Wednesday, April 24

Italy's Taxis-What's Wrong with this Picture?

I know there's a joke in there somewhere...about how you can spot a tourist on the streets of Italy.  In the old days, it was the awful way they dressed, but now everyone has co-opted the ridiculously casual-everyday-look.  The elderly still stick out like sore thumbs, usually due to their dove white skin vis-a-vis Italy's elderly, who are more likely soaking up the rays at their beach house.  Men with socks in their sandals are still a dead giveaway. Living in Rome, the tourists are, of course, the ones on pretty much every street corner looking with some bewilderment at their maps.  So, aside from those, how else can you tell the tourists?  Ah yes...they are the ones on every street waving their arms frantically...at the sea of white taxis whizzing by them.  
That's because, in Italy, like in many other countries, you have to call a cab by name.  Or, you need to head over to the spots where the taxis are beached and catch your cab.  They're easy to spot, because there are dozens upon dozens of these white elephants lounging as if they have just had their mid-day snack in the Bush. A few blocks away, dozens of people are busying themselves waving their arms as if trying to keep away a swarm of bees.  
There are plenty of sites dealing with the dilemma of taking taxis in Italy, and I've listed some tips in the Caveat Emptor section on my Travel Tips Page on my official blog.  Rome was recently voted the worst place in Europe for getting ripped off by taxis, but generally, that has not been my experience.  And besides...it would seem that Naples wasn't in the running, or most people just don't bother with the Naples taxis in the first place - which is a very good thing.  As for the Roman taxi drivers, they're way nicer than those chip-on-the-shoulder Milanese ones but then again, the Milanese never ever refuse a doggie passenger.  In that business capital of Italy, they know a customer when they see one.
Picture from http://www.mollicone.it
Italian Taxis wait for a fare


But what to this day still never ceases to amaze me is the standstill of the Roman cabbies.  They cite the cost of gas, which I can understand, although they pay less than the rest of us.  It's also by law that they can only pick up at the cab stands, so there is that to contend with as well.  But, every time I see them amassed there, swapping stories, reading newspapers, while the vast majority would rather hop in a cab than wait upwards of 30 mins for a bus ride, it just makes me wince.  
Picture from http://www.vostrisoldi.it
New York City cabbies - always on the move
With the tough economic situation in Italy, taxi drivers continue to plead poverty while waging mass protests until they can up the cost of a ride.  My Econ 101 Professor taught me that, actually, they needed to lower the price to attract the passengers.  
I don't know how one could ever break the literal standstill of Italy's taxis without suffering politically, but just once -- I would love to take the whole cabbie union on a field trip to New York City.  Heck, we don't even have to go that far.  Barcelona or Màlaga would do.  Finally, they could see firsthand what a dynamic day they could be having in their aerodynamic vehicles, whisking people here, there and everywhere--instead of using their time to catch up on the news and soccer scores.
And just think--tourists would love it, because then, not only would they no longer need to wave their arms in the feeble attempt to catch a cabbie's attention, they'd finally blend right in with everyone else on the sidewalk.

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