This has been a post I’ve been wanting to write for a long, long time.
Cars are expensive in Romania and gasoline/diesel is as well. Therefore a lot of the population takes taxis, which are numerous and plentiful just about everywhere. Unless you’re visiting Romania and driving your own car, chances are likely you’re going to take a taxi at some point.
Before I say anything else on the subject I want to make one thing abundantly clear – the vast majority of taxi rides are safe, economical ways of getting around town when it’s either too far or else you’re tired or have been drinking. The drivers are professionals and get you where you want to go at a set rate and all goes well.
That being said, I have had a few bad experiences in all my years of living and visiting here and I’ve certainly read a few horror stories. Therefore I present to you my guide for taking a taxi in Romania so that your visit is unmarred by any unpleasantness.
Understanding Taxi Markings
First of all, all genuine taxis are marked in a clear way with the word taxi on top in a lightbar as well as a car number. They’re not all necessarily yellow but a lot of them are.
The first arrow in the photo (pointing up) illustrates the front quarter panel of all taxis, which contain the rates. There are always four lines, starting from the top:
- Pick-up Fee
- Rate per kilometer (day)
- Rate per minute while standing
- Night Rate
In Cluj therefore the “pick-up fee” is 1.79 lei (roughly 50 cents USD at the moment) which I owe just for getting inside the taxi. Then I pay the rate per kilometer for the distance that the driver took me. If we’re stuck at a red light, the “Rate per minute while standing” kicks in, which is usually much lower (about 10% of the per km rate).
Night-time fares are higher, although not much, and run from about 10pm to 6am.
In some cities, like Cluj, all taxi companies charge exactly the same rate. In other cities, each company has a different rate per kilometer.
Before getting in any taxi, check out the rates listed on the front quarter panel (both sides).
Note: In some cities, particularly Timisoara comes to mind, there are companies with insanely high rates, often parked outside the train station and other popular tourist destinations. It’s all completely legal and upfront but if you ignore the rate before getting on board you might be in for a nasty surprise.
“Gypsy Cabs” – Although rare, there are people operating “gypsy” or illegal, unmarked taxis. These can be a major rip-off so be sure to never get into a vehicle that’s not clearly marked and identified as a taxi.
How to Get a Taxi
Assuming you don’t speak Romanian, there are various good ways of getting a taxi.
Taxi Stand – There are usually several spots around town in key locations where taxis queue up and wait for passengers. Just pick whichever taxi looks best to you (keeping in mind the rates) and get in and off you go. You do not have to take the very first one in line. Couldn’t be easier!
Calling a Taxi – The second arrow in the photo (arrow pointing down) shows a three-digit phone number. If you have a working phone in Romania and dial that number nothing will happen. Say what? These 3-number codes are actually shorthand as Romanians know it actually means “dial the city’s prefix code first then the 3-digit taxi number”. For example in Cluj the city prefer is “0264” so to call this particular cab number I’d have to dial “0264-941”.
Most dispatchers don’t speak English so I wouldn’t recommend this option. However a far easier way to do it is to walk into the nearest (and fanciest) business, whether a hotel, restaurant or even gas station and ask the workers there to call one FOR YOU. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Romanian turn down an offer to help me in this regard.
If you do insist on calling one yourself, say “o masina la….va rog” (oh masheena la…. vah rawg) which means “one car to (address) please”. The dispatcher (always a surly woman for some reason) will then ask for your name (numele) and tell you how many minutes it will be until the driver arrives.
Note: For a culture that’s not exactly keen on punctuality, Romanian taxi companies rather bizarrely always tell you the exact number of minutes it will be until they arrive. I never did quite understand that!
Flagging Down a Taxi – As in seeing one drive by and making a motion and it pulls over. This is usually not necessary but if you ever need to do it, the correct motion is to extend your arm out and then flap your hand down like you are trying to imitate a bird in flight (with one hand).
The Ride Itself
Whether or not the driver will understand anything but Romanian is a gamble but usually if you can communicate the address (or landmark or hotel), they’ll either figure it out or get on their radio and find out where it is with no problems.
You can sit in either the front or back with no worries and while some drivers are quite chatty, the norm seems to be complete silence during the ride with a preference to listening to the radio over talking.
Note: If you are a smoker and want to smoke in your cab, have the company dispatch a “smoking car” (aka a driver who doesn’t care if you smoke). Or conversely if the thought of someone else smoking in the car previously disturbs you, have a non-smoking car dispatched. Usually though the majority of Romanian taxis are non-smoking (and it’s usually a short ride anyway).
Up in the front however, either mounted on the dash or between the seats is a black metal box with a green, digital readout. This is the fare meter known as the “ceas” (literally: “clock”). Make sure this is running as you drive. As long as the meter is running you should have no unpleasantness or unexpected surprises in terms of the fare.
Also, the name and ID badge of the driver should be displayed somewhere prominently, although this doesn’t always happen. If for some unexpected reason you encounter a real problem, at least note down the number of the car (behind rear windows on the outside usually) and the company’s name.
When you get to your destination, the driver will push a button on the fare meter and a total will pop up. Tipping is appreciated in Romania but it is not necessary beyond rounding up to the nearest whole leu, i.e. if the total fare is 7.20 lei, go ahead and give the driver 8 and all is well.
If the fare is just 7.10 lei however usually the driver will just expect 7 and “eat” the overage of 10 bani (“cents”). It all depends on the driver of course but generally just rounding up will be sufficient unless you’ve received unbelievably outstanding service.
A Few Things To Be Aware Of
- By law, all Romanian taxi vehicles must be fairly new and in good condition. If you see some old rusty, broken down vehicle supposed to be a “taxi”, avoid it.
- Make sure the meter is running unless you know what you’re doing (and speak Romanian). Sometimes the driver might ask you at the beginning if you want a receipt (Romanian: bon fiscal). When in doubt, always say yes. Not giving you a receipt means not turning the meter on. Some drivers do this to avoid paying taxes and other reasons but never say “no” to the receipt.
- At airports and train stations (especially in Bucharest) there will always be guys trolling the crowds, saying “taxi?” and trying to persuade you to go with them. Avoid these guys and go outside where there is always a line/queue of genuine, safe, metered taxis available.
- Sometimes the drivers will try to “upsell” you and offer to take you somewhere (such as a nearby city) for a negotiated fare. In almost every case, the standard bus and train lines are cheaper so avoid this.
- During very “bad” weather, such as heavy snow or rainfall, it can be hard to get a taxi. Just hang in there and breathe as they will come around to you soon!
A Few Useful Phrases
|Is this taxi free/available (to take me somewhere)?||E liber?||Eh lee-BEAR?|
|Is the meter running?||E pornit ceasul?||Eh porneet CHASS-ool?|
|To “X” destination, please||La “X”, va rog||Lah… vah rawg|
|Keep the change||Va rog, pastrati restul||Vah rawg, pah-strets rest-ool|
|Step on it!||Conduceti mai repede ca am sa ma grabesc!||con-DOOTCH-ets my reh-peh-day ka om sah mah grah-besk|
|Follow that car!||Urmariti masina asta!||oorm-ah-reets mah-sheena ah-stah|
|Good lord, you’re driving fast as hell||Doamne, e ca in filme cum conduceti||dwam-nee eh ka in film-eh koom con-doo-chets|
And now you know! Pleasant journeys and drum bun!.