NEVER, NEVER trust a Beirut Taxi Driver

Nothing prepared me for the taxis of Beirut.
I have shared my peeves about taxi rides from Hell before.  When I arrived at Lebanon's Beirut airport, my pre arranged transport did not show (I found out later that someone forgot to book it!). My cell phone did not work and I could not find a working pay phone in the airport. So I stupidly headed to the door of the airport hall following a sign which said "taxis". There appeared to be no order or logic to the line up of taxis of drivers outside. ie in most cities some sort of offical or unofficial taxi queue exists and a passenger knows which one to get into. This does not apply in the Indian cities I have been to and clearly not in Beirut. I said to one driver where I wanted to go and it was on for young and old. Drivers came from everywhere surrounding me: "Taxi, Taxi", "where you want to go". I gazed forlornly at a line of "official taxis" beyond the now teeming mass of "official" and "unofficial" taxi drivers. A bidding war had started for my wallet. "$50", "$45", "$40", "$35". "No sir don't go with him- he is not official airport driver". "Monsieur Monsieur, I am real official". One man showed me his very obviously home made "Official Airport Taxi Driver" badge.

Beirut seems to have more taxi drivers than any other city on earth. I am not sure if its a function of the high unemployment rate in Beirut. Everyone with a spare car seems to have turned it into a taxi. And every driver needs to come with a warning label attached.

Plan A - Duck and Cover
In the meantime, the taxi drivers gathered around me vying for my attention had reached a fever pitch and two had come to blows over who was going to get my attention. I was so stunned, furious and exhausted after 30 hours of travel, that I told them all to go jump, turned on my heel and walked back into the terminal. Some followed me and I told them where to go too. After going to the "Mens" and collecting my thoughts I snuck out another exit and thought about a new plan.

Plan B -Go Official
There was a security booth next to the taxi rank. I marched up to the taxi rank, greeted the soldiers in the booth and asked them in French if they could help locate me a taxi. The soldier nodded and my spirits soared. He stepped out of the booth and in a loud voice shouted "this man needs a taxi". It was like throwing a sacrificial lamb to a flock of starving wolves. Gesturing, yelling taxi drivers dropped everything and ran to me standing there with a massive label over my head: "Dumb Tourist". Some were my original taxi drivers!   I was stumped - This is not a place I often find myself in when travelling.

I retreated a second time for the airport terminal and bought myself lunch in the airport cafe.

Plan C.
I knew that the hotel taxi would have cost $25 so I would find a taxi that would charge me $25. So out I came again. "Riveria Hotel $25, I kept repeating. Some drivers shook their heads: "Non Non $35 minimum". I stood my ground. The crowd of drivers disappeared to stalk other victims.

You are not alone
A small group of Japanese were surrounded. Like me they ran back into the terminal for safety where they hovered vacillating. You could see they were thinking "Return to Japan to face Nuclear fallout would be better than this". A group of Dutch arrived and were also chased back into the terminal. They did march out and entered into fierce bargaining as a group and vanished in a van. In the meantime, streams of people following drivers with pre booked cars passed.
Every now and then a taxi driver would venture up to me; "$35?" "No $25". Interestingly, the row of taxis in front of me didn't move. Lebanese people know better than to catch taxis and the tourists were in a state of terror!

Plan D- Stand Your Ground
"Finally, a driver who had been standing in front of his mercedes taxi near me for some time, said "Okay Riveria $25". I nodded and he grabbed my luggage and headed away from the mercedes.  I said "Hey, this is not your car?". He said "non". and pointed into the distant car park. I marched up, grabbed my bag and said "well then you are not taking me." This started a loud conversation between the drivers in Arabic.  At this point a man came up and said "we are very sorry for the way we have treated you today". He pointed to the Mercedes that I thought I would be riding in and said: "that is my car and I will take you to the Riveria for $25".
I said "this is your Mercedes". He nodded.
I said "and you are a licensed driver". He nodded .
I said: "You know where the riveria is?". He nodded.
"And you will take me for $25"?. He nodded.
"Okay , lets get out of here", I said.

As a driver, he turned out to be a nice guy. I even gave him a tip-let that get back to the other drivers!

Comparing War Wounds
When I got to the hotel,  I compared taxi horror stories with other guests. One guy had paid $40, another $45. One woman had paid $70! One woman had retreated from the drivers and had huddled in the terminal and managed to use her cell phone to call the hotel to send their official car. She felt relieved to have made it. The war may be over in Beirut but for besieged tourists to Lebanon, there is some work that needs to be done. The Egyptians at the Conference I was attending declared that their taxis were better than the Beirut ones - and Egyptian ones have a bad reputation!!

I avoided taxis after that. The taxis didnt avoid tourists. They would regularly stop and call out to peopple they thoght were tourists: "Taxi taxi" or honk their horns for attention or both.This seemed to happen to others, more than it happened to me. We decided to catch a taxi  from a shopping mall to our hotel, a 4km drive. The taxi driver looked at the four of us and with no shame asked for $50. I exclaimed with disgust and walked off. He dropped the fare to $20, then $15, then $14.

Beirut is a fun, fun city- its taxis are apalling. One of the side effects of the war is that any public transport initiatives were set back. There are no buses to the airport. Beirut has no streetcar/tram or metro system. If it was a European city which had not experienced such devastation in its war, I imagine it would have both. In the meantime, tourists and visitors remain victims of the taxi drivers of Beirut.
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11 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Rule 1: don't say taxi
    Rule 2: say service ($1.33 per person per ride)
    Rule 3: if you are unsure only get into a car with someone else sitting in the back seat. ( they don't cheat you as much and often it's there friend in the front)
    Rule 4: a full time driver costs $20 a day plus a $2 dollar lunch $50 + gas if you don't have your own car
    Rule 5: airport to riviera taxi $6.33 tops
    Rule 6: there are places to stay in Lebanon at $10 a night with breakfast and dinner (clean, private room, private bathroom)

  2. I read your blog thanks for sharing information about Beirut Taxi Driver. i think mostly people prefer public transport like buses and trains etc.

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  4. Habib Battah Says:

    This was hilarious and sad. These guys are desperate for money and being a Beirut taxi is probably one of the worst jobs out there. As a local, I order my taxi as soon as I land and meet them out front. But I admire your perseverance!

  5. It is better to say about the service rather than taxis. Actually, very sad to hear about the service was not good. Choose the best transportation mode whether its private or public to avoid the hassles!
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