How to use a Taxi in Jamaica
Ahhh I LOVE transportation in Jamaica. Once you experience it you’ll wish things were this easy back home. True story.
First of all let me just say that I’m pretty sure that you won’t be renting a car on your first trip, or your second for that matter. It took me 7 trips to consider it, but by that time I had so many friends with cars I don’t need taxi’s that much.
There are no rates. And there’s no foolproof way to learn about taxi rates EXCEPT trial and error, and familiarity with routes. If you happen go to and from the same place all the time and you get different drivers each time, try offering lower than what you paid the last guy. If they accept, you’ve set a new rate to work with. Next time offer less.
Funny quirk – you’re NEVER certain (as a foreigner) if you’re ever getting a good deal. Once I went from point A to point B and the driver charged me $1000 JD after hard negotiations, which seemed fair to me because it was quite a distance. When coming back, a different driver took me for $500 JD – half the price. So even by Jamaica trip #6, I was still on a huge learning curve. Its about 50% charming and 50% annoying to find out all the quirks of this place.
TIP: If a driver won’t negotiate a rate that you’re comfortable with don’t be afraid to keep walking. 3 steps up the road another taxi will approach you. There are more taxi’s than private cars in Jamaica.
Route Taxi VS Charter Taxi
BIG difference between the two – One is for people who want to “experience” life and the other is for boring people with no backbone. And before I get into detail about any taxi, you need to know that ALL taxi’s have RED LICENSE PLATES. If someone with a white plate offers you a ride its not advisable to hop in with them. Its illegal for them to transport you for money, and might be dangerous for you as well. Its one of those things I do that would show up in the “what not to do” section.
CHARTER TAXI – There are a few ways to “charter” a taxi. You can find them usually sitting in hotel parking lots or at major tourist spots. And you can also call a tour company and request taxi service for a particular day and time. Or they are all other taxis that don’t have a “ROUTE” sign on the side. The drivers of chartered taxis dress nice, in slacks and a white collar shirt. And charter taxis are definitely the most expensive way to get around, they have set prices from point to point. The benefits are that you get your own private taxi, they’re clean and the drivers are courteous. The downside to charters is that they’re not exciting. They only get one paragraph in a blog.
ROUTE TAXI – The most fun and uninhibited way to go!! A Route Taxi is like a Visa card – “everywhere you want to be”. I’ve walked out onto country roads in the middle of the night and out of nowhere comes a Route Taxi like a knight on a white horse! (By the way I don’t recommend dark country roads at all hours either).
Now, a Route Taxi could come in any form. It could be a car or a van, nicely pimped out or totally beat up, and might be empty or full of Jamaicans. Route Taxis are typically the driver’s personal car as well, so the condition of them is variable. You will know them by the “Route Taxi” sticker on the side and like any taxi, they have a red plate. They transport several people at one time, almost like a bus but with no set stops. You jump in with other people going places and just tell the driver where you want to go.
The BEST thing about Route taxi’s is they’re dirt cheap IF you don’t act like a tourist. Example: You can get pretty much anywhere within the same town for $150 JD or less in a Route taxi, but chances are if you just hand him $100 like its no one’s business he’ll take it and not say anything. The more people who are already in the car, the better because he’s going to make decent money off everyone else. So you get a cheap ride and usually get a chance to be intimate with the locals in the back seat for a short time. If you’re the only person in the car, STILL act like you’ve done this before and hand him your $100 at the end of the ride. If you pass the money with one foot out the door already, he’s not going to say anything.
FACT: I’ve taken a $150 Route taxi on the same ride as I used to pay $500 in a charter taxi (back in the day when I was boring with no backbone).
FACT: Route taxis charge per person. If there are two of you don’t expect to go for the price of one. That would be ripping THEM off and we don’t want to do that. Its their livelihood.
TIP: Have small bills on you. Chances are the driver either won’t have change for $1000 or they will SAY they don’t have change for $1000. Either way you’re screwed because you’ll only get the change he has. Its best to have several $100’s on you.
I’ve grown to love Route taxi’s for so many reasons. It keeps life interesting and you can meet the coolest people in them. Most often they are locals who are perplexed that you know the in’s and out’s of the Route taxi system.
My all time favorite taxi driver in Montego Bay is George. He has the BEST car with the best stereo system, paint job, logo’s, etc. I met George because of some hard-ass drivers that I was negotiating with in the street, who wouldn’t drive me for my price,so I kept walking. George heard the commotion and said “I’ll take you for that”. And the rest is history.