Hailing a Cab in Paris
One of my favorite pastimes in Paris is to watch hapless tourists trying to hail a cab. You simply can't. This is the only large metropolis that I know of where you simply cannot hail a taxi.
In eight years I saw only two cabbies stop when they saw someone desperately flailing their arms. I assumed that they were new to the business.
This is because taxis want to be called by telephone. You see, when you call a cab, they turn on the meter right away. So it is not unusual for taxis who are far away from your location to accept the dispatch's call and show up at your door with ten euros already on the meter.
This is on top of what they will charge you to take you to your destination.
Apparently, there is a maximum amount they can have on the meter upon arrival, something like 6-7 euros but I had taxis show up with anywhere from 11 to 15 euros on their meter. What was I supposed to do, miss my plane? Like everyone else in Paris, you grin and bear.
You might wonder what happens during slow hours when there are not enough callers. Well, they have taxi stations, literally like bus stations, they park there, read papers, solve cross-word puzzles, have a smoke. It is siesta time. They would reluctantly take you as a client if you gather up the courage to knock on their window, bonjour them and ask if they are free.
Then rush hour comes. They simply take off and start waiting for a call.
In certain residential districts it is simply impossible to get a cab during the morning hours, even by calling and paying the extra fee on the meter. Your only option is to book ahead of time.
You call the night before and reserve your taxi for the next morning. If you ask for a cab to show up between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. the system asks you to pay a reservation fee of 5 euros. Yes, that is on top of the extra on the meter. And on top of the cab fare. And they make you pay that right away by credit card.
An interesting detail: The system (it is a computerized female voice) gives you a number at the end of your booking and you need to write it down to tell the driver when he shows up. In Paris you need to use Moscow rules just to get a cab.
If you never lived in France, I know that all of this sounds like a ludicrous exaggeration. In other places, you would have gypsy cabs all over the place doing great business.
Not in France.
And this is not all.
The other day, I reserved a cab to go to the airport the next morning. I pay my five bucks dutifully. Wrote down the secret code to be passed on to the driver. And in the morning, went downstairs to wait for the taxi.
At the appointed hour, I got a call from the taxi dispatch office. The same people who took my five bucks to reserve a taxi for me 12 hours earlier. They told me that they were unable to locate a taxi for me.
And... wait for it... they asked if I still wanted the taxi. You know, the one for which I paid them five euros to reserve.
I was so shocked and angry and confused and pissed off, all at the same time that all I could say was yes.
She called ten minutes later to give me the good news that they got somebody for me who might be there in another ten minutes. This time I gathered enough nerve to ask how it was possible not to have a cab at the appointed hour if I reserved one 12 hours earlier and paid for the privilege.
She was quite upset with me as she clearly expected me to be grateful that she found me a cab during the rush hour. She lectured me about their sound and scientific dispatching procedures and wished me a pleasant day and slammed to phone to my face.
Yes, this is what passes for capitalism here.
I wish French people traveled more and saw the real thing elsewhere.