Posted by: seasin | August 8, 2009

Sofia Taxis

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories involving taxis in Sofia, but frankly, for foreigners, they are the best means of transportation in town, cheap and plentyful, and safe as long as you stick to a few basic precautions.

Latest horror story : an European comissioner, coming to Sofia on official business, was charged 100 euro or so for a trip that took him from the airport, to downtown Sofia (serves him well for not planning and omitting to ask for a hotel shuttle. Most hotels in Sofia will provide an airport shuttle for a price similar to a taxi ride). Story consequence: public outrage, and nothing more. Because the taxi driver was legally entitled to charge as much. No, don’t be scared, most of Sofia’s taxis are not charging anything near that amount. The taxi companies, that you can call to order a car, have prices ten times lower. However, the institution of the private individual taxi driver exists, and as long as they’re getting a license from the city officials and abide by the rules which say they have to have a metre, and display their fares both outside and inside the car, and that’s the fare you end up paying, they’re allowed to have whatever the hell fare they want. It’s a classic case of buyer beware.

However, since I’ve been to Sofia I’ve never paid more than 10-12 leva for the longest of journeys (and that includes trips from the airport to the centre)-that would be about 5-6 euro.

So the basic tips for enjoying taxi rides in Sofia are as follows:

1. If possible, call a taxi (that is, order one on the phone). Even if you’re on the street, whip out your cell phone and give the lady the address where you happen to be. Taxis that come on phone order are safe.

2. If you can’t call a taxi, it’s preferable to flag one down. The taxis have a duo of lights in the front window-green is, as logical, available. Flag the green light. But for the love of God, once it’s stopped, CHECK FOR THE FARE THEY’RE DISPLAYING. They might not be pleased that you stopped them and then decided you don’t want to be conned into paying ridiculous amounts, but a bit of yelling from an irate taxi driver is worth it, if you get to keep your hard earned money in your wallet where it belongs. And moreover, there will be ten normal taxis showing up in under 5 minutes, anyway-there are thousands of them in Sofia, and at night they’re almost all you can see in the streets.

3. If you do want to just grab one that’s waiting at a street corner, you can definitely do so, as long as you-say it out loud with me, kids: CHECK THE FARE BEFORE YOU GET IN!! Once you’re in the car and at your destination, no one, and I repeat NO ONE can stop them from charging their fare. It’s your fault for not paying attention.

4. If you’re flying into Sofia, the taxi queue is on the right hand side of the arrivals hall. There are two different companies who are officially servicing the airport, they both have identical prices, one is called OK Taxi and the other Express Taxi-and the logos will be on the doors and more or less all over the cars. They’re both all right, and the fare from the airport to downtown should be between 6 and 10 leva, depending of course on where you’re going and how severe the traffic is, but that’s the sort of prices you should expect.

5. The price per km for the normal taxis in Sofia is between 0.59 and 0.79 leva, that is to say ridiculously cheap by European standards, and there is no surcharge for night trips, or for airport trips. They do charge a one-or-two leva starting fee, and will charge some pennies if they have to wait for you, but nothing major. So that’s what you need to look for on the side windows of the taxis-prices of that sort. Of course, there is a small chance there are really dishonest drivers who target foreigners, in which case, the 0.60 fare that you see listed first will be in fact the…tax that they’re paying to the state for the real fare that they’re charging you, which would be something like 6 leva per km, and which is listed further down. They’re counting on the fact that most foreigners have no clue about the cyrilic alphabet, and they’re right. If you can, before you come, give the alphabet a go-it’s not that difficult to grasp and knowing it will help enormously with everything from taxis, to orientation in town, to shopping, to restaurant menus.

6. A few destinations are easy even if you don’t speak Bulgarian and the driver doesn’t speak any other language known to man (happens very very often)-main hotels, for instance. But if you’re going anywhere else, try to have a piece of paper with the address, and even better if the address is written in cyrilic. It will help alot.

7. Now for the obvious-taxis in Sofia are yellow, have a TAXI sign on top, a license number somewhere on the car (normally the doors or the back of the car), a metre that issues a cash receipt, and must display: their fares in at least two visible locations (normally on the back windows and on the dashboard); and a picture id of the driver. Taxis that belong to companies (and therefore reasonably safe) have the logo of the company and the phone number displayed all over the car.

CAVEATS:

1. Most if not all taxis in Sofia are either dilapidated old-ish cars, or tiny town cars that were never developped to carry passangers (you know, the tiny boxes on wheels that would happily carry young ladies to work, but that struggle to carry their handbag, too). So they’re cramped and most certainly dirty (by European standards, not by Asian!).

2. Most if not all taxi drivers in Sofia smoke with no shame right in your face. Therefore, the taxis stink generally and can leave you gasping for air if he decides to have a smoke while he’s driving you. Yes, you can tell him not to smoke but at the best you’ll be ignored, at the worst you’ll be left on the nearest street corner looking for another means of transportation, because we all know that a taxi driver’s taxi is his castle, and how dare you ask him not to smoke.

3. Most if not all taxis in Sofia have no seatbelts. A great number of taxi drivers in Sofia drive like maniacs. If you’re alone, then get in the front seat. They won’t frown on it, and it’s the most likely to have a working seat belt. Of course he’ll be hurt deep down to the roots of his masculinity if you actually buckle in (because we all know that if you do that, you’re in fact questioning rudely his driving abilities, which in turn obviously questions his masculinity), but you can ignore the look he’ll give you, pretend you don’t understand the Bulgarian, and be safe. If however you’re with someone and you both get to sit in the back, well…consider it an extreme adventure and tell your friends about it when you get home.

4. Please refrain from climbing into a stopped taxi in any of the following locations: the central end of Vitosha Bulevard, right in front of the main Court House (aka the building with the lions); or in front of any of the posh hotels-if you do need a taxi in those locations, always always ask the reception clerk to call one for you. They will do so gladly, even if you’re not a hotel guest, and you can be sure it’s an ok taxi that won’t try to cheat you (because they can be traced back through the hotel).

 

Enjoy Sofia and ride safe 🙂

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