You can hail a taxi in the street, but it must be at least 50m (160ft) from a taxi rank where people are waiting. You can also call a radio taxi by telephone (usually provided at taxi ranks), but you must pay for the taxi’s journey to the pick-up point. Some radio taxi companies operate a system where customers pay an annual fee for priority service. You can also hire chauffeur-driven cars ( voiture de place) in most towns and cities, either by the hour or for a fixed fee for a particular trip.
Despite their reputation for unscrupulousness and rudeness, French taxi drivers are generally no more (or less!) surly than any other ‘public servants’. Nevertheless, taxi drivers must obey strict regulations and can refuse to pick you up if you’re obviously drunk or ‘if your clothes are dirty or you have BO’! They’re entitled to pick up additional passengers along the route, but may not charge them extra (except a fourth passenger). Drivers aren’t usually permitted to accept fares outside their normal operating area (shown on the light on top of the vehicle), e.g. the Ile-de-France for Paris taxis.
In many cities there are simply too many cabs and the situation is exacerbated by unlicensed operators. Beware of illegal and unmetered cabs operating in main cities and preying on foreign visitors. If you’re obliged to take one of these, always agree the fare in advance.
Drivers may ask you not to smoke (many taxis have défense de fumer signs inside) and you can ask them not to, although many drivers expect you to acquiesce if they ask your permission and open their window. Drivers may refuse to carry animals (except guide dogs, which must be allowed), although most have no objection to small dogs; there’s a set charge ris). Taxis adapted for use by the disabled are available in major cities but must be booked. Consult the yellow pages.
Outside major towns, taxis can be expensive. Note that taxis in rural areas often double as ambulances, so don’t think you’ve gone mad if you see a taxi-driver wearing a white coat!
It’s possible to book a taxi online (e.g. http://infotaxiparis.free.fr in Paris). Most mobile telephone service providers also allow you to contact a local taxi company in Paris and other main cities by dialling a short code. However, although they may give you priority booking, these calls are usually expensive.
Parisian taxis are among the cheapest in Europe and are ordinary cars fitted with a meter and a light on top. Although there are around 15,000 taxis in Paris, it’s often difficult to find one, particularly during lunch times and rush hours and when it’s raining and you don’t have an umbrella! Taxi ranks are indicated by blue and white ‘taxi’ signs.
A taxi for hire is indicated by a white light on the roof. A driver must take you if the light on top of his vehicle is lit, unless he’s on the last half hour of his shift indicated by a meter inside the taxi on the rear window shelf. An orange light means a taxi is engaged; when no lights are on or the meter is concealed by a black cover, the driver is off duty.
There are three fare rates, and the prevailing rate is indicated by a small light on a taxi’s roof beneath the main light. Rate A operates from 07.00 to 19.00 Mondays to Fridays as far as (and including) the Boulevard Périphérique.
Rate B runs from 19.00 to 07.00 and is also the day rate for journeys to the Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne departments. Rate C is the rate for the departments listed above between 19.00 and 07.00, the outer suburbs ( tarif banlieue) and airports beyond the Périphérique. Drivers are supposed to reset the meter tariff when crossing from the suburbs into the central area of Paris (marked by the Périphérique).
Rates are displayed on the meter inside the taxi, and extra charges are shown on a notice affixed to the rear left window. These include pick-up charges, pick-ups at main railway stations and airports, luggage heavier than 5kg, a fourth adult and pets. Waiting time is charged at over €25 per hour. Taxi drivers cannot claim a return fare, whatever the destination. It’s customary to round fares up to the nearest euro and add a tip of around 10 to 15 per cent (more at night). Note that very few Paris taxi drivers accept credit cards or cheques.
A useful website for information about taxis in Paris is http://infotaxiparis.free.fr (in English and French). For further information (or to make a complaint about a Paris taxi driver), write to the Service des Taxis de la Préfecture de Police, 36 rue des Morillons, 75015 Paris (08 21 00 25 25). If you intend to make a complaint, obtain a receipt ( bulletin de voiture) and indicate the taxi number and the date and time of the fare.
This article is an extract from Living and working in France. Click here to get a copy now.