A new wrinkle on the airport taxi scam: the godfather21 november 2011, 11:15
I’ve had some bad experiences with taxi-driver bandits at Almaty International Airport this year, but the same wasn’t true at Astana International Airport – until recently.
I’ve done two blogs on the taxi-scammer problem at Almaty International the past few months, so some of you may be thinking: What’s your problem – stop being so fixated on rogue cabbies.
But my Tengrinews.kz editor Tatiana tells me that the number of reader clicks on my two airport blogs have been the highest of anything I’ve written, which means many of you are interested in this subject.
I’m speculating that a number of you have experienced the same taxi-scammer problems I did at Almaty International – or your friends have – and that’s why you read the posts.
The problem I’ve encountered in Almaty is a ring of cabbies who take arriving foreigners into the center of the city, then demand six to eight times the normal fare. If the arrivals balk at paying, the scammers refuse to open the trunks of their taxis and return their luggage.
I haven’t seen that kind of scheme at Astana International, but the ever-inventive scammers out there always come up with new tricks.
The one I encountered in Astana might be called the Taxi Mafia Scam.
When I arrived three weeks ago on a flight from Kiev, I could find only three or four non-metered cab drivers at the airport. And each was demanding the same fare – 5,000 tenge, or about $35 – to the city-center location where I wanted to go.
A lot of metered cabs were available in the area, but I avoid them because of two bad experiences I’ve had with them in recent months. That will be the subject of another blog, however.
The 5,000 tenge that the non-metered guys were asking was 2 ½ times more than I’ve ever paid to get from the airport to the city center. So I rejected the demands of one cabbie after the other.
Until that day, I could always find a cabbie who would agree to the usual price I request to the center – about 2,000 tenge or $14. But on this morning, every non-metered cabbie I could find was demanding 5,000.
It was obvious they all were in cahoots, colluding together on the cost of the fare.
I was so determined not to be ripped off that I circled the airport parking lot for several minutes at the awful hour of 6 a.m. in search of a driver who was not part of the cabal.
As I circled, one cabbie followed me, trying to turn me toward his car like a collie nipping at the heels of a sheep.
“Meester, meester – come in my taxi,” he yelped time and again. But he wouldn’t come down on the fare, so I would have none of it.
The cabbie finally left, and I continued to search without success for a non-cabal driver.
The same driver who had been nipping at my heels re-emerged in the parking lot a few minutes later with two Russian guys in their late 20s in tow. The businessmen had just arrived from Moscow.
When the cabbie saw me again, he said, “Meester, OK, Kenesary (which is where I live) – 2,000 tenge.”
With the two Russians in addition to me in his cab, he would be making considerably more than the 5,000 tenge he had demanded from me – so he was finally willing to go down on my fare.
The cabbie opened the back door of his car to let me in, then thought better about it for a moment and told me: “Moment, moment.”
He walked over to a big guy standing in the concrete island between the parking lot and the lane where cars drop passengers in front of the revolving doors to the terminal.
The two men had a short conversation, and the cabbie returned and told me: “OK.”
This was a revealing moment.
It showed me that a cabbie godfather was calling the shots – at least with that group of cabbies and at the particular moment.
I began wondering whether the godfather had used persuasion, threats or muscle to chase off any drivers who were not members of his cabal.
My Russian cab-mates were friendly, but they weren’t happy when they learned that each had paid 3,500 tenge to get to their hotel while I had paid only 2,000 to go to the same general area.
The cabbie came out just fine – 9,000 tenge to take the three of us to two locations very near each other. Nine thousand tenge minus the godfather’s cut, of course.
I was wondering, as I got out of the taxi, how much the godfather was getting – and if I would see him and his cabbie brood again the next time I used Astana International.