So Amy and I decided to take a taxi back from the Summer Palace to our hotel. Partly because the walk around the Palace grounds (which are huge) wore us out, and partly because we couldn’t figure out how to get back to the subway station we’d taken the taxi from in the first place.
A warning, which will likely be universally understood by many travellers, some taxi drivers in Beijing are con artists. Well, more like would-be con artists, as to be a proper artist, you have to be accepted for your ability. The a-hole who decided to dupe us really didn’t come off that way.
As we’d exited the Summer Palace, this guy ran up to us with a card, said "meter!" (usually a good thing) and offered us his car. The card said "1.20", which is supposed to be the rate per kilometre. At first, all was well. But by the time we hit the highway, I happened to notice that the fare was already 36 yuan, rather than a much lower (expected) rate. This set off my bullshit alarm, and I started to watch the meter earnestly, commenting to Amy that we were getting hosed.
When we got to the hotel, the fare was 95 yuan for what shouldn’t have been more than about 60. We knew that by rough calculation. The driver tried to drop us off across the street from the hotel, but we directed him in (though he did try to avoid it). I guess he knew the jig was up when Amy called over one of the attendants who spoke English. (One advantage of a very nice hotel — staff who speak English quite well.) The driver offered 70. Given that he did get us there quickly, we agreed.
How do you tell if you’re about to be ripped off? Glance at the meter. It should be in clear view. There will likely be three numbers: the rate (1.20, 1.60, or 1.80), the kilometres driven (which we think was also rigged, so check with your guides), and the time spent waiting (this doesn’t seem to affect the fare much). Watch the rate — ours changed from 1.20 to 1.80 pretty much whenever the driver pushed down on the accelerator.
How to avoid? Peg the fare in advance before you leave, and write it down. Or use a taxi from a good hotel — they might cost a bit more, but they won’t pull silly buggers (as my dad used to say) with you.