Getting a taxi or rickshaw in Delhi can be as much a test of your knowledge of the city as it is your willingness to take a chance the honesty of your driver. I should begin by explaining that there are two ways to get a price on your taxi ride here: you can go by the meter or you can negotiate the price in advance. No matter which method you choose to follow you have about a 50/50 chance of having overpaid for your journey.
To demonstrate the mark of a local, I will begin by telling you of when I knew I was officially back in Delhi. During my first week here, I asked a taxi driver to take me to Shanti Niketan where I would be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with friends. Having been to the neighborhood dozens upon dozens of times in the last dozen or so months I could well have driven there myself from the hotel - blindfolded.
When my driver pronounced that the trip would cost 200 rupees I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. I gently explained that I was not a stupid white tourist and I knew exactly where I was going: the payment would be 100. “Ahh but madam this is much too less!” No, I explained to him, it wasn’t as the fare would less than even my 100 rupees on his meter when the trip was done. He bowed his head in defeat and drove off – the long scenic way naturally.
Upon our arrival in front of Lady Bird’s house, the driver sheepishly flipped over the cloth the he (and all the taxi drivers in Delhi) kept over the meter. I read it and grinned at him. “Two hundred rupees, huh?” I laughed. Based on the slightly higher than negotiated meter price, I handed him Rps 110 (which also included a tip for his circuitous route) and he returned my friendly laugh. “I’m sorry that I was not the tourist you were looking for. Have a good evening.” With that, he shook his head at the crazy white lady and sped off in search of his next fare.
In contrast, when Boss Man B, Hubby and I went to the Oberoi on Saturday night, my fatigue at constantly negotiating fares and the driver’s round about directions *cost* us an extra 50 rupees. I naively agreed to go by the meter and failed to pay attention to where we were going when I suddenly noticed that we had driven for about 4 minutes into a dead end would have to double back past the Taj Hotel. Then, rather than taking the route I would have chosen past our old apartment and the golf club; the taxi driver went the back way to the hotel thus ringing up a higher price.
But even a combination of good negotiating and knowing the city doesn’t always pay off as I discovered on my way to visit Kiwi and her baby Prince in GK2. Having never taken a taxi to that area I foolishly negotiated and agreed to *double* what I ended up paying on the meter to return to the hotel. Even if you know the rules, I learned, you can’t always win at this game.
(An aside here, if you will allow me Dearest Reader, as I note that Prince Kiwi is adorable. He was so sweet and cute and well behaved I *almost*, but not quite, wanted one of my own. I will have to visit them both again soon before I depart and he forgets how to correctly pronounce zebra.)
A rare instance of beating the system occurred on Sunday during a ride that Hubby and I took to the Metropolitan Niko. (Please! You knew we were going to end up at the sushi and sparkling wine brunch at some point!) Based on what we had paid to get to the hotel from Golflinks, we (I) told the driver we would pay 100 rupees to his offer of 150 rupees.
What neither the driver nor we had realized, was that it was the first Sunday of Advent and the local Catholic churches were parading through Caunnaught Place blocking several of the roads we required to reach our destination. In the end, he drove around aimlessly for an extra ten minutes trying in vain to find a back entrance to the road we needed and then we had to walk the final kilometer to brunch.
Hubby handed the driver our agreed upon 100 rupee note and he became incensed. “I drive more than rupees 100. You must pay meter.” We (I) pointed out that we had already settled upon 100 and that he had not even gotten us to our final destination. With that we walked off with a throng of local nuns who seemed headed in the right direction.
I’m not sure, my Beloved Readers, if you actually learned anything about obtaining a taxi here in Delhi from this monologue but I hope at least I have managed to amuse you slightly with the tales of trips in the back of green and black Ambassador cars. Just remember that if you negotiate in advance you will likely overpay. If you chose to go by the meter, you’ll have a good tour of the city and still probably pay too much. And if you want to go to CP on the first Sunday in Advent: Don’t!