I knew something was amiss when the taxi meter read 10.50 euros as we pulled away from the Roma Termini train station.
While negotiating the evening rush hour traffic and typing into a translation app on his cell phone, the cab driver suggested the starting fare included a surcharge for all rides from Rome’s main train station.
That was at most a half-truth and all the confirmation I needed to know that I had become a statistic — one of thousands of tourists who are scammed by taxi drivers in Italy every year.
According to Rome’s tourism authority, the taxi meter should have started at 3 euros as with all rides between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays, with one additional euro for the second piece of luggage in the trunk.
Some travel sites suggest there’s an additional 2 euro surcharge for all taxi rides from Roma Termini, although that information is not listed on official sites.
The 5 km ride from Roma Termini to my guesthouse in Trastevere came up to 24 euros — about double the amount that was suggested by a Google search and a local taxi ride hailing app that I frantically downloaded during the ride.
The worry is always about the extent of the overcharges. But what to do — especially as a helpless tourist, locked inside the back of a car in a foreign city?
Here are three things that can help on your next Italy holiday.
The strength of the taxi union and lobby in Italy has severely curtailed the growth of ride-hailing apps such as Uber. That means Uber is only available in major cities such as Rome and Milan — but even those have only a limited Uber Black fleet, which also means generally higher prices.
Before arriving in Italy, download taxi hailing apps associated with the major Italian taxi companies, such as ItTaxi, FreeNow and Free Taxi. But not all apps work in all cities, particularly the smaller ones.
Taxi drivers holding a demonstration in Piazza del Campidoglio in response to the decision made by the Mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri, and the Councilor for Mobility, Eugenio Patane, to issue new taxi licenses in exchange for payment. The event took place on Nov. 9, 2023, in Rome, Italy.
Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Apps allow for cashless payment, but they don’t ensure a set rate. When you book a taxi — via telephone or through an app — fares may still run by the meter, and they can start the moment drivers accept a job. Some fares reflect a range, with the high-end estimate a worst case scenario.
Despite the lack of fixed prices, it’s still prudent to download these apps since hailing a cab off the street isn’t easy.
Plus, you can only board a taxi at designated stands in cities, or if you order one over the phone or via the app.
Learn to recognize official white cabs and the various city emblems, and where taxi drivers post their taxi licenses and vehicle registration numbers.
“Inform yourself about tariffs before paying for the service, especially for journeys between airports and the city center. Usually, these journeys have a fixed price,” said Claudia Gualdi, travel intelligence data lead at Riskline.
Taxis parked in front of the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Italy.
Francesca Volpi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
In Rome, a cab ride to and from Fiumicino Airport from parts of the city within the Aurelian Walls — which covers the the city’s historical core and parts of Trastevere and the Vatican — should cost a flat 50 euros each way.
Base fares also vary from city to city. Meters start at 3 euros in Rome from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, but are slightly higher (3.30 euros) in Florence.
Surcharge and progressive fare structures also vary between cities — information that is not always available in the taxi itself.
As for me, that taxi ride from Roma Termini to my guest house turned out to be the first and last taxi ride I took during my week-long visit to Rome.
I eventually paid the dubious amount on the meter because I was exhausted. I was also relieved that the amount wasn’t higher.
The cab driver took offense at my request for a receipt and my attempts to take a photo of his taxi license and vehicle registration number.
He stopped the vehicle on a busy road, got out and opened the back door, demanding I exit the vehicle.
High-speed trains at the central railway station in Milan in July 2023.
Gabriel Bouys | AFP | Getty Images
I stepped out with all my belongings, thinking he was kicking me out of the cab. But he prevented me from opening the boot to take out my luggage, while telling me over the translation app to “calm down” and not to act rashly.
He eventually nudged me back into the cab and drove me to my intended destination across the Tiber river.
After that, I walked nearly everywhere I went in Rome — including a 45-minute walk to Vatican City. When I got tired, the city’s trams and buses were easy because you can pay for your fares using your credit card. There’s also the city’s underground metro.
The Leonardo Express train to Fiumicino Airport from Roma Termini is a convenient and affordable way to get to the airport.
I decided to take a cab only because I thought handling two pieces of luggage on the bus and tram would be a big hassle. Turns out taking the cab was perhaps worse.