Out of Turkey: Where cabbies don't take you for a ride

ISTANBUL - My taxi-driver must have wondered who he had got in the back of the cab. After riding half way across Istanbul silently contemplating a book, his passenger searched his pockets, declared he had no money, offered his regrets, but he could not pay.

'Never mind. Maybe another time,' the driver said, with a sigh of resignation. 'But that's not all,' I replied. 'I need you to give me a loan.' It was true. If I didn't catch a waiting ferry across the Marmara Sea to the Princes Islands, I would miss interviewing the Armenian patriarch. And I didn't have a Turkish lira to my name for a ticket.

'How much do you want?' the taxi driver gamely said. I asked for 50,000 lira (pounds 3). 'Are you sure you don't need 100,000? It's no trouble at all.' I gave him my card, he gave me the money and his phone number. His name, Sefer Yildirim, did justice to my sense of gratitude: translated bluntly from the Turkish, it means Journey Thunderbolt.

Perhaps one finds this degree of trust in many places, but I doubt it. Istanbul taxi-drivers are a forgiving lot, considering their 12-hour shifts in flocks of box-like, Turkish-built yellow Fiats. Even though there have been recent improvements with lights, the traffic is also still some of the world's most polluting and dangerous. About 15 people die in Turkish road accidents each day - more than in the insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east.

No group of people is perfect, of course. A few jackals plague Istanbul's tourist districts and the international arrivals sections of Istanbul airport is mostly milked by monolingual cheats whose unroadworthy vehicles have been assigned there by one of Istanbul's many mafias.

One reason is that a taxi with a licence costs about pounds 60,000 and is generally bought as an investment by merchants or professionals. The drivers themselves are often uninsured journeymen on their first job in the big city, thus ensuring an almost total ignorance of the Istanbul's cartography.

Even experienced chauffeurs say there is no way they can get any 'knowledge'. Many streets do not have names and the concrete sprawl of Istanbul now measures about 100 miles from east to west to cope with a population that has grown to 10 million in a matter of decades.

But I am writing about the silent majority of taxi drivers. And everybody in Istanbul has a story of some extraordinary act of taxi honesty in the school of 'my aged mother's lifetime collection of jewels were returned after we left them in a bag at the back of the taxi'.

The phenomenon is all the more extraordinary when compared to the dishonesty of public officials, building contractors and city grandees, as well as a general get-rich-quick rush of conspicuous consumption by the wealthy elite.

Most Istanbul taxi-drivers now start their meters correctly. They rarely expect a tip. When giving change, they habitually round the fare down. One friend is never asked for payment by his local taxi-driver, an act of gratitude, apparently, for some past favour.

I thought I had done well when a taxi-driver in Ankara returned my wallet and identity cards by post, although without the money. Then my wallet fell between the seats of an anonymous taxi as I got out at an Istanbul hotel. I had not even noticed until, an hour later, a page-boy interrupted a press conference to call me outside to where a driver, after a long argument with the hotel staff, finally handed me back my wallet with hundreds of dollars intact.

He accepted the reward I pushed hastily into his hand. But the man who saved my trip to the Princes Islands, Mr Yildirim, was even more scrupulous when he dropped by to pick up what I owed him the next day. I had left a 50 per cent tip, but he refused it. He simply wanted his due.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies