Uber vs Taxi in Turkey

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Turkey can be a tough country to get around in. Taxi scams are common, and public transportation can be crowded and confusing to use. So many people wonder whether Uber or Lyft, or another rideshare service, operate in Turkey. Uber and other rideshare services do in fact operate in Turkey. But there are drawbacks to using them.

Uber in Turkey

Uber's app does operate in Istanbul, and the estimated wait times are not horrendous. In our tests we found that although estimated wait times were higher than they are in U.S. cities, they were not excessive.

Uber hails licensed taxis in Turkey

The problem is that Uber can't operate unlicensed ride sharing in Istanbul, so Uber's app simply calls a licensed taxi. This means that you're limited to the taxi pool, and you are at the mercy of taxi drivers.

More importantly, when you actually need an Uber, it can be nearly impossible to get one. We tested Uber on three separate occasions, during traffic time or in the rain. Each time, the app claimed that Ubers were available. However, after we tried to request a ride in the app, it hung for several minutes while assigning us to a driver, after which it said no drivers were available.

This can be really frustrating in Turkey, because there are plenty of taxis driving about, and during the time the Uber app claims it's assigning a driver, we missed several opportunities to hail an actual taxi.

Overall, we found that Uber was not a viable option in Turkey -- especially during more busy times. There are other taxi hailing apps, like Bitaxi, which are worth a try, although you may have problems using it with a foreign phone number and credit card.

Taxis in Turkey

Regardless of which app you use, you'll end up with a licensed taxi in Istanbul. This means that you must deal with taxi drivers and taxi scams.

Although Uber is supposed to help you avoid taxi drivers and taxi scams, it doesn't do that in Turkey. Some have complained of Uber drivers renegotiating or charging additional fees at the last minute.

Taxis have several scams they may pull on non-locals. The first one is that most will refuse to use the meter. Out of 20 taxis we took for this story, only three were willing to use the meter. Of those three, two were hailed by the hotel staff. And of those two, one added a 200 TL fee at the end of the ride.

Consider public transportation instead of taxis in Turkey

Many people will tell you to only take taxis that agree to use the meter. This is practically impossible. If you try to do this on a busy street, you will never get a taxi driver to take you anywhere. Also, as we noted earlier, some taxi drivers will use the meter and then demand an additional amount at the end.

Instead, we recommend simply asking how much the driver wants before getting in the taxi. If it's too much, you can negotiate or wait for another taxi. But this way, you don't have to wait for the few taxis who will use the meter, and you avoid the many taxi meter scams that drivers pull.

Another scam commonly played on visitors involves changing money. This happened to us multiple times, where a driver insists he doesn't have any change, and you're forced to overpay. You can avoid this scam by ensuring that you have small bills (20 TL, 50 TL) on you at all times. These may be hard to get from ATMs, so you'll need to get change at a convenience store or hotel.

There are several other, less common scams. A driver may insist that you gave them a smaller bill than you actually gave. Or a driver may insist on taking you to a certain bar or restaurant, where they will bilk you. Finally, there's a common scam used all over the world: if the driver does use the meter, he may take a long way in order to charge you more.

How to Protect Yourself on Ubers and Taxis in Turkey

There are several things to do before getting in to a taxi or Uber in Turkey.

First, make sure you are clear on the method of payment. As we explained earlier, your best bet is to pre-negotiate a price for the ride. You'll end up paying more than the locals, but you're guaranteed not to face a meter scam.

If you're using Uber, make sure the driver agrees that you will pay through the app, and that there are no additional charges.

Second, make sure that you have change. This may mean stopping at a nearby convenience store or shop. If you don't, the taxi or Uber driver may make you overpay.

Once you get into the vehicle, be aware of the route you're supposed to take to your destination. Open up Google Maps or Waze on your phone and follow along with the route. If your driver appears to veer too far off course, you can pay and get out, then find another taxi.

Have the phone number for local police on your phone. And if you face problems with a taxi driver, you can contact the Transport Directorate here.

Lastly, consider public transportation. Buses, trams, and ferries are excellent ways to get around in Turkey, although they can get crowded.

About the author: Roger Davies is a writer for Empty Lighthouse Magazine and a business traveler. He has been to more than 150 countries, although he has spent much of the time in the airport. You can reach him at writers@emptylighthouse.com