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I've been to Malaysia three times: once to Penang and twice to Kuala Lumpur. I mostly used taxis to get around, and I found that drivers always wanted to negotiate a fare up-front (which was much higher than a meter fare). Sometimes I could argue them into using the meter, but a few times (such as heading back from the KL zoo), they simply wouldn't take me unless I agreed to a flat rate.

At first, I thought they were scamming me for being a tourist. What I've heard, though, is that the law sets meter rates that are too low for the drivers to make a living, so going by the meter is simply not worth their time. I have no way of verifying that, though, and my gut reaction when someone tries to do this is that they're running a scam (this is the case in Thailand, where I was living at the time).

I'm thinking of Penang again next year. Does anyone have experience with this situation, and can you verify the cause? How trustworthy are drivers in KL and Penang in negotiating an honest fare, provided I don't let myself seem like an easy mark?

Edit: Just to clarify, I don't really have a problem paying drivers something they can live on; I just don't want to overpay/get swindled.

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I thought about a tag along the lines of "scam", "bribe", or "corruption" but none of them seemed right. Maybe "overcharging"? –  hippietrail Jun 27 '11 at 20:56
    
@hippietrail - I wasn't sure either, and I don't have enough rep to create a new tag. Maybe [budget]? –  Justin Morgan Jun 27 '11 at 21:03
    
Eh, okay, made my answer less holier-than-thou. :) –  Ankur Banerjee Jun 27 '11 at 21:47
    
@hippietrail How about "tourist tax", along the lines of wedding tax or apple tax? –  Andrew Grimm Apr 8 '12 at 7:55
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4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

While it is true that taxi drivers will try to overcharge you in Malaysia, it is also true that the rates set by the government are on the low side. The official rate is 1 MYR / kilometre which converts roughly to $0.3. Tourism drives up prices in cities in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and I am willing to sympathise with the taxi drivers. Unlike Western two-children families, many of them have large families to support with many children.

Here are some pointers:

  • Look for 'prepaid' taxi booking counters at airport, bus, and railway stations. You can state your destination at the booking counter. Look for the official counter and not ones by tourist agencies who overcharge you.
  • Taxi pick-up points near malls - especially if they have mall staff assisting - will often have taxis that agree to charge by meter.
  • Booking a taxi over telephone costs you 3-5 MYR extra, but it almost often ensures the driver will operate by meter.
  • Older taxi drivers are more willing to drive by meter than younger ones.
  • Phrasing your question correctly when hailing a taxi helps. Instead of asking "How much?" if you ask "By meter?" then you've a better chance.
  • Depending on where and how much you are travelling, you can also hire taxis 'by the hour'. Ballpark figure would be 20-30 MYR / hour.
  • If a taxi driver quotes a ridiculously high figure, just walk away. If it's just a negotiation tactic, then they will call you back, if they usually rip-off passengers they won't - and you don't want to go with such a driver.
  • Start off by saying good morning/afternoon/evening in Malay language ("Selamat pagi/petang/malam"). Learning Malay on short notice is a tall order, but if you greet them in Malay they are more willing to negotiate 'fair' fares or use the meter - even if the rest of your conversation is in English.

If a driver operates by meter, I usually leave a tip in addition to fare. In Kuala Lumpur I found the 'Comfort Cab' and 'Sunlight' taxis to be willing to 'go by meter'. It's a lot harder in Penang; I mostly travelled by public bus - which is quite good actually, air-conditioned too - but when I did travel by taxi, say, for Batu Ferringhi beach or any of the other places to visit further away from Georgetown I had to negotiate the fares beforehand. Ask the staff at hotel / hostel you're staying in for approximate fares.

