Tourists coming to İstanbul often arrive with their heads full of dire warnings about being taken advantage of by unscrupulous taxi drivers.
Expatriates, even those who have been here for years, are known to swap horrors stories about cabbies who had mistakenly equated our obvious foreignness with either basic ignorance about getting around İstanbul or just plain stupidity. The majority of tales about taxi travails concern money, specifically overcharging and being harassed for a tip. My recent problems were not so much to do with money but simply with getting where I wanted to go.
I don’t want to go there!
I want to go somewhere else!
Several months ago, an American friend of mine and I were coming back from a hot summer’s day meeting at the American Consulate. Our initial plan was to take a taxi to Kabataş, board the tram and get off at our respective stops, Sirkeci for her and Sultanahmet for me. We realized that by sharing the cab fare, we would spend only a few lira more if we took a taxi all the way in air-conditioned comfort. I was going just a bit further than she, to a friend’s restaurant on Küçük Aya Sofya Caddesi. While the driver had no problem dropping off my friend across from the train station where she was going to buy a ticket, the man seemed bound and determined to take me to the tourist site of Aya Sofya whether I wanted to go there or not. Repetitions of dur! Sol yok (Straight, not left!) made little impression on his choice of my destination. By the way, I discovered on this trip that there are many, many left hand turns from the main thoroughfare by which one can get to the famous church-cum-mosque-cum museum. To get his clear attention, I started tapping his very thick head lightly with my bamboo fan every time we approached a possible left turn. Straight, (tap) not left, straight (tap) not left. I will say left when I want to go left! By the time we had passed the tramway on the highly touristic Divan Yolu Caddesi, he had gotten the idea that I did NOT want to turn left. That is, until we had gone down the hill to an intersection where traffic could legally turn only to the left. The driver hesitated. “Yes, left!” I cried out. Having no choice, he turned left and followed the traffic down to Küçük Aya Sofya Caddesi, which was where I had wanted to go in the first place. As soon as we reached the street, I had him stop and let me out, fearing that he would make another left turn to take me up to Aya Sofya where I did not want to go. Needless to say, no tip for him.
Isn’t it a taxi’s business to take passengers?
Then there was the day the funicular from Taksim to Kabataş failed. While the funicular has only a short run back and forth from the end of the tram line to Taksim Square, it is always packed. Travelers have come to depend on its regularity for hauling them up and down an otherwise laborious route between the seaside and this popular shopping area. It was a busy Saturday, so there were many distressed would-be passengers when the funicular stopped running shortly after noon. Having to find alternative transport down to the tramline, most people headed for the line of taxis across from the entrance to the funicular. I met up with two other women of like mind, thinking that it would be easy to find a ride for the three of us. How wrong we were.
The drivers, lounging about, smoking and chatting amongst themselves, showed no interest in ferrying us, or anyone else for that matter, down the hill. Shaking our heads in puzzlement, we persisted. At last, a taxi driver who seemed to think that it was actually his business to take people from one place to another picked us up. A nice chatty older gent, he explained that “those young fellows” were waiting for tourists whom they could overcharge. He went on to say that in the time they wasted lurking about, he could drive up and down the hill a number of times, taking otherwise stranded folk back and forth for TL 5 a trip. He chuckled, knowing he’d be busy all afternoon and getting tips from people grateful for someone unwilling to ignore them. Needless to say, we each gave him a lira tip.
Later that night, I found that a friend had a similar problem with getting from the same place to the place she wanted to go. Unable to take the disabled funicular to the Kabataş tram station, she too thought a taxi would do the trick. However, it wasn’t until she had actually gotten in the vehicle and it had stated off that the driver realized she wanted only a short ride down the hill. Rather than continuing on the street downhill, he drove her in the heavy Taksim traffic around the square and dropped her off where he had picked her up -- for no charge. The cabbie could probably have driven her down and come back in the same time it took him to negotiate the round-about. The happy ending here is that she did find a fellow willing to make the short trip to the tram stop.
But I have an address and directions!
Again this summer, a group of us expatriate women got together for a chat and celebration of a friend’s birthday at Victor Levi in Kadıköy. The Asian side is not my usual stomping ground, so directions were needed, most of which involved walking up gently sloping hills. I couldn’t envision walking up any hills, gentle or not, with birthday presents in a carry-bag slung over one shoulder, a cane in my right hand because of a back problem and a birthday cake in the left, so I decided to indulge and take a taxi from the Kadıköy iskelesi (ferry port) to the restaurant. Only a few meters from my house, I hailed a cab that dropped me off directly in front of the ferry to Kadıköy, just in time to board and get an outdoor seat as a bit of the reprieve from the oppressive heat.
So far, so good. I had hardly gotten off the ferry and hobbled up to the line of waiting taxis when a cabbie swung open the back door of his vehicle. Ah ha, I thought, an easy ride. Not quite as easy as I thought however. The courteous fellow had no idea where the restaurant was, not even when shown the address, complete with cross-streets. Another driver approached, then another and another, all to figure out “abla’s” (older sister) dilemma. Finally an older gent came to the rescue. He looked at my directions, said “Ah, Victor Levy!” They all went into a huddle, then escorted me from my taxi to another. It may have taken five grown men to figure it out, but I was finally on my way, delivered safely to my destination and pretty much according to the directions I had in hand.
Really, Mister Taxi Driver, all I want is to get to where I want to go.