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Taxis are Plentiful and Cheap

March 14, 2011

08.03.2011 Taxis are Plentiful and Cheap
Are they f***! OK, let’s get this rant out of the way because it is quickly becoming one of the major bugbears of living in this beautiful country.
Taxis ARE plentiful, that is, there’s probably the same amount pro-rata as black cabs in central London. It’s a very common form of transport here. Trishaws do operate on small side roads and buses are also frequent – often loaded to the gills with people hanging off all sides – and there are also pick-up trucks, which you see similarly loaded, often with two or three guys literally hanging off the back and stepping off to rest their arms when the traffic slows. But taxis are quite common.
Taxis are also cheap. The average fare is around 1500 to 2000 kyats (just a little over $2). That’s the average fair for a foreigner. Locals will pay around 500 to 1500 kyats for most trips around town. So on that basis, they are cheap.
However, as a main form of transport for a family it sucks. Big time. Not only do I have to argue the fare most of the time, I rarely get the actual rate. This is frustrating to say the least. I KNOW I’m getting ripped off and I hate it. Take yesterday for example, when I went to the Inya Lake Hotel. The fare should be 1000k. I paid 1500k because I’m now used to the foreigner price and it’s only bloody 70cents or whatever. On the way back, the bugger charged me 2000k. When I pointed out to him that the actual fare was 1500k (even though it isn’t) he told me confidently it was usually 2500k and he was doing me a favour charging only 2000k. As I didn’t have the correct change I couldn’t argue with him, or even throw him the right money and walk away as most people have learned to do. The bloody cheek of it! I had a good mind to scream in his face and I wish heartily I’d punched him through the window as I got out. (Showing emotion, especially aggression, is a big no no here, more of which in another post). Oh God I’m so angry about it still. (Bear in mind I’ve had not a decent night’s sleep for over a week what with Pete being away and Alfie being poorly.) STOP ripping me off! Not only that but the guy was giving me a ride HOME so it’s not like I’m even a tourist.
So every time I get a taxi I have to make sure I have the right change for what I think the fare is. Most times I get charged 2000k wherever I go. And most times I think, oh what the hell.
Then there is rush hour. Oh my. Even in the last 3 months, I am reliably informed, the traffic has swelled to ridiculous proportions. So there is a rush hour at 7am (schools) and 9am (shops opening). Then again at 12.30pm (schools again), 4pm and 6pm. Bizarrely, though office workers often start at 8am, this is one of the quietest times on the road.
During these times, taxis are usually full and you can wait a good 10 minutes for an empty one to crawl by. Even then, if they don’t like your destination, or worse, don’t understand your destination, they will simply drive on. Road names are rarely used as both spelling and pronunciation vary so dramatically; it’s usual to indicate landmarks, but this is tricky if going to someone’s house for example. Sometimes, if organised enough, I will ask Amber to write down my destination in Burmese but even that doesn’t always work. If you are unlucky enough to be going to a hotel or otherwise touristy location then the fare jumps that bit higher. Pete refuses to name hotels for just that reason and will instead indicate a nearby landmark to ensure a lower fare. I have taken to picking up business cards wherever I go because they often have a map or even the address written in Burmese on the back. Still, it means I may as well wear a sign saying DUMB RICH TOURIST on my head. Whatever happens, you DON’T want to negotiate the fare in advance, as they advise you in the guides. Because then what happens is that the taxi driver names some outrageous fare, you say no and he drives off. Then you spend another 10 minutes waiting in the searing heat. Best just to agree the destination and jump in, make sure you have the correct money and jump out at the other end.
It’s dispiriting to say the least. Now it’s hotter I spend more time at home, I simply can’t be bothered with it all. Cheap? Well if you go to the supermarket and a playgroup in one day, that’s an average of $8. You do the maths.
Add into the mix a fractious toddler, buggy (yeah right!) and any bags or shopping you may have and kiss your sanity goodbye.
I’d love to have something positive to write about Pete’s organisation here. How helpful they have been about transport. How understanding they are about travelling with a family (when all the other international staff are single) and how they kindly put one of their 4 cars and drivers at our disposal for a couple of hours in the first week or two so we could find our way around and at least navigate to the nearest supermarket. How, like all other NGO’s I know of (and I’ve done a bit of research) drivers are generally available at evenings and weekends for senior management. How they have gone out of their way to ensure we are able to access car rental, hire a driver or even buy a car in this crazy place. But no, I can’t say any of that. So, thanks for nothing.
It IS possible to form a relationship with a taxi driver and use him regularly. Believe me, we have tried. Whenever we get in a taxi we feel we could live with, we check if the driver has a mobile phone. If it’s a nice taxi they usually do. Unfortunately, if it’s a nice (and I use the word advisedly) taxi and the driver has a mobile phone, they are rarely, if ever, available. Great.
The hot and rainy season is coming and I don’t know how we are going to manage. I can’t expect Alfie to sit in a taxi in 40 degrees heat with no air conditioning. I would prefer not to sit in one myself, especially those whose windows don’t work, i.e. 98%, and therefore have permanently wet seats. Maybe I am a whinging Westerner, perhaps I’m an expat softy with unreasonable expectations. But I really don’t want my boy, especially if he’s sick, to have to stand on the side of the road for 20 minutes getting sunburn, heat rash, and heat stroke for the privilege of travelling in a deathtrap rainbucket at a vastly inflated rate. Is it really too much to ask?

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