In 2012, the Philippines House Committee on Basic Education and Cultures passed a resolution requiring the Department of Education to post the slogan “Honesty is the Best Policy” at all public schools. As one passes by an elementary school in the Philippines, this mandate seems to have been successfully fulfilled as it is prominently posted at all schools. The overall message here to children is to stamp out corruption. And while some progress seems to be made on this front (evidenced by recent surges in high level political prosecutions for corruption), it is maybe to little too late for certain occupations here in country, and more specifically taxi cab drivers.
I can remember 40 years ago, as a foreigner, it was fairly certain that one would wind up paying much more than they needed to for a taxi ride to their destination. Even back then, taxi cabs in the Metro Manila area all had taximeters as required by law. Occasionally though one could happen across a cab without a meter, and these guys were most likely unlicensed and nothing more than taxi look-alikes. Ordinary con men. Shabby looking vehicles without any real “official” markings or identification were to be avoided, but as in most countries, a tourists lack of knowledge can and will be exploited in many cases. In the past, many a cab driver’s first attempt to “enhance” their fare was to convince you that their meter didn’t work. Without a meter that worked, fares were simply “estimated” (exaggerated is a more accurate word) as “flat fee” fares and cabbies would squeeze as many pesos out of a foreigners purse as they could. They were talented and they were good at it. These guys were hustlers. Even today one should expect that, as in any developing country and with such low wages, money is hard to come by so the unknowing are still taken advantage of. Even with strict meter regulation and tough industry rules today, and with all honesty aside, taxi-rape continues. Maybe not as prevalent as it once was, but nonetheless, it still happens.
The taxi industry in the Philippines is regulated by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the Land Transportation Office (LTO), and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the rules are specific. Cab drivers CANNOT negotiate fares. They are required to use their meters and all cars must display their cab license. Add on charges such as premiums for late night driving, gas, aircon, baggage, number of passengers, tarrifs, etc. are prohibited and tips and gratuities cannot be demanded or required. Up charges are all forbidden unless stated explicitly by the LTO or a local governing agency. Rules have been put in place and information is readily available to encourage the consumer to report acts of abuse and/or dis-courtesies. Also, all taxicabs have their license plate number printed on both quarter panels of the car, and on the inside of each back door to the cab. The rear of the car is printed with the telephone number of the cab company and a contact number to report any reckless driving (ha, you can laugh now…it’s okay).
All this aside, I can attest that while the industry has made some major leaps forward, taxi-rape and fare-extortion still continues to plague the industry. While laws are one thing, enforcement is tougher, just like with most other facets of life here. The good news is that the ratio of good and honest drivers to the bad apples has improved significantly in recent years and is probably a resulting combination of stricter enforcement, business oversight, and overall consumer awareness and reporting. As the public becomes more aware of their rights and with a valid complaint systems in place, more drivers are abiding by the law rather than face strict repercussions such as loss of driving privileges.
Take the Airport Metered Taxi Service (yellow cabs) for example. Upon exiting the terminal at the NAIA, you are picked up by a taxi usher and assigned a cab and issued a white slip that indicates the number of passengers, number of pieces of baggage, destination and vehicle plate number. It also lists the fare rates. The flag-down rate of this service is P70 and higher transit rates, but these guys will prefer to offer up a flat rate for you. This is basically illegal and they are required to use the meter. If they do refuse to turn on the meter, get another cab. Compare this to the regular Manila cab service (white cabs also at the airport) that begin with a flag-down rate of P40 with lower transit rates. All in all, the white cabs will be significantly cheaper. My suggestion is that if you are not a seasoned traveler in the Manila area, stick with the Airport Metered Taxis (yellow) as they are the “official” airport taxi and with a litte more oversight, they are considered safer overall. Even then, still force them to use the meter as it will always be cheaper than a flat fee rate.
Away from the airport, and at major shopping venues like most SM Malls or Ayala Mall taxi stands (Manila, Cebu), you should also receive a taxi slip with printed information about rates, vehicle identification, and contact information should you have any problems. You should always request a receipt from your driver (you might discover however that the receipt machine doesn’t work per the driver…not).
With all the travel I have done in this country, and as willful and savvy as I can possibly project myself to be, I occasionally still get taken advantage of (by cab drivers), or least they try to. Recently we returned from a trip to Guam and upon exiting the airport, I refused a taxi usher’s assistance to a yellow cab (Official Airport Taxi) while replying with a smile “white metered taxi” please. All the while the usher stalked and hounded me as I walked to the white cab stand insisting that I would ONLY pay a flat rate of P300 to my destination (reduced from the initial offering of P450). The more I ignored him the more perturbed he seemed to get and he finally stopped tailing me as I approached the cheaper white cabs (my white cab fee was P106 to my destination). The next day another cabby kept insisting on charging us a flat rate (P250) even as he began driving. Once the car was moving, I quickly opened the back door and got his full undivided attention…we were not flat rate customers nor did we intend to be. The meter began working shortly thereafter and the resulting fee – P112 with no tip (I don’t tip for dishonesty). If I hadn’t loaded all our luggage into the car already, I would have hailed another driver as his penalty! During another ride and after arriving at our destination, the meter indicated P87.50 so my wife gave him P140 (this guy was a good driver and after all, it is tough work). After unloading our bags from the trunk (I did both the loading and unloading) he demanded P50 additional for baggage. At that point I reminded him that there was no charge to be had for baggage and declined to pay. And because of his dishonesty, I then firmly suggested he return all of my over-payment. As he realized he dug himself into a big hole, he proceeded hastily around the car to get back in the cab and I followed him to the driver’s side door demanding my change. As he got in the cab he tried to close the door and I held the door open until he finally obliged, handing me my change while muttering in Tagalog under his breath. I told him before he closed the door “Dishonesty is not your best policy…it cost you some pesos sir!” I’m sure it didn’t take him long to realize that his “lost” tip was more than the P50 baggage charge he attempted to extort us with. He learned without any government mandate that just maybe Honesty IS the Best Policy!
Not all of our cab experiences are bad, actually most these days are noteworthy, and because these hard-working drivers work for very little money, we don’t mind offering up a good tip with honest and decent service. This trip however, it seemed all the bad apples were out in force. Maybe the government should extend that “Honesty” policy to include being printed on the side of all taxi cabs!