Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

Taxis' Décor Is About More Than Just Culture

A taxi ride is one of those services consumers pay for because they have to, not because they want to. In an increasingly harmonized world, is a cab ride becoming a standardized experience around the globe?

Research in large cities suggests that price is only part of a complex of variables determining how many people use taxis. Los Angeles was found to be charging the highest urban taxi fares in the world. New York fares were not far behind, and both cities showed low figures for “used a taxi yesterday”. By contrast, cab fares and car-ownership are dramatically lower in places like Buenos Aires and Mexico City, and taxi usage is higher.

The principle seems to be that fewer private cars mean a bigger pool of taxis, and of customers wanting to ride in them.  In many cities, taxis are a ‘commoditized’ alternative to a creaking and unreliable urban public transport system.

Of course a taxi ride is not just about getting from A to B. What of the “in-taxi experience”? Depending on where in the world you hire your cab, its interior fixtures and décor will tell you a lot about local culture and traditions.

Aside from the miniature football boots dangling from every rear-view mirror, quirks of decor will be a tribute to the uniqueness of the local culture. In Mexico, for instance, the inside of a taxi is often decked out like a religious shrine. Crimson ‘altar cloths’ fringed with gold tassels cover the dashboard. St. Christopher medals and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe dangle distractingly in front of your driver’s eyes. (This is so that, when a traffic accident is imminent, he can take his hands off the steering wheel and grab hold of something reliable).

In Saudi Arabia, Pi was told, you will find cabbies watching miniature TV sets while driving you around. One nervous passenger asked if this wasn’t a rather dangerous practice. “Not really”, said the driver, “at least it’s not as dangerous as reading the newspaper”. 

In-cab appurtenances have enormous local significance. Taxi fares seem to be governed by a “price-to-kitsch ratio”:  the cheapest cab-rides are to be had in Mumbai, Bangkok, Jakarta and in the rainbow-colored ‘jeepneys’ of Manila. These are all cities where taxi-drivers vie for the honor of owning the most exotic-looking taxi on the street. How different from the sober black of London taxis, (which of course cost a lot more to ride in).  The mathematical principle at work here seems to be that the fare varies in inverse proportion to the garishness of the vehicle’s décor.

Pi says: when hailing a cab in foreign parts, look out for fairy-lights, gold trimmed crimson altar cloths, holy medallions and flashing neon dice.   You’ll probably save money.

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Travel