Taxi Mecca
How to get a taxi in Prague

prague taxiThe early evening twilight creates an eerily beautiful backdrop as funky Jameliah blasts from a boom box and a line of weary backpackers creeps down Dlouha Street. Throngs of people speaking a dozen different languages emerge from narrow passageways under the scrutiny of taxi drivers awaiting their prey. This is Prague as tourist town.

Tourism was big in Prague even before the fall of Communism and taxi drivers were among the privileged few who had access to them and their hard foreign currency. The average citizen couldn't afford to ride taxis in those days, but foreigners could and they paid well. Fifteen years later the tourists are still coming and like it or not, they often pay very well for the privilege of riding in taxis. But today locals ride taxis too and for them the ride is sometimes quite affordable.

When planning my first trip to Prague, I booked an airport transfer at the same time I reserved my hotel in the Old Town. Upon arrival at the airport I walked straight out of baggage check, jumped into the minivan and avoided all the stress that goes along with arriving in an unfamiliar country. I paid 20€ for that privilege, but I quickly learned that even one of the infamous Prague taxis would have been cheaper. So began my crash course in the Prague taxi culture.

That night, for my first taxi ride in the city, I followed the advice in my Prague guidebook and before getting in, I made sure to ask the taxi driver what the fare would be to my destination. I asked for the price from Wenceslas Square to Mála Strana, but I didn't bother replying to the answer, I knew that 800 crowns was even more than I would have paid in London. I kept walking and when I found the next taxi I decided to try something different. I jumped in and said, "meter" to which the cabbie eagerly responded, "no problem!" One round trip (the bar was closed) and six hundred crowns later, I thought I had been taken, but I wasn't sure. Today I know that this same ride would have cost me less than half that in a radio-dispatched taxi.

I soon learned that the only sure way to get a "cheap" ride was to call and request a radio-dispatched taxi. But I also learned that Czech-speaking natives could often get the best deals from those same independent taxis that provided my early taxi training. I became a man with a mission. I wanted to learn the secrets of riding taxis in Prague.

Lesson N° 1: Freedom of Choice
My first revelation was an unexpected one. In spite of all the horror stories about taxis in Prague, I learned that the taxi system is a healthy and working one. In London those big black cabs are never far away, as long as you're willing to pay. But I can remember nights in Paris when a taxi couldn't be had anywhere on the Champs Elysées for any price. In Prague the question is almost never how long will it take to get a taxi, rather how much do you want to pay. Luckily, once you know a few key facts, the choice is yours.

Lesson N° 2: Cheap for a Price
My second lesson was that radio-dispatched taxis in Prague are among the cheapest in Europe. Provided that you have the phone number, you can call a taxi and have it come to pick you up wherever you are in Prague. But you may have to wait…during peak hours you could be put on hold for up to ten minutes before placing your order and it can take up to 15 minutes to get your taxi. Sending an SMS is an attractive option, many operators allow you to send a quick message stating your name and pick up place. This allows you to avoid waiting on hold for an operator. But cizinec beware! You can send your sms in English, but the answer will come back in Czech!

Prague has at least half a dozen radio-dispatched taxi operators. The biggest is AAA with 1200 cars (25CZK then 21,90CZK/km), followed by the slightly cheaper City Taxi with 300 cars (25CZK then 20,90/km). Both of these services have English speaking operators, and generally have taxis ready to send to you. Even if you don't know have a number, many bars, restaurants, hotels and other establishments are more than happy to call a cab for you.

Lesson N° 3: Rules of the Road
Like it or not, in spite of your best efforts, if you spend any amount of time in Prague, sooner or later you probably will end up hailing a taxi on the street. You'll need to know which taxis are which. The radio-dispatched taxis have the name of their company (and usually the phone number) painted on the side of the car. AAA, City Taxi, Halo Taxi, and ProfiTaxi are all names that you will see. But independent taxis can be recognized by their lack of a company name and phone number.

Hailing a radio-dispatched taxi on the street is your best bet. The price will be about 25% more expensive than you would pay by calling the radio dispatcher to request a taxi from the same company (34CZK, then 25CZK/km for AAA), but you can generally depend on them to get you to where you're going for a reasonable price. Nonetheless, even taxis from City Taxi and AAA are not a sure thing when stopped on the street, especially if you do so in heavily touristed areas (e.g. Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square). You can avoid falling into the tourist trap by making sure that the meter is turned on and set to the correct rate once you start your ride (the meter should generally be set to 1 or 2, but check the price key that should be visible somewhere inside the cab for the correct rate). If you suspect foul play, ask for a receipt, the driver is legally obliged to give you one and if there really is some hanky panky going on, having to do so could cause him to suddenly discover a problem with the meter.

Lesson 4: The Lore of the Independents
Independent taxis are a different beast. While their standard rates vary, the cheapest are comparable to the rates of a radio taxi hailed on the street, but the most expensive will run you a few more crowns per kilometer than a street-hailed radio taxi. Even if you are OK with that, there are some unscrupulous operators out there, which means that you can never be sure what meter rate is actually being applied. All things considered, if you are unfamiliar with a taxi company, a good rule of thumb is to negotiate a fixed price before getting into the cab.

On my first trip to Prague there was a night when I took a trip in an independent taxi with a newfound Czech friend. I noticed that once in the cab, she quickly spoke to the driver in Czech and we went on a long ride for only 150CZK. I was sure this was cheaper than I would have paid in a radio cab, and I was even surer that I had already paid twice as much for a ride that was half as long. So I asked her what she had said. The answer was that she had simply asked him if he would take her to a specific address for 150CZK.

Maybe this was the secret? Just know your fares, name your price and wait until you find a willing driver. Armed with my newfound knowledge, I immediately hit the road. On my first outing I offered 200CZK for a ride from Old Town Square to Prague 7 and the driver quickly accepted. In fact, every driver quickly accepted a price of 200 crowns or more within the center. I thought I had finally discovered how to deal with any taxi driver until somebody told me that 200CZK was an expensive ride. A little bit embarrassed and with diminished zeal, I waited for a deserted night and decided to try something new. I offered three cabs 50CZK to drive me from Námesti Republiky to I.P. Pavlova. The first said "150CZK minimum" (which is a standard response on weekend nights in Prague 1), the second looked at me like I was crazy, but the third gave me an amused look and accepted. I knew that my crash course had come to an end.

Sex Bombs and skilled negotiators who speak Czech may be able to pay a 50CZK fare for a 100CZK trip on every outing, but you probably won't. So if you want to benefit from the abundance of cheap taxis in Prague, call (or send an sms) and order a radio taxi. Nonetheless, if you're in a hurry, you have a good idea of what a ride should normally cost and you are headed for a destination where the driver won't have any problem finding another passenger, you shouldn't worry too much about giving the independent cabs a try.

Useful Information:

AAA Radio Taxi
Tel: 221.102.211
Mobile: 603.331.133 / 602.331.133 / 777.331.133

City Taxi
Tel: 257.257.257
Tel/SMS: 777.257.257