Taxis in Manila – why we need a car (aka white whine)

We’ve decided that we need a car in Manila. As metropolitan and accessible this city is, we’re feeling confined and limited in our options with using taxis. Many expats don’t feel a car is necessary, or even desired when taxis are such an easy part of getting around. I beg to differ.

The last straw came yesterday when, after waiting for 30 minutes in a taxi stand line, we hopped into a run down taxi, exhausted from carrying 70lbs of groceries in our arms, and had a horrible experience. The driver rudely asked where we were going. After telling him, he started literally yelling at us Tom Cruise style for getting in a southbound taxi when we wanted to go north – despite the fact the very car were were sitting in was facing the north side of the street.

I refrained from getting into it with him, but calmly replied that we’ve been waiting a very long time, and will offer him double the fare. He wouldn’t budge. He stared at us, then shifted in his seat and started yelling at Novita in Tagalog! I had enough, and just flatly asked him, “So you’re not going to give us a ride, is that correct?” – he began yelling again, so I just got out. (as a friend said, my best revenge would be to leave the door open)

It took all my patience not to launch into an argument with the guy. Instead I calmly got out, and watched him pull away with another group apparently heading in the ‘right direction’.

In over 7 years of living in Asia, I’ve never been treated so rudely by a taxi driver. Yes, I realize this is a one-off experience and it’s an individual’s own actions, not a general statement of taxi drivers in Manila. However, it was the final push into deciding I need my own car once again. If I was a single guy, I’d probably tough it out with taxis, but for Novita’s safety, I think it may be better to avoid them when possible.

I will say, in brutal honesty, that taxis here are quite bad. There’s no standard that I can see – nothing like “Blue Bird” in Indonesia where you know the car will be in somewhat decent condition, the drivers fairly knowledgeable of directions, they don’t smoke, and things like no radios in the car are a rule.

In just five short weeks, we’ve experienced a dozen drivers refusing to take us somewhere (politely at least), claiming to have no change (could be true but still annoying), using a meter with excessive time on it before even starting, crazy driving (and I’m coming from Jakarta), no car handles on doors (interior as well – seems unsafe), and many many drivers blasting the radio right in your ears.

Do I sound like a whiny expat? Perhaps. But considering I’ve driven in Asian cities for years, and have grown thick skin to these type of things, it must be fairly true for me to bother writing about it. If nothing else, I hope to see some sort of standard develop amongst the taxis in Manila – something along the lines of Blue Bird in Indonesia. It’s great to see progress in a place you enjoy living. (which I’ll save for another post – yes, I’m loving most aspects of living in Manila so far – don’t let this missive give the wrong impression)

The next post I’ll discuss what type of car I’m looking for and why. In the meantime, I think I’ll grab some cheese for my white whine.

  • Sorry to hear about your taxi experience.

    They do refuse a lot of customers especially at night. If the taxi driver lives north and you want to go south, forget it.

    I mostly rode jeepneys and buses when I lived there. City buses are horrible too. They are usually old, used buses from Japan converted to left-hand drive. Provincial buses are usually (not always) better.

  • Name

    Hate it or love it, Jakarta at least has plenty of Blue Bird taxis. A beacon of relief when you're stuck somewhere and want to go home without getting ripped off.

    As bad as you think you may get treated in Manila on those rare occasions, I think Novita's going to get it worse. If these guys don't respect their own folk, how much worse would they treat an Indonesian?

    I didn't enjoy Manila at all when I visited.

  • Morgan

    New Youtube video: “Bule mobbed by hoardes of taxi drivers after throat punching incident”.

    I was venting about a few of my own taxi driver experiences/scams/extortions, but I deleted them after I felt my heart racing and blood pressure rising. Yeah, get a car, driver too if they have those in this new country.

    When you are stuck next time and need a cab, negotiate from outside at the drivers window, its the only time you have any power. At the first sign of tricks, get out but make a lot of production over it and see if he backpedals. If he doesn't, you don't want to be there anyway.

    For anyone else reading from Indonesia, never use a taxi from any airport other than Blue Bird in Jakarta. That advice itself would have prevented 90% of my taxi-related-PTSD.

  • joegraphy

    I feel bad about your experience taxi experience. I would have taken their name and number reported them to authorities to take his license away. It is not necessarily a bad reflection on other taxi operators but can definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. I would have had a shouting match and may have even gotten physical if I were in that situation but since you are an ex-pat living in a foreign land, you've handled it in the right way. Filipinos tend to be hot blooded when foreigners try to act as if they own the country. Some Americans tend to adopt the “When in America, do what americans do but when in Rome, do what Americans do” mentality and they get what's coming to them. The taxi driver may have had a bad experience with another ex-pat and you just happened to be in the wrong place and time and was on the receiving end of his frustration but that doesn't justify his actions either.

    Filipinos are normally some of the most friendliest people in the world and I hope that one bad incident doesn't ruin your experience there and have a bad reflection of the people. I think that the more you travel outside Manila, the more geniune the people that you would encounter. I'm sure that anyone living in other cities around the world can give you a bad experience. Heck, I've been living in Seattle for years now and I can tell you a few stories that I've encountered.

    I wouldn't worry about your wife there as she would fit in with the locals more than you. 🙂

  • cora

    hahahahahahha, welcome to Manila, the urban Jungle of Asia!.I am from Manila-asli Dong! But working now in Indonesia for 7 years. Everytime I go home in Manila, I greet the drivers , like what we usually do here in Jakarta, “Pagi Pak”, only to be ignored, worst they stare at me like I was “Orang Gila”

  • robertsou

    Manila is certainly in need of the Blue Bird taxi business model. They would soon have a loyal customer base and never be hurting for customers. How feasible is it though I wonder?

    Sounds like a challenging yet potentially lucrative challenge.

  • Miuda

    Blue Bird have always been wonderful in Jakarta (I first moved there over 20 years ago) and could definitely do wonders if they expanded to other SEAsian capitals! Sorry to hear about your Manila taxi driver experience, but over in Kuala Lumpur, where I am now, this is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception!

  • Miguel

    I see taxis here in Manila frustrates you. How much more if you try to ride a jeep or a tricycle. I'm a Manila local and I had several quarrels with jeepney drivers and tricycle drivers.

    But anyway, Manila doesn't represent the entire Philippines. Wishing you the best luck while visiting my country with your Indonesian gf/fiance/wife/sorry i don't know hahaha.

    Just to remind you there are much more beautiful sites outside Manila. Try going to Cebu or Ilocos Norte. 🙂

  • dariel

    Unfortunately that's how taxis really are here – what you experienced is not an isolated incident, I'm sorry to say. In other words, you weren't being singled out for being white – these drivers will do it to anyone. Especially when it's raining, and they want to avoid areas which they think may be heavy in traffic. Public vehicle drivers here need proper education in courtesy; perhaps the best way is to to find themselves being outcompeted by a new company that gives a standard of service comparable to Bluebird or better. Welcome to Manila, the zoo of Southeast Asia! (and that's coming from a Filipino)

  • cher

    a friend tweeted on your flood photos so i rummaged around your blog for a bit. found it interesting because i like photography and i've lived in manila all my life. looking forward to seeing it through an expat's eyes!

    sorry to hear about your taxi experience. as much as possible, i avoid taking cabs here, especially if i'm alone, but i have a friend who swears by R&E taxi. he calls for them to pick him up and so far i haven't heard any complaints from him (and he's a very fussy guy). in case you want to give them a try: 3621890/ 3631889/ 330-1654.

  • paololalas

    Straange there are really good taxis here in Manila – there are the yellow ones that are VIOS cars, the airport taxis, the company cars etc. What I normally do, if I like the taxi driver and his car and his service, I get their business card and always call up on them if im in the area to see if I can hitch a ride with him. Normally if we have a bad experience we would write the name plate and name of the taxi driver and report it to a security guard taxi waiting area – there is a specific police department that actually hunts these rude taxis i.e. “oh I'm from so and so and I need more money extra to go back to that district because I'm no where near that area”. They actually report these taxis on TV and they get caught by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) or they are reported and blacklisted by the Land Transportation Office department something. There is a famous story of that Land Transportation Office (I dont know exactly the department name) whose taxi picked up the president of that department and inappropriately ripped him off…only to find out that they were driving to that office building and got arrested accordingly. We know these things happen, but if you do a little bit for the police and the LTO? I'm sure you can do a lot more. Just ask the hotel if they can recommend some companies of taxis that will not rip you off in and around Manila.

