Last week I was chatting with a friend of mine who is about to move to Abidjan for a new job. She was asking lots of questions about taxi transportation, and I thought it might be useful to share some general info on the subject for a wider audience.
So here are six starting points for metered taxis in Abidjan:
1. Types of taxis
– My advice to visitors, especially those on a budget, is that it’s not absolutely necessary (as in many other places) to hire a vehicle. Abidjan has a variety of transport options, but by far the most widely used option for visitors is the city’s red/orange metered taxi (‘taxi compteur’). These have the remit to work throughout the city, and are equipped with a meter. They are hired privately and you won’t find anyone else getting in along the way as it travels to your specific destination. At almost any time of day, in almost every part of the city, you’re never too far from a red/orange taxi (the vehicles are either as orange as red can get, or as red as orange can get – depends on your perspective).
As you travel around the city you will quickly notice taxis in other colours, depending on the area (commune). These communal taxis (called locally ‘woro woros’), travel on fixed routes (like a bus), and take on passengers along the route whenever they have space and people flag them down. The cost is minimal, though these vehicles tend to be in a poorer state of repair, not quite as clean, and they are more of a security risk (keep an eye on your phone/wallet).
To finish our round-up of transport options, there are also the public Sotra buses, the private buses (gbakas), non registered taxis that behave a bit like woro woros and are generally close to falling apart, and boats on the lagoon (Sotra and others). In the coming years we can also add private boat transport companies, and…the Abidjan metro.
2. Discussing the price
– Perhaps the essential point about the metered taxis, is that the meter is basically never used. Instead the price is almost always negotiated. ‘Tricky for first time visitors!’ you may well say! And that is indeed the case. With the help of a local (who novices should use where possible to negotiate the price, particularly if you look foreign), you should hopefully soon get the hang of it. If you’re a foreigner, you’ll probably end up paying at least 500 francs ($0.90) more than the local rate, unless you’ve worked out the finer points of pricing and negotiation.
In discussions, you generally initially name your price, after which three things tend to happen:
i) if the price is ridiculously low, the taxi driver may just drive off without another word
ii) in most cases, when you’re around the right mark with your first offer, the driver will reply with a price 500 francs higher
iii) or, the taxi man will accept your price (either because you’ve given the right price and he thinks you know what you’re talking about, or because you’re paying way too much).
A few other things to bear in mind:
– With the new toll bridge, you may want to check if you are paying for this as an additional charge of if it’s included
– Rush hour and rain will increase the price, along the lines of supply and demand. These are also the two events that most create those moments where it can be difficult to find a taxi.
Once you’ve discussed the price, it is extremely important to alert the driver if you only have a large bank note (e.g. 10,000 CFA). Early in the day, drivers are unlikely to have much change available. In fact, in the morning if you only have a 10,000 cfa note (the purple one), you may find it rather tough to get a taxi that can give you change.
Drivers may sometimes motion you to get in anyway, and they’ll look to find the change on the way. But from experience, this can frequently be a frustrating experience in which you stop at various places (especially petrol stations) where the driver will try (often unsuccessfully) to ask for change. The best thing is to be organised and keep a hold of those smaller notes for morning taxi transport.
4. The airport
A separate word should be said at this stage about taking taxis at the airport because it’s the only place in the city where slightly different rules apply. It’s also of course where most visitors first need to take a taxi…and it’s probably where you’ll have the worst taxi experience.
At the airport there’s an official taxi rank on the left as you come out of the terminal. This needs to be used with extreme caution. The taxis are lined up in a queue, so you’re supposed to take the first one in the queue. Before arriving at the rank, you may already have experienced a taxi tout try to take over your suitcases and direct you in the right direction. As well as a good number of taxis lined up with their drivers (generally not in their vehicles), you may also observe representatives from the taxi trades union (something which adds to the cost).