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Some great info, thank you. About your first point -- the first time I was in KL, I pre-paid at the "official" counter to get from KL Sentral station to my hotel. I later found out the prepaid fare had actually been more than what the drivers would accept, even up front. On top of that, they charged a "convenience fee" for their trouble. Dunno if this is always the case, just wanted to mention it. –  Justin Morgan Jun 27 '11 at 22:08
    
@Justin: Hmm, where was your hotel in KL? I have noticed that staff at the official taxi counters can sometimes be pushy and approach tourists to see if they want one; I'm not comfortable with that and try to avoid them on principle even if they look/seem official - maybe they are the ones who overcharge? –  Ankur Banerjee Jun 27 '11 at 22:31
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@Justin "Selamat datang" means "welcome" as in "welcome to <name the place> ... for example "Selamat datang ke Malaysia" means "Welcome to Malaysia" ... I'm not sure what Ankur means by saying hello. If it's something like "How are you?" it would be "apa khabar?" in Malay. Normally, we simply say "Hi' or "hello" to each other when we meet. Or followed by greeting like "good morning, afternoon, or evening" which are "Selamat Pagi, Selamat Petang, and Selamat Malam" in Malay –  Phelios Jun 28 '11 at 2:12
    
@Phelios: I usually use the specific "Selamat ____" term according to time of day, but for simplicity mentioned datang; I thought that was an acceptable substitute in this context? –  Ankur Banerjee Jun 28 '11 at 2:43
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@Ankur, I don't think so. Unless when we are a host, then we can greet our guests/visitors with "Selamat Datang". –  Phelios Jun 28 '11 at 3:06
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I have been to KL twice this year and hope to go back again - I had the exact same problem as you!

I would say Ankur made some good points in his answer, but, I just wanted to add a bit that is too much for comments, then my own experiences on top...

Prepaid counters are a rip off and often charge more than most taxi drivers would try to rip you off for!

And I think the best one is either taxi stands near apartment blocks or in front of hotels - drivers who stop off here are usually more than willing to go by meter.

As for the wage - the majority of taxi drivers are actually not self employed, they work for a taxi company and the reason they want to go off meter is because they then keep 100% of the money. They do this much more in touristy areas simply because they can get away with it.

Whilst near China Town (Petaling Street), I wanted to go to Suria KLCC, I went through about 10 taxis wanting between 10-50 RM, before finding one that was happy to do meter (came to 6RM... I feel a bit silly that I saved all of 40p (most people wanted 10RM), but it is the principal that counts).

There are so many taxis together, play them off against each other - you are bound to find at least one.

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I have been living in Singapore for 8 years and have done a fair amount of travel in South East Asia (mostly Malaysia and Thailand) both professional and personal trips, also my wife is Malaysian which provides some insight.

Being "European", it took me a fair amount of time to get use to the negotiation. Don't take this personally and always say no thanks with your smile on. At the end of the day it's a matter of supply vs demand (of both taxis and time)

Airport transport is generally more expensive than local taxi driver, even at fix price, but they give receipt which is sometime preferable for business trip no matter the price.

The key to negotiation is always to know what to expect, if you don't know ask to 2-3 taxi drivers for there price, say thank you with a smile on and move to the next one. They'll more or less give you the same price. You can pick the more reasonable one or, if you have time, keep asking until one agrees to use the meter.

It has happen to me that some uses the meter then ask for some extract charge because it was too far. My wife was with me and we disagreed to pay on the basis that we were not told of the extra charge upfront and that the taxi knew our destination from the beginning.

Finally whenever I realize that I could have paid less I consider it the cost of "the lesson".

Over factors that will make difficult getting a metered taxi in Malaysia:

  • Not many taxi available in the area (ferry to some remote island)
  • Peak hours with traffic jam in KL
  • 4-5pm during ramadan (fasting driver on there way home)
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All Taxis should give a receipt, if they say the machine is broken, ask them to hand write it.... Airport will always be more expensive as there is a 10/20RM (I can't remember) surcharge. –  wilhil Aug 26 '11 at 12:20
    
They should yes, but sometimes it can be very difficult. This is particularly the case in Thailand for example where even when they give it might not be something you can easily understand due to the writing. So airport transfer can just be easier when traveling for business. –  Daniel Da Cunha Aug 28 '11 at 17:49
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I wouldn't say it's even in Malaysia specifically that I'd change my behaviour - but if the wanted to go off meter, I'd want the rate up front. IF I think it's reasonable, then I'll get in. If I have no idea what the rate should be, it's meter or I go elsewhere.

Of course, sometimes I'm tired and just get in and pay what they ask me, but experience has shown I often end up regretting those decisions ;)

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