  • pampanga

    I hit the Google machine tonight to see how bad the floods were. I quickly forgot about the floods and got lost in your flickr photos and shortly thereafter, your blog. Great stuff, man…really great stuff.
    Okay, on to the taxi situation. I'm with you 100%. I too am an Expat living here in the Philippines. I live in Pampanga, but drive to Manila every weekend to spend time with my fiance, who was born and raised in Manila. Previously I flew back and forth from Texas to Manila 4 or 5 times a year, staying anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks at a time. I did this for 4 years, so I am very familiar with the taxi service. 4 months after moving here last October (almost 1 year ago) and riding the bus back and forth from Pampnaga to Manila, and then spending the weekends using Manila's taxi service, I finally broke down and got a car. Remember that feeling you had when you turned 16 and you got your drivers license back in the States? Even if you didn't get a car, you still had the option to drive, if the opportunity presented itself. That's what mattered the most…the option. disclaimer–I did not get that feeling until I was 18, for reasons I will not discuss on the internet…that's another story. I digress, that feeling was the feeling of freedom and the liberty to go wherever and whenever you wanted. You need not stand in a long taxi line at SM Hypermarket when it's raining, Or, worry about how fast the meter is running, or if the car is going to rattle apart going 120kph down EDSA or C5, if the door handle was removed on purpose or if a passenger got so pissed he ripped it off (both scenarios are not okay with me once I'm in the car and start thinking about it), or wonder why he took the handle to roll the window down off the door, figure out if the roach you just saw run past your feet and under the passenger seat is the only roach sharing your cab, and of course, you always know you're going from point A to point B without being insulted or having your fiance eye f*cked by a perverted cabbie. (No offense to the clean cabs out there, I've been in some great cabs and have had very friendly cabbies…this post is just in response to the bad taxi experiences a passenger may come across in Manila). paololalas makes a great recommendation in his post…get the phone number of a taxi that you like, or private car service that runs 24/7. Even though I have my own car now, I still use the same service and the same driver when I need a ride to the airport, need to pick up clients or friends visiting from the US at the airport or if my fiance and I are going out for a night on the town and I don't feel like driving (or won't be in any condition to drive later in the evening). It is more expensive than a taxi, that's for sure, but well worth it.
    If you haven't already, get your own car. You will not regret it…ever. I bought new because used cars hold their value so well here, it's already been dinged a few times, but parts and labor to get things fixed here are a fraction of what they are in the States. So, don't fret when you're cruising at 85kph down EDSA and don't see the beach ball size pothole in front of you or get tagged in a parking lot by a hit-and-run.
    Good luck!
    Go Lions!

  • Christine Legaspi

    The closest thing to that blue bird indonesia would be the yellow airport taxis. When my husband and i were there a few months ago, we used them from the airport to hotel, and hotel to ther airport. The cars are new and very clean. Their drivers were nice, and they charge by the meter.
    I hope u and your wife found a car already. If not, from personal experience, some of these taxi drivers offer their services to you as well. The other time we were there, the driver gave us his “business card” and told us to just give him a call when we need a ride (that is if you like his car and service). If he's not driving other passengers, he can take you to wherever you need to go. Hope this helps 🙂

  • azurelos

    I came from Indonesia too and the Blue Bird service is simply awesome. Over here at the Philippines, while there are cab companies that you can call, they don't quite compare to the excellence of service provided by Blue Bird. Heck, the school I went to (Jakarta International School) almost begs of you to take nothing but BB, for your safety–that's how trusted it has become. It's wonderful.

    The issue about the cab companies here in the Philippines is it's SO DAMN HARD to contact them. The phone lines are ALWAYS busy. In desperation I also “hit the Google machine” (sorry Pampanga I just thought it was quite cute :P) to see if there's a way to order a taxi online in the Philippines.

    And to my luck, there is. There's this site called ( which takes taxi orders online. I planned a trip the next day (the site currently requires you to place orders a day in advance) and I was greeted in the morning by a shiny new Vios taxi. The driver was courteous. I had a great day.

  • xrx

    Yeah taxis in Manila are monsters, I have the same experience in Cagayan de Oro as well. But so did I have the same experience that in Malaysia, Brunei and China. Korea and Singapore cabbies are pretty okay tho. We have the yellow airport taxis now which I prefer although one guy was so pushy of asking for a damn tip last weekend (took it from NAIA 3). But yeah, generally, Manila cab drivers are the really evil, I am a Filipino but yeah sometimes I'd literally want to take a gun and shoot every rude Manila cabbie.

    Other than from the monster cabbies of Manila, I think I dont have any other complaints.

  • xrx

    Yeah taxis in Manila are monsters, I have the same experience in Cagayan de Oro as well. But so did I have the same experience that in Malaysia, Brunei and China. Korea and Singapore cabbies are pretty okay tho. We have the yellow airport taxis now which I prefer although one guy was so pushy of asking for a damn tip last weekend (took it from NAIA 3). But yeah, generally, Manila cab drivers are really evil, I am a Filipino but yeah sometimes I'd literally want to take a gun and shoot every rude Manila cabbie.

    Other than the monster cabbies of Manila, I think I dont have any other complaints.

  • Ron

    The cost of ill repute.
    This is my 4th trip to the Philippines acountry and a people i learnt to love and a place where i want to live the rest of my life, maybe that is a selfish wish as i was thinking when flying in looking down at all the houses and shanties. the country is full am I doing the right thing adding to the populace.  Well hopefully I shall be able to do my bit and add a bit to the country's economy.
    On this trip I also had the first bad experience in the Philippines my fault as I have been warned before about rouge taxi drivers. he come up to me outside the airport exit, asked taxi sir ? well that has happened before and always nice and pleasant drivers. So I asked the price to Muntinlupa He replied 800pesos well a bit more expensive than last time but he had a new car so he need to pay for that. so i  got my gods in the trunk and even the hand baggage in witch i had some precents for my whife and family and also the rest of my luggage . As we got out on the road he produced a chart of different prices that I could not at the time make head or tail off as i did not have my glasses And he told me he wanted 55 dollars. To Muntinlupa, well that was not the agreement. so I said stop the car and i will get out, well he refused to stop and locked the window so as to prevent me from calling for assistance, and as i am 76 years old i was not going to tackle a fit Young man at the wheel. In my experience what he did amounts to deprivation of liberty and unlawfull detention. Whether that is the case in the Philippines I do not know.
    He kept on driving as i thought in the wrong direction . as i persisted in asking him to stop he eventually settled for 1260 pesos . Well i felt a bit like a wimp not doing anything more but I was worried he might drive away with my luggage.And he also cept calling someone on his cellphone but getting no reply, So i saw the 1260 Php as a kind of insurance. as he drove off i got his licence plate No, not that i think that will help much but may be. at the time it was the best i could do and it was gettingdark  and i was as i found out from the next taxi driver in Baclaran.  Ok I been here before and should have known better. But what about someone coming here for the first time and possibly not as persistent as me. Well they  would certainly add to the reputation of the Philippines as a unsafe and not so nice place for tourists. So the cost of 1200 to me I can bear and not be sleepless over it but a student or a tourist on a budget. Well I am sure they can to overcome the loss but can the Philippines now that “we” should try and get more tourists” we” have a good opportunity now, Thailand on the brink. Philippines is it safe? People ask me. Yes I say if You are not silly. Well maybe my reply will be different next time what is to say that taxi driver would not have robbed me had he seen more money in my wallet.
    For the sake of the tourist industry I think a few sting operations at the Airport would save the country some reputation. And some visitors a bad experience.
    By Ronaldo

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