Taxi cab safety – What a girl wants

Taxi cab safety for the solo female traveller

Getting a cab in a foreign country can be tricky for anyone. Now do it in high heels and backwards!

A few years ago I received a memo at work from a health and safety consultant that my organisation had engaged to review our work practices and policies. ‘Henceforth,’ one of the report’s recommendations effectively read, ‘as a solo traveller, Ms. Eva Lin is advised to only use hotels that are recommended as 5-star in terms of safety.’ You can guess my reaction to that endorsement, I just saw the 5 star bit. And then there was the advice for using taxis: ‘wherever possible, taxi or chauffeur services should be arranged by the same hotel,’ which is a fine sentiment in theory, but as you’ll probably guess, completely impractical.

Everybody speaks English. Yeah, right.

For a start (which is when the plane touches down) not all 5-star hotels are going to have the complimentary limousine with uniformed driver waiting at arrivals to whisk you away to the hotel or straight to meetings. In China, the taxi drivers at the airport are often reluctant to take you to nearby hotels if they’ve waited for an hour on the taxi rank – they’re angling for the long journeys that will earn a bit. Then there are all the pitfalls of stepping into a vehicle that is driven by a complete stranger and trusting that he (it’s always a male) understands where you need to go and is going to get you there safely, by the most efficient route. Often the driver says ‘Yes, yes, I know it!’ until you pull away from the rank and onto the road then it’s ‘No, I don’t speak English, I have no idea where this place is and would you speak to my mate on my mobile to explain to him.’

Standing my ground

I consider myself quite aware but it can backfire, take, for example, my experience of landing in Beijing, securing a taxi and mid-journey pulling off the motorway into a back street and into a dark petrol station where a few men were hanging around, smoking and chewing melon seeds. The driver jumped out and told me to get out of the taxi but I refused point blank, instinctively feeling this was a bad situation. Deciding that I wasn’t going to go quietly, you’ll never take me alive and so on, I kicked off good style… until a very nice old lady with some English came over and politely explained that it’s normal practise that passengers must exit the vehicle when the car is being refuelled. After making such a spectacular scene I had to sheepishly slide out of the car and wait for the petrol whilst everyone in the forecourt carried on staring at me, smoking, spitting and laughing at the mad taxi woman.

Pick safety over politeness

But safety is no laughing matter, especially for a woman. I’m fortunate in that I’m not too polite to question what is happening around me but so many women find speaking up difficult for fear of offending. Using a taxi service through an app somehow feels within our comfort zones and it’s easy to feel that some security is granted by the visible nature of it.  Even Uber flatters to deceive on its promise of driver transparency. I booked an Uber ride in London last year and the driver who arrived wasn’t the one on the Uber profile. The hurried explanation of “my mate isn’t well and I’m helping out…” didn’t fill me with confidence and I refused the ride, not because I’m a woman but because of common sense.

Offenders unknown

Shark attacks and celebrity misdemeanours’ grab the headlines while the statistics on assault and crime often lurk on lower pages. Mixed up in there somewhere are also the reports of when-taxi-drivers-turn-bad which may sound like some bad TV programme, but isn’t as uncommon as you may think. Many major cities do not keep comprehensive data about taxi assaults and many incidents go unreported partly because, sadly and for a myriad of reasons, women do not always feel they can step forward.

Harassment and unwanted proposals are issues that many women deal with on a daily basis. It happens and you deal with it as and how you can but when you’re in a confined space and moving at some rate of knots in a strange city with an unknown driver then there is a greater risk and one that you need to be cognisant of.

There is advice out there about how to keep safe but I think the first step is to be aware, listen to your internal voice because it’s usually right and don’t be shy to shout out. The worst that can happen is that you look a bit daft standing on a dark petrol forecourt.

Taxis are great but just remember, that yellow light shining on the ‘TAXI’ sign isn’t the glow from the driver’s halo.