Seamy side of Rīga Airport's taxi world uncovered

Take note – story published 5 years ago

The latest investigation by LTV's investigative journalism program Aizliegtais paņēmiens (Forbidden method) has revealed the sometimes seedy world of airport taxi services and their questionable practice in several regards.

Until recently, the airport had set criteria for taxis that were permitted to provide services on its territory, and only two companies - Red Cab and Baltic Taxi - met the conditions. However, in 2017, the Competition Council ruled that such a procedure was unacceptable and opened up the market to all firms. 

To see what this means in practice, an undercover reporter became a taxi driver and expressed his wish to work the busy airport route. It turned out that in order to win this right he himself had to pay 150 euros in cash to join the line and offer his services. 

There are two taxi lines at the airport exit door. In the first, closer to the exit, there are machines of all kinds of companies, while in the second, which is further away, places are taken by the red "Red Cab" and the green "Baltic Taxi". Further away is another area of waiting taxis, nicknamed "the swamp" by the taxi drivers themselves.

Arcane and informal rules govern who can pick up customers when and the pecking-order of taxi drivers, the investigation revealed. The 150 euro fee seems to be typical and the worst crime is to steal a customer from another driver.

"If the first car in line is standing there and the passenger comes to you when you are second or third in line, you have to send him to the first car," a driver named Nikolai explained.

Distinct factions exist with some of the so-called "bankovščiki" drivers who pick up passengers on the streets rather than via radio books and apps not above intimidation and damaging rivals' cars in order to secure their own privileges.

Forbidden method concluded that the way things are set up at the airport presently seems to favor the “bankovščiki” taxis, which have become notorious for charging tourists €30 and more for the brief 10 kilometer ride to the Old Town. The frequent bus service costs just €2 but many passengers are unaware of its existence because the stop is located away from the terminal entrance - and it is necessary to walk past the waiting taxis to reach it. The fact that the bus service stops running before the final flight has arrived gives late-arriving passengers little option but to use the taxis - at least until a planned rail link is constructed as part of the Rail Baltica project.

Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits (New Conservative Party) has floated the idea of introducing a fixed fee for a trip from the airport to the city center – a set “voucher” which, when presented to the driver, will guarantee the price to be paid.

What the "bankovščiki" and their backers think of the scheme remains to be seen.


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