That Taxi Meter’s Rigged!

The other day my friend Bangkok Di put out a tweet about how she thought the meter in her taxi was ticking up a bit faster than normal. I replied and told her that it sometimes happens to me too, especially when coming from the airport, and it touched off a short but vigorous debate online. Some said that the higher meter fare was because it runs when the car is parked and traffic must have been bad; some said the distance must have been longer; but either way, I agree with Di – some taxis in Bangkok do use meters that have been tampered with. It’s happened to me on several occasions – though very rarely – but the question remains: what do you do about it?

One particular incident stands out: I was coming from Suvarnabhumi Airport to my apartment in Chinatown, which would usually cost between 200-250 baht, give or take (purely the meter, I’m not counting the tollway). I knew something was up when we had hit 100 baht barely 5km out of the airport, and it kept going up from there. I was with my girlfriend, and mentioned it to her. As we had bags and were tired, we didn’t want to make a huge fuss about it, so we just kind of watched as it ticked upward. By the time we got home, it was somewhere up near 400 baht. It was an ordinary ride in every sense of the word – no traffic or rain or attacks from Godzilla; the meter had clearly been tampered with.

In this situation you have three choices:

  1. Comfort yourself with the fact that you’re only out $4 and chalk it up to living in big, bad Bangkok;
  2. Begrudgingly pay the driver but report it to the taxi scam line;
  3. Get into an argument with the driver which might result in you with a fistfull of money or a faceful of fist; it can go either way.

We chose to go the second route – we paid him and my brave girlfriend told him that he was ripping us off and we were going to report him, to which he just sort of sat there and didn’t say anything. When we got home, she called the taxi scam line, the number of which is on the slip you get at the airport. They dutifully took down the driver’s info but didn’t seem too concerned about the whole thing. We never heard anything else about it, and eventually slipped back into item #1 above.

Those little metal twistie things on the side of the meter are supposed to be tamper-proof. But then again, so is money.

Those little metal twistie things on the side of the meter are supposed to be tamper-proof. But then again, so is money.

Is there anything that can be done about it? Unless you have exceptional Thai skills, very good knowledge of the route he takes, and can argue very persuasively, not much. I guess the best case scenario is that you give him what you think the fare should be and say “Your meter is broken,” and he just takes it silently knowing he’s been busted. The worst case scenario is that you get into a huge argument and he threatens you, refuses to stop so you can get out, or calls his friends to come help him get his money if you don’t pay. Yeah, it’s a bit extreme, but taxi drivers aren’t known for being the most honest, logical, passive group of dudes in Thailand.

The damn thing is, knowing how fast a meter is supposed to tick up is something that you only get from riding in lots of taxis; beyond that, how would you know? My mom visited me here one time and ended up paying 400 baht for a taxi from Ekkamai bus station to Thong Lor 25, which would have cost about 45 baht otherwise. They didn’t know that, but were fine with the extra cost. Ten bucks? Cheap!

What do you think? Have any experience with this? What’s your advice?

Want to share? Great idea!

No Comments

  1. MarcusBurtBKK August 20, 2011 at 12:07 am - Reply

    There's another option. Bangkok is not exactly short on taxis, so just tell him too pull over and pay the guy for that portion of the trip, then go ahead and hail another.

    You are more less guaranteed to step immediately into another and there's the added satisfaction of ensuring consequences for his actions, and him not getting the full fare.

  2. Jack August 20, 2011 at 2:44 am - Reply

    This issue is rampant all over Asia and much of third world countries…being a local from a third world country..I have faced taxi problems in Thailand, India and Philippines. The problem is strict enforcement of law in these countries as 90% of the taxis in big cities in Asia are owned by companies that are run by politicians or businessman aka moderate-mafias

    The taxi driver is not at fault but the taxi companies who allow these things to happen as they know they are big shots and are kinda protected by law…even if you complain no action would be taken, however, if the taxi owner is a private individual, action would be taken..more likely…he will not do such acts as he is not protected by the politicians etc..

    Best thing to do is to avoid getting into big company taxis that has fleet of taxis in major cities, If you already know the fare from one destination to another…negotiate the price…especially from airport in any countries negotiate the price..

  3. eric August 20, 2011 at 6:51 am - Reply

    it's not just a problem in 3rd world countries!!! ever been to new york?

  4. Bangkokdave August 20, 2011 at 8:52 am - Reply

    This hasn't happened to me for about 3 years, but it did happen a few times before the taxis had to refurbish their meters. I challenged the driver each time, successfully getting them to either reduce the price or restart the meter during the ride. If the meter is rigged, and it's too late to get out of the cab, it may be best to let the driver know that you know what he's doing and settle on an acceptable flat rate.

    In any case, I would strongly urge anyone experiencing this problem to not let it go. It's only partially about the money – it's also about asserting your basic rights and challenging those who try to cheat you. Cheaters have to learn that it can't be too easy for them, otherwise they'll keep doing it. If they are challenged, they'll start to rethink their strategy. Telling the driver he'll be reported is a good idea too, but from my experience, I never got in trouble with the driver for challenging them. The key is to be firm but not too angry; never TOO angry. Keep your cool, but insist you're being screwed and that you damn well know it.

  5. Richard August 21, 2011 at 1:26 am - Reply

    Meters can be rigged in one of two ways. One, the distance runs faster than it normally does. Sometimes its only a little bit faster (maybe 10%), and sometimes it's blatantly faster (like 100%). Two, the time counter runs even when the traffic is moving. It's only supposed to run at 1.5 baht per min when the taxi is moving less than 5 kmh. Either method will increase the baht total.

    To spot it, you should look at the distance, if you know the route, or, watch the time if the taxi is moving steadily, not the baht. You can also use some context to spot it. For instance, the newer meters that spit out the receipt seem like they are always rigged. Some of the older meters require the driver to hit the button twice in order to get the higher rate, so you should watch how the driver hits the button(s) when he starts the meter. That's another clue. Also, sometimes the over-friendly, super-talkative drivers have rigged meters, because they are trying to distract you from noticing the meter. Of course, paying attention means the driver is less likely to try something and less likely to get away with it if he does.

    If it's a short ride, then the extra fare might be less than what I would normally tip anyway, so I'll usually let it go. If it's a long ride, I'll get out as soon as possible and take another taxi. I'd rather penalize myself and pay another 35 baht than reward someone for trying to cheat their customers (and if they are going to cheat me, they are going to cheat a lot of other people too). If I can't get out, I'll ask the driver to start the meter over again. Sometimes they can restart it, but running at the correct speed (by hitting the button only once instead of twice). If all else fails, I'll get out and pay the guy what I think the fare should be. If he doesn't like it, I'll tell him to call the police.

  6. A August 22, 2011 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Maybe I have been naive, but I trusted these taxi guys in Bangkok until now. Eas ripped off in many other Asian cities, but never in Bangkok.

  7. Greg August 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the comments everyone, some really interesting info there. Best thing to do is just get out and get a new taxi, I guess, and consider the lost 50 baht experience tax. If you're a bit braver, Richard is right – they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. I think just paying and letting them know you know the meter's been tinkered with, but I'd never advise getting into an argument. Of course, this is assuming you know enough Thai… 🙂

  8. pandit August 24, 2011 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    I've never experienced this, and I am in Taxis practically every day of the week. Not all drivers see me as holy! Sometimes they have gone a long route, but 90% of the time they do that it is due to not knowing the way rather than a strategy. I honestly have never experienced a rigged meter – I presume they can't switch the meter back and forth to the usual rate. Is it not possible that you did not look at the meter when you got in and there was already a fare on it?

  9. Devin August 28, 2011 at 5:33 am - Reply

    I have lived in Bangkok for over a year, but fortunately, I have never been the victim of a rigged Taxi meter scam. I was once taken on a very long and frustrating detour on the way to the airport, though. It resulted in the taxi fare being about twice the normal fare. I was very irritated, but ended up just paying it because I was more concerned about my travel plans than getting ripped off. As far as the best course of action, sure, it may be easier just to let it go. But if tourists decide to start complaining to the scam line, reporting incidents to the authorities, or even take it a step further and hire a Thailand lawyer, then it would mean fewer tourists have to put up with these scams in the future. If we just sort of passively deal with it, we're allowing them to continue.

  10. Phil Maxted February 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    I’ve noticed on this current trip (I’ve been in Thailand since the New Year that the taxi fares on some journeys which we regularly take can be up to a 100 baht more. The fare for our regular journey Rangsit to Mo Chit is around 200 baht but on a couple of occasions has been 300 baht + – so I guess there must be a load of rigged meters about. But compared to the UK where the legit fares are astronomical even Bangkok rigged fares are cheap. Great blo article.

    • Greg March 15, 2014 at 12:14 am - Reply

      Thanks Phil, taxi fares in Bangkok are indeed extremely cheap – even when you’re getting scammed. But it’s the principle, Phil, the principle! 🙂

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