If you are obviously foreign, the first driver will almost certainly do two things: name a very high price (e.g. $20 to Plateau) or insist on using the meter (which from the experience of friends of mine may well be tampered giving a far more expensive ride than it should).
When you refuse to be ripped off, as you should, you kind of have two options. The first general approach is to try and negotiate a better price (if your French is up to it). It may be that you agree a price with the first driver that you find acceptable, even if you know it is likely to be higher than the going rate. He’s at the top of the queue so is unlikely to give you a fair price because he’s probably thinking that he’s in prime position for a subsequent tourist who may succumb to an inflated price.
When you start discussing you may then be able to tempt other taxi drivers in the queue to offer you a fairer price as you insist that you know what the real price should be and that what you’re being offered is ridiculous. The taxi driver who offers you a lower price from further back in the queue may then create tension because he’s technically jumping the queue system.
A second option is that instead of turning left out of the terminal, you turn right and you start walking a little way down the road. You’ll see plenty of taxis dropping off passengers who will be interested in picking you up. But you need to be careful because this is not allowed within the airport zone, and there are generally gendarmes hiding in the trees who will immediately clamp down on such practices by leaping out of the shadows (and generally ask for a 500 franc bribe from the taxi driver). You will probably need to walk as far as the petrol station to clear this airport zone.
Please don’t let any unpleasantness at the airport turn you off taking taxis. It’s a rather singular place, and any tension/aggression you may experience there is not something you come across elsewhere in the city.
5. My insider tips for getting a good price
– There are some nice new cars doing the rounds, and you may even hail a taxi which has air-conditioning (though you’ll almost certainly pay a higher price, and may be even metered). Nevertheless, if you’re price sensitive, my feeling is that you have more chance of getting a cheaper price from a tatty vehicle. I don’t know if that’s because you pay less for less, or perhaps because such taxis have different ownership situations (maybe the capital invested in the car has already been recovered, or perhaps the driver himself owns the vehicle).
– Another thing I’ve found from experience, is that if you happen to come across a taxi that is just discharging, my feeling is that you get a better price, with the rationale that the driver is feeling upbeat because he’s just been paid for a trip, and now has the good fortune to immediately find another customer i.e. he’s in a good mood. You’re also in a better situation on the spare change front (see above).
– If you’re trying to pick-up a taxi in an area associated with rich and inexperienced international travellers you probably won’t get a good price. You may want to put a few metres between you and that 5 star hotel before hailing a taxi.
– For those who enjoy the price negotiation, a few good stock phrases (in French) are:
o Do you think I arrived here yesterday?
o I live in Abidjan, I’m not a visitor
o I do this route all the time, and I always pay X
o OK, if there really is a traffic jam I’ll pay that much, but if not it’s X
6. Some final comments
– Taxi rides in Abidjan have given me an immense amount of pleasure over the years. One of Abidjan’s great advantages is that for those who speak French there generally aren’t any difficulties in communication. While sometimes you come across a grump (particularly if you’re not paying well), you are just a likely to find a wannabe intellectual, or a frustrated comedian. It’s not uncommon for them to share their food with you when having a snack. For these sorts of experiences, you’ll almost certainly need to take the passenger seat at the front.
– If you don’t speak French, don’t expect much knowledge of English.
– In terms of safety, I’ve never had any bad experiences (apart from a telephone which went missing and that I suspect the taxi driver took). However, if you want to be extra careful, I have heard some very rare stories about muggers hidden in the boot, so you could check.
– Some foreigners can find it unpalatable that perhaps because the colour of their skin they get ‘ripped off’ by taxi drivers who would transport locals for far less. My two remarks on this would be:
o With a bit of local knowledge you can often get local prices
o Following a principal of ‘gleaning’, I tend to think that when you’re richer, you shouldn’t be too miffed about paying a little bit more for your ride. Is it fair that everyone should pay the same price for the same service, or that a richer a person should pay a little bit more? In discussions over price, I believe there’s a moral framework of what is ‘fair’. But that’s just me.