Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Taxi Amman

If you don't have your own car in Jordan, you're probably going to be riding a taxi. Public transportation in Amman here is limited and somewhat unscheduled, while privately operated buses tend to operate only on the most profitable routes. Biking and walking are rather dangerous due to a general lack of sidewalks and a Jordanian tendency to park on sidewalks that are available. Taxis, on the other hand, are literally everywhere. Unless you're on a side street or an an alley, there will be an empty taxi available within a few minutes. The exception is on Thursday during the evening rush hour. I've gone almost an hour without finding a taxi. The exception is on Thursday during the evening rush hour (basically the start of the Jordanian weekend). I've gone almost an hour without finding a taxi.

If you wanted to call a taxi to pick you up at a specific place, your only option is Moumayaz Taxi. Moumayaz is slightly more expensive than other taxis, but are the only company that takes fares by phone. They can be visually differentiated from all other taxis because they are silver rather than yellow. I've never had a reason to take a Moumayaz Taxi, because it's always been extremely easy for me to flag down a yellow cab instead.

You hail a taxi by flagging them down just as you would in the US. Generally speaking, taxi drivers really want your business. They will reverse their cars, make u-turns, or stop in the middle of traffic to pick you up. Where you sit in the taxi will depend upon your gender. If you're a male, you sit in the passenger seat. If you're female, you sit in the back. The only time it is socially acceptable for a male to sit in the back is if there is more than one male passenger, and the only time a female should sit in the front is if there are more than three female passengers. Taxi drivers themselves are almost universally male, although I have seen a few female drivers here and there.

When you get in the cab, the driver will have three things: a pack of cigarettes, a cup of Arabic coffee (most likely empty) and a phone with a headset. Throughout your ride the driver will probably smoke a cigarette, drink his coffee, and emphatically say things into his headset to some person on the phone. Sometimes, drivers will only wear the headset on their left ear, making it hard to tell if they are talking to somebody on the phone, talking to you, or merely crazy. The driver will smoke regardless of whether or not a sign in the taxi says smoking prohibited.

If you do it right, taxi rides in Amman are extremely cheap - never more than about JD 3.5 even in the worst traffic, or about $5 US. My daily ride to and from the university is usually less than JD 2. If a cab driver wants more money than that, it's a ripoff. You should always carry exact change in a cab - often times, drivers don't have change, especially in the mornings.

Some cab drivers will attempt to rip you off as soon as they realize you're a foreigner. If you think they cannot tell you are a foreigner, you are probably wrong. Unless you're a native speaker of Jordanian dialect Arabic, they'll know from you're accent. If you're like me, they can probably tell just from looking at you. Despite this, being a foreigner is not the decisive factor in determining whether or not you'll be subject to a scam - it's your point of origin and destination. Several destinations in Amman are well known as tourist spots: the Roman Theater, Citadel Hill, Rainbow Street (which is essentially the tourist district) and the Jet Bus station are locations where I've been asked for outrageous amounts by cabbies. It's also common for this to happen if you ask a cabbie to take you to a hotel frequented by Westerners, such as the Landmark.

The most common move by cabbies is to simply not turn on the meter, then ask you for way too much money when you arrive. Inside Amman city limits, the law requires them to run the meter and use it at all times. If you tell the cabbie to turn on the meter (shuggal aladad) and they don't do it, the best move is to tell them to stop the taxi. They'll either capitulate and turn it on, or you can find another cab, which isn't hard to do. Other times, they'll tell you a price before you get in - if you can't convince them to turn on the meter, at the very least you shouldn't be paying more than 3 JD. 

The meter should always start from 0.25 JD. At night (after 10 PM) it is higher - 0.30 JD, and the meter itself runs faster. A less conspicuous move I've had a cab driver make was to start the meter at the post-10 PM price, which then results in it running faster. If the meter doesn't start from 0.25 JD in a yellow taxi, you need to find another cab.

Sometimes taxi drivers are a good way for me to practice my Arabic. Today I managed to hold a conversation for about 10-15 minutes almost all in Arabic, asking a driver how long he had been a driver, his family, and the weather. I also told him about my family and what I was studying in Jordan. Oftentimes, however, a majority don't seem to feel like talking and will instead receive phone calls, listen to talk radio, or both.

One might think that with all this going on, Taxi drivers are distracted. My Jordanian friends have told me basically the opposite: taxi drivers are considered by Jordanians to generally be the best drivers on the road. "We say if you're about have an accident", a Jordanian told me, "steer toward the nearest Taxi driver to avoid it. He'll see you and get out of the way."

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