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Taxi and Auto-Rickshaw Travel

Probably the best way to get around an Indian city is by taxi or motorized auto-rickshaw. Auto-rickshaws, especially, are fast and cheap, although not as comfortable as an air-conditioned taxi.

Auto-rickshaws are practically everywhere and are easy to flag down. Taxis are also easy to hail on the street in Mumbai, but harder to find in Delhi. One drawback is that most drivers don't speak much English. If your driver can't understand your pronunciation of a landmark or hotel, pen and paper may do the trick. Bystanders are also often helpful in getting from point A to B.

Most important, find out in advance the approximate fare for the distance you will be going—someone at your hotel can give you a ballpark figure. This is crucial, because even if your taxi or rickshaw has a meter, the driver might not use it. In Delhi, it’s common for rickshaw drivers to quote outrageous fares and claim that the meter is "broken." Don't fight the system—just have an idea of a fair price before you get in, and expect that negotiation will usually be part of the game. A good rule of thumb is that no rickshaw ride should cost more than Rs. 150 (most are much less), and no taxi ride should cost more than Rs. 600, unless you are going really, really far away. In Mumbai, drivers are good about using the meter and rate conversion cards that are used to convert the rates on outdated meters to current, government-approved norms. Once you're at your destination, the card shows how much you should pay based on the figure displayed on the meter. If you think you're going to a place that may not have vehicles for the return journey (you will probably know for sure only when you reach your destination, unfortunately), then when you arrive, negotiate a waiting fare and a return fare with the driver.

Remember that there are prepaid taxi and auto-rickshaw counters at airports and train stations in major cities, as well as at some top tourist spots. You tell the clerk your destination and pay for it in advance. He may ask you how much luggage you have—paying an extra Rs. 10 is the norm for each large bag or suitcase. The clerk will give you a receipt, at which point you might have to stand in line for the taxi or rickshaw. The driver might also be standing next to you and escort you to his vehicle. Do not get waylaid by aggressive drivers who try to persuade you to come to them instead of going to the counter; they'll certainly charge you more than the published rate. At your destination, do not pay the driver anything extra, even if he claims you gave the wrong destination to the counter clerk (unlikely) or gives other excuses.

Drivers in areas popular with tourists supplement their incomes by offering to find you a hotel or to take you shopping at the "best" stores, which means they'll get a commission if you get a room or buy anything. The stores are usually very expensive, so if you don't want this kind of detour, you must be very firm. Finally, taxis close to luxury hotels are notorious for swindling customers who hire them outside the hotel. Establish beforehand, with the help of the doorman, that the taxi driver will follow his meter or rate card, or negotiate the fare in the presence of the doorman. Or, better yet, walk a block or two away from the hotel's entrance.


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