So, I took a “service” taxi by myself for the first time this morning..woop woop!
What’s the difference between a service and a taxi service? Well, in a “service” (pronounced ‘serveece’), the driver can pick up as many people as his car can hold, so you never know who is going to be sitting next to you, or how many stops there are going to be before yours. That is, unless you tell him you want a “taxi” in which case you will pay as much as you would for a private taxi service.) When you call a private taxi service, its only you in the car, and the only stop is your stop..(but you knew that already. right? Have I lost you yet? No? Good.)
You see, the average taxi ride in a service taxi is 2,000 Lebanese Pounds (LL) , or a little more than $1, whereas when you call a private taxi service, every ride averages around 10,000 Lebanese Pounds (LL), or almost $7. It is because of this, that service taxi drivers are picky when choosing which customers to drop and pick up, and it isn’t uncommon for you to get rejected a few times before someone agrees to take you.. So essentially, how it works is that you have to stand at the side of the road, shouting out your destination to service taxi drivers as they pull up next to you (hailing a taxi requires zero effort..they pull up directly along side you and honk, and honk, and honk until you acknowledge them)..and then leave it up to them to decide whether or not they want to take you. Yep. That’s how it works.
So, after learning all of this..something about the idea of yelling out to taxis on the street, with the chance that they may or may not want to take me, on top of not knowing who I was going to be sitting next to, or if the taxi driver was going to rip me off..jussssst didn’t appeal to me… I mean, prior to this the only time I had ever taken a taxi was when I would go drive down to South Beach, park, and then hail a taxi cause my friends and I didn’t want to walk from 10th to 17th street in our stilettos. True story., So for the last three months, like a little princess, I’ve been calling a private taxi to take me everywhere..revelling in my comfort while emptying my wallet..
I knew there would come a day, when I would need to man up and start taking services instead of calling a private taxi service..but I was putting off that day for as long as possible. When, yesterday, it arrived. I was sitting down counting all of the money I didn’t have, when I realized that 1. I need to cancel my membership at the gym, and 2. I have to start taking services.
Sooo..I decided today was the day that I would over come my fear.
“I can do this!” I told myself as I walked out of my apartment this morning and joined the others trying to hail taxis. And so it began,,
“Downtown!” I yelled to the first taxi..REJECTED..”Downtown!” I yelled again to the second taxi..REJECTED..aaand I started to panic..trying to calm the anxiety that was swelling up inside of me.
I looked around, and across the street, a taxi had stopped and yelled back to me, “Downtown??” To which I nodded, and with a quick jerk of his head (which I quickly learnt meant “yes, I’ll take you“, I dodged oncoming traffic, and jumped into his car..SAFE. (Note: It’s quite a skill to determine whether a service driver has told you ‘yes’ or ‘no’..if they don’t want to take you oftentimes they will just drive off..or sometimes, they’ll stop once they’ve heard your destination, as if they’re contemplating their route in their head,,and then you start walking toward them,,almost touching the door handle,,when they drive off and leave you stranded in the middle of the road. Yep… How do you know if they’ve accepted you? Well, a quick jerk of the head backwards almost always means yes. Confusing. I know. As you take more and more taxis you will get the hang of it – as with almost everything else in that thing called L.I.F.E.)
On the way to Downtown, we picked up another young girl who looked like she was going to University, when I realized, “SHIT, how do I tell him where to stop?!? What’s the word for ‘stop’ in Arabic? stupid.stupid.stupid. I should’ve asked my friends this question before I did this! Arghh!” So I turned to the young girl next to me, smiled, and asked her, “Do I tell him where to stop, or does he decide?” To which she replied, “Tell him where, its better..”
So I tapped him on the shoulder (I felt too embarrassed to ask the girl how to say ‘stop here’ in Arabic…which I later learnt is ‘hone’ or you can say ‘hone please’ as iI would say hahah), just before he made the turn to leave Downtown..and hopped out of the service beaming with pride.
Hurray for small victories!
I had taken my first service in Beirut!
*IMPORTANT UPDATE as of 1/7/12 – Almost all service taxi drivers are out to ‘make a buck’ in whatever way they can..I mean, they lead difficult lives. Fare prices are low ($1 for god’s sake!), gas is expensive, and traffic is insane..which means that oftentimes they can’t even afford to maintain their cars or fix their parts – which is a contributing factor to why the pollution (and noise pollution) is so bad in Beirut (a conversation for another day)..so for those of you, like me, who have been driving your entire life, getting used to the sometimes squalid conditions of the taxis will take some getting used to. (The vast majority of the taxis on the road are..I want to say..between 30 – 40 years old Mercedes Benz.) For those of you accustom to clean public transport systems (subways/buses) I guess it will be easier for you, but an adjustment all of the same. Now back to my point..
If you are a foreigner, and obviously look and dress like a foreigner, taxi drivers will try to rip you off EVERY SINGLE TIME. Without fail. I was relatively lucky because people often mistook me for being Lebanese.. But even so, I made sure to pay my fare as soon as I got in the taxi. The thing is, Lebanese service taxi drivers all like to think they’re political pundits..and their monologues about the latest political bru-ha-ha begin as soon as you enter in the car..Often times, when they’re finished, they’ll expect you to contribute to the conversation or at least have something to say.. On several occasions, when they learnt I wasn’t Lebanese and didn’t speak a word of Arabic (due to my failure to contribute to their conversation),,they oftentimes tried to up the fare on me..or they would automatically turn the service into a taxi without my consent, and then expect that I give them 10,000 LL at my destination.
It will be hard at first, but stand your ground..they can be a bit intimidating at times, but if they picked you up and made no mention of “Taxi?“..then it is safe to assume that your fare will cost 2,000 LL.. If, before you enter the taxi or as soon as you enter the taxi, they determine that the ride is going to take them a bit longer than than a 2,000 LL ride, but not as long as a “Taxi ride” then they will say.. “servicen?” Which simply means “Two services”..thus doubling the service fare = 4,000 LL..
I know, I know this is a lot to take in..but yeah. This is Beirut.