Taxi safety is something we talk about quite a lot in Bolivia, for several reasons. It isn't always easy to identify which vehicles are taxis and which might not be. Taxi drivers have been victimized for their money increasingly over the past few years, as have some passengers. But there have also been some cases of taxi drivers victimizing their passengers. Tourists in Bolivia need to be especially careful, and learn about how and where to locate a taxi safely. Here are some ways to ensure you stay safe.
HAILING A TAXI:
If you must hail a cab from the curb, it is customary to use the hand signal shown here. Notice how this person wisely keeps one foot firmly planted on the curb, should the cab he is hailing decline to stop. Cab drivers here are notorious for that. If they can't stop for you, they may simply whiz on by with a total disregard for the miniscule amount of distance between their car and your outstretched body.
SHARING TAXIS: In La Paz, and some other cities, it is customary to share taxis. As you are driving along, if someone hails your cab the driver will slow down. The potential passenger will state their destination and your driver will decide if their stop is along the way to your destination. If so, they will pick up that person. If not, they will continue without them, always respecting the route of their first passenger. (Unless they are a radio taxi, in which case you are paying for them to drive you exclusively and they will not pick up other passengers).
This is not the case in Santa Cruz. Usually, if you see a cab already has a passenger in it you should not hail it. Regardless as to whether it is "taxi particular" or a "radiomóvil", it is not customary to share an occupied taxi here. (The exception to this is the "TRUFI", of course).
FIND OUT IF YOUR TAXI IS SAFE! In 2013 a young man from Santa Cruz was robbed while on a taxi. He went on to develop a taxi safety app that we can all now use in Bolivia to help keep us safe while using taxis. Read about the Bolivia Taxi Safety App and how it works.
KEEP CALM IN TAXIS: It’s always best if you tell the taxi company's phone operator your pick up location and destination and ask up front what the charge will be so that you don’t have to argue or negotiate with the driver later (also so you will have the correct change because 95% of the time, the drivers don’t have much change on hand). If you ever have a dispute with a driver, demand he/she call the operator ("Por favor llame a su central y pida la tarifa"). The operator will announce the fare over the radio for all to hear. End of dispute. Getting into an argument with a taxi driver can put you in danger. You just don't know how they may react.
SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE: Keep in mind that many taxis, being privately-owned vehicles, are not always well-maintained. Drivers do not earn very much and barely get by. They do not have a lot of money left over for vehicle maintenance. The companies they work for usually don't have any requirements in place in terms of maintenance either, nor do they pay for maintenance. The majority of them do not have seat belts and NONE have safety seats available for children (although you can bring your own if you like). Lastly, most only carry the minimum insurance required by law (which does not usually pay out very much in cases of physical injury) so if you ever feel your driver is speeding, or driving unsafely in any manner, it is your right to speak up and tell him or her to slow down. If s/he refuses to drive safely, you can refuse to pay and ask to get out.