast to Nahariya is 46.5 NIS and takes 2 hours.

By bus: Egged Bus Line offers service between major urban centers and Airport City. Bus #5 operates between Airport City and the terminals. Egged Customer Service: (03) 694-8888 or

By cab: The taxi stand outside the airport terminals is usually busy and moves quickly. The standard price between the airport and Jerusalem is 190 NIS during the day. One can get to Tel Aviv for 120 NIS, or to Haifa for 450 NIS, with Hadar Lod (03) 971-1103. For points further north, call Amal Taxi at (04) 866-2324.

By van service to/from Jerusalem: For 45 NIS, one can arrange for a door-to-door van service, shared with other passengers, by calling Nesher at (02) 625-7227. Nesher also operates a stand immediately outside the airport’s arrivals terminal. The van provides a better time-cost value than a private taxi or the bus, but beware: The wait for a van at the terminal may be up to 20 minutes, while the drivers argue. The drivers are also known to yell at passengers. In a written response to criticisms against them, Nesher told the Jewish Week that such events are the exception rather than the rule, and asked that any passenger with a complaint call them so that they can investigate the matter and deal with the driver appropriately.

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