Travellers hailing taxis in European cities risk paying way over the odds for a dangerous or unpleasant journey. Test rides in 22 locations, covering five routes per city, resulted in rip-offs, rudeness and breakneck speeds.
The AA, which published the findings, concluded: "The standard of driving and customer care was often appalling. Not one of 22 major cities on the continent provided a taxi service that could be described as 'very good'."
The exercise was organised by EuroTest, a Brussels-based consumer testing programme involving motoring clubs in 14 European countries.
The reports make alarming reading. When a passenger from Rotterdam airport asked to pay by credit card, the cab driver swore, made an abrupt U-turn and drove back to the airport to find a cash machine. In the same Dutch city, another taxi had a quarter of a million miles on the clock, holes in the seats and broken windows.
Only six of the cities had drivers rated "acceptable"; the same number were marked "very poor". In Germany's second-largest city, Hamburg, a taxi driver drove at 92km/h (57mph) in a 50km/h (31mph) zone, hurling the car – and tester – around corners. In Lisbon, the driver reached 83km/h (52mph) while weaving in and out of traffic. Ignoring red lights, pedestrians and cyclists was commonplace, as was mobile phone use: one driver in Milan sent a text while at the wheel.
The survey rated the skill and attitude of the driver, the route chosen and the condition of the vehicle. The German cities of Berlin, Cologne and Munich, along with Paris and Barcelona, scored highest. At the other end of the table, taxis in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana performed badly in every category.
The AA's president, Edmund King, said: "Don't get in a taxi if it looks unsafe; bald tyres are normally a tell-tale sign. Stay alert, especially to the meter."
A city map could also prove useful, to check if the driver is taking an inordinately long route, or – like one driver in Rome – repeatedly gets lost. The cabbie in the Italian capital then demanded €69 for a €50 trip. A trip from Madrid airport to the city's main railway station covered more than twice the mileage it should have. Across the border in Portugal, though, a Lisbon taxi driver, halved the fare when he got lost.
The most flagrant overcharging took place in Amsterdam, where the driver did not switch on the meter. He then picked up a second passenger without asking permission from the tester, took a circuitous route that increased the journey by a third, and charged twice: the woman €15 and the tester €30, which was eventually reduced to €25.
London was not included in the survey.