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!