Prague mayor goes undercover to expose the great taxi rip-off

An English accent is an expensive thing to have in Prague, as the city's campaigning mayor discovered when he posed as a tourist - and ended up paying six times the normal taxi fare.

An English accent is an expensive thing to have in Prague, as the city's campaigning mayor discovered when he posed as a tourist - and ended up paying six times the normal taxi fare.

Pavel Bem donned a fake beard for the experiment to test claims that Britons, among the city's main visitors, were being routinely ripped off. It didn't take long for him to get a taste of Prague, tourist-style.

"I asked him [a taxi driver] in English to take me to Prague Castle, one of our city's favourite spots for tourists, and was amazed when he went off the wrong way," said Mr Bem. "It's only a two-mile journey, but he took a number of detours and then charged me £18. It should only have cost around three."

The small-time con could prove far more expensive for the driver himself, who now faces a fine of up to £23,000 under a beefed-up penalty system imposed by Mr Bem.

"If this is the first time he has exploited a tourist then he will just face the maximum fine. But if it is proved that he has done the same thing in the past he will lose his licence."

With an average of about 200 flights a week between the UK and the Czech Republic, 500,000 Britons visit Prague every year, and many complain of being ripped off everywhere from exchange agencies to restaurants.

Authorities were quick to recognise the city's potential in the early 90s and spent millions restoring historic sites and re-cobbling the narrow alleyways and lanes immortalised in Franz Kafka's novels.

It remains one of the most popular stag-night destinations for young Brits with pubs catering solely for British parties, as well as being an equally attractive destination for couples on a romantic weekend.

But Britons who have visited Prague often return home complaining about overcharging and "rip-offs". Kiosks also sell tickets for public transport and some foreigners say they have been overcharged for tickets there, but because of language barriers and using a foreign currency they often do not realise until much later.

Others complain that bills in bars and clubs when totalled up afterwards often contain extra items that were not ordered and that waiters and waitresses suddenly lose their ability to speak previously excellent English when questioned by foreigners about what they paid for.

Last year, Prague's taxi drivers made European headlines when the German MP Cornelia Sonntag-Wolgast was charged €15 (£10.50) for a two-mile ride - four times more than she should have been - and when she asked about the price, she was reportedly told: "If you don't like it, take a tram."

Mr Bem took office in the wake of serious flooding in November 2002, vowing to crack down on petty crime. The Mayor said more inspectors would be dispatched, posing as foreign tourists to check on cabbies overcharging. He also advised tourists to always ask about the price of the journey before getting in a taxi and then insist on a receipt.

"Prague's reputation suffers greatly both home and abroad from the fact that there are many fraudulent taxi drivers and hundreds of pickpockets," he said. "There must be zero crime tolerance and a maximum focus on small crime, illegal drug distribution, prostitution, and the operation of erotic clubs that facilitate crime."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss