A foreigner who lands at the Ruzyně airport must feel as if standing in the middle of a Vietnamese market. As soon as he steps out of the gate arrival terminal, he becomes easy prey for local taxi drivers. And he is not likely to escape.
Right at the exit door there is a couple of taxi “dispatchers”, or should we say procurers from two different taxi companies. Three companies in total have a license for parking outside the terminal – AAA Radiotaxi, Airport Cars and Cedaz. For years now they have been fighting for passengers among themselves. Each of the rivals is trying to “hunt down” a customer using its “most advantageous” offer.
“We’re offering standard taxi services including a departure fee and a fixed per-kilometer price. The customer can follow the price on a taxameter,” said an AAA Radiotaxi dispatcher while enjoying a break as nobody was getting off the terminal. Once the gate opened his nearby standing colleague promptly approached a young man with a small suitcase, offering a lift with Airport Cars in fluent English.
“We guarantee our customers to pay exactly the price they are told upon departure. We aren’t a taxi service but a licensed passenger transport carrier. Our fares aren’t taxameter-based but set according to tariff zones. The price is set depending on the tariff zone of the final destination,” said Airport Cars dispatcher after the young man left for a bus. He was a traveler with experience. Obviously, it was not his first time at the Ruzyně airport and he knew that the regular bus line would take him for little money to the metro from where he would get to the center in ten minutes. But tourists with his experience are a rarity here.
Most travelers are so confused after they are confronted with the offers from the airport taxi groups that they rather get in the first available car.
The prices are very similar. Regardless of whether they choose the silver, white or the yellow car, the passengers will pay about CZK 560 for the trip from Ruzyně to Národní třída in the center.
While the “hunting” for customers has a relatively cultivated form – dispatchers are dressed in uniforms and do not attack customers all at once but take turns – the rivalry among taxi drivers is much higher.
“They cheat people. They pretend to be taxi drivers although they are not,” said one of the AAA Radiotaxi drivers while pointing toward the Airport Cars spot. “And why is it that they have a spot closer to the entrance? It isn’t fair!,” he shouted. “They are thieves. They charge for every second while waiting with passengers in traffic,” said a group of drivers nervously waiting around their silver Airport Cars vehicles.
The third company, the minibus operator Cedaz, declined to comment. Its drivers are annoyed by the whole situation. They are aware of the coming up tender for a new airport taxi service provider and know the Prague Airport is not counting on using the minibuses.
Since the existing contracts are soon to expire, the Prague Airport has announced a public tender which is to select two taxi operators. They should start their five-year service for the airport in February. “We know it now looks like the Klondike Gold Rush but the tender will not make it better. There will be two companies here and they will still be fighting. A single operator with less cars would be a solution,” said AAA Radiotaxi driver Jiří Bubník.
Solution not in sight
“We want two taxi operators because if one goes bankrupt, the airport would not be left without the taxi service,” said the airport’s spokeswoman Eva Krejčí. Taxi drivers are getting nervous also because they have lost one third of their customers as a result of the economic crunch. At the same time, the price the taxi companies must pay to the airport for the right to pick up passengers there have grown from CZK 0.8 million to CZK 1.6 million a month.
The tender whose winner will be announced by the end of this year has also raised controversy by having its conditions set out the way which was not suitable for some vehicles such as Škoda Superb. The airport had to fix some of the mistakes promptly during the tender proceedings.