Back in the seventies when I first got here, you could count on finding a vast series of things – services, turnstiles, photocopiers, traffic lights, even tollbooths – that didn’t work, and which more often than not were advertised by scraps of paper with the word GUASTO, broken, scrawled on them. And today things are only marginally better. Listed phone numbers, even on official sites, that never answer. Cryptic messages from your phone provider telling you that you are not authorized to call this or that number. Wildcat strikes or union meetings – the key word is “assemblea” – that closes down the government office you decided to visit that day. Demonstrations that shut city streets and reroute traffic. Uncollected garbage and so on.
One thing that always works, even back then, was Radio Taxi, the term used for the official, non-Uber (no Uber here yet) cab companies that can, in the blink of a telephone call, send a driver to pick you up. Yes, even back then, the efficiency of Radio Taxi was in sharp contrast to a country that had so many things guaste that daily life was hard to manage.
You are standing on a major downtown Rome thoroughfare and you want a taxi. You keep trying to flag one down, but even though they are empty, they keep passing you by. What’s going on, you wonder? You are decently dressed. Probably, you look like a tourist but that shouldn’t be a problem. Then what is it?
Well, let me explain. In Italy, as in many other European countries, a taxi driver is NOT ALLOWED to stop for you IF he (or she) is within a certain distance (in Rome, it is 100 meters) to a taxi stand where some of his colleagues have been waiting for a fare, possibly for some time. Because of high gas prices, and an economic slowdown, many European taxi drivers prefer to wait at a “posteggio” rather than to cruise around the city looking for a customer.
So, if an empty taxi passes you by it is probably on its way to pick up a client who has phoned. Or the tassista has just left someone off and is heading for the taxi stand you haven’t noticed to take his place in line. By the way, most of these taxi stands – stazionamento taxi – have dedicated phone numbers (available on the internet). Or you can walk to the posteggio nearest to your residence and, I necessary, wait in line. Naturally, you are supposed to take the taxi that has been waiting longest. “A chi tocca?” (“Whose turn is it”), I generally ask, when it is not clear who should be first.
In Rome, very few drivers speak English, although the younger ones can generally manage. If you think you might have trouble making yourself understood, write your destination down on a piece of paper and show it to the driver. Remember to make sure that he (or she) has turned on his (or her) meter and remember, too, that if you telephone for a taxi, it will arrive with a charge somewhat above the starting rate which as of 2012 is €3 on weekdays until 10p.m., €4.5 on Sundays and holidays and €6.50 after 10 p.m. In general, taxis in Italy are more expensive than in the U.S. or even many other European countries.
I have always said that RadioTaxi is probably the only thing in Rome that really functions well. You call up, are told a taxi with a certain name or number is available in a certain number of minutes, and if you accept (the longer the time, the higher the cost will be on the meter), you go downstairs and usually the cab will come as promised. Extraordinary in a city where very few things can be relied on.
With today’s technology, the taxi-phone service has gone satellite and has become easier than ever. If I phone 06 3570 (my favorite company) from my home phone, I get a message saying: If you want a taxi right away at Via della….where I live), press one. A few minutes later they tell you a certain taxi will arrive in a certain number of minutes and that you should hang up immediately if you accept. If you learn that the taxi will take too long to arrive, you might well decline it, as the longer it takes to get to you, the higher the initial charge on the meter will be. But I live fairly close to a taxi stand, so generally the taxi arrives in two or three minutes. Occasionally – on a day when it is pouring rain – no taxi may be immediately available. But that happens as well if you were hailing a cab on the street
SOMETHING NEW & TIPPING
Recently, 3570 decided to allow reservations for any time and destination (previously, the only reservations allowed were for trips to the airport and the two principal train stations). 3570’s drivers all accept credit cards or Italian cash cards (Bancomat) and like all drivers here they do not expect a tip and will be delighted if you give them one. (I generally tip by rounding off the reading on the meter, but if it were a flat 10 euros, and I had a ten euro bill in my wallet, I wouldn’t give anything and the driver wouldn’t even blink.)
The 3570 company (dial 06 3570) was the first radio taxi to appear in Rome back in 1968 and although there are now a variety of companies you can call – check the internet in whatever city you are in for the list – 3570 is still the biggest in Rome with about 3500 drivers. According to them, they get close to 30,000 calls a day, about ten percent of which come from foreigners, meaning they have be able to handle calls from non-Italian speakers.
Some people give Rome’s taxi drivers a very bad press. I recently saw an enormously long article on another English-language site that totally trashed them for dishonesty. But I do not agree. Of course, there are some bad apples and the most likely victims are foreign tourists, as happens in other major cities as well, for example New York or Istanbul. Some unscrupulous Roman drivers may rig their meters so that they work at the rate ascribed to outlying zones but most behave correctly.
If you are going from one point to another in central Rome you are unlikely ever to pay more than 15 or 16 euro, unless you get stuck in traffic or caught up in a demonstration. Remember, however, that if you take a taxi at the central Rome train station, or from anywhere else, the driver has no business telling you what the trip is going to cost. Also since 2012, there are flat rates to and from downtown Rome to Fiumicino airport (€48) while the charge for Ciampino airport on the other side of the city is €30. There can be additional charges for baggage and if you have phoned for the taxi there will be something additional to pay.