Let’s get this straight: There are good taxi companies in Sofia. O.K. Taxi and 91119, just to name these two examples, are mostly reliable and most of their cars are good, when we consider where we are. Period. Some are even new.
Now to the big “but”: There are quite a few issues with taxis in this country.
Problem no. 1: Corruption instead of legal certainty
The first big issue has to do with the rampant corruption and the lack of legal certainty in this country. In Sofia, impostors have been using the “O.K. Taxi” logo, in several variations (see example in photo above), for a long time. Their prey: business travellers and tourists. At Sofia Airport, those mafia taxis are circling in front of Terminal 2, until they find someone unfamiliar with the situation here. The victim will be charged up to 10 times the usual amount for a trip to the city centre.
The main problem here: Nobody stops the impostors. Due to the corruption, they have been getting away with their strategy for a long time. This hurts those who fall for them, but also the real “O.K. Taxi” company. Even Bulgarians or expats with a lot of experience fall for them at times, since the taxi mafia comes up with new ideas all the time.
Problem no. 2: Prices too low
In Sofia, the usual price of 0.79 Leva a kilometre is too low. Law-abiding drivers have to work 12 hours a day or longer, in order to make what is regarded as a decent living in Bulgaria. Therefore, the motivation to cheat passengers is quite high.
Problem no. 3: Regulations and Compliance
In Bulgaria, there are lots of regulations, in many areas. But only few really care about them. That is why many taxi drivers do not know how to drive. They engage in races on the road, perform dangerous lane changes all the time and do not seem to care about security or comfort much. Nobody seems to be testing the drivers. There should be officials in civilian clothes, posing as passengers.
Problem no. 3: The Vehicles
In western European countries, taxis are usually three to four years old. Shortly after, they are being discarded, with 500,000 kilometers on their clocks. In Bulgaria, some are up to 15 years old. This leads to cosmetical issues and, even more important, to severe issues having to do with traffic security.
Problem no. 4: The Approach to Service
All taxi drivers need customers. But, once they are sitting in the vehicle, many drivers seem to be annoyed about them anyway. They play loud music (or something they consider to be music), they are unfriendly, they use the slowest lane in traffic jams, in order to earn half a Lev more, they take “the long way home”, they even smoke, in spite of a ban, and many are unfriendly.
Problem no. 5: The Appearance and Smell
In Bourgas, at the Black Seaside, municipal councils are now discussing the appearance of taxi drivers and their smells, the publication faragency.bg is reporting. Some city officials want to come up with new regulations, making sure drivers do wear decent clothes and take showers once in a while. But, as it turns out, these regulations are already in place, while some drivers do not care about them. Passengers who are being driven by a smelly driver, whose t-shirt has not seen any washing machine since 1990, often do not complain, since they (accurately) believe complaints would not change a thing. Due to this behaviour, there does not seem to be a lot of pressure on taxi drivers, who just don’t care. This issue is not limited to Burgas.
In order to stay out of trouble in Sofia, the recommendation would be to use the official O.K. Taxi stand at Sofia Airport, or to order taxis by calling either O.K. Taxi (02-973-2121) or 91119 (02 4911108, temporary number, on August 15th, 2016). In both cases, taxis can also be ordered online.
(Photo via foreignersandfriends.com)