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jarman_ah Nov 22nd, 2004 10:44

Korruption in Kochi: a tip for those coming in by plane
It doesn't take very long in India to learn that the prepaid taxi service at most airports is a particularly expensive way to travel into the city -- really, it's only advantage is safety/security, it's not even particularly fast, as you usually have to stand in a queue consisting of other people from your flight.

Many cities -- Varanasi, Mumbai, and Bangalore come immediately to mind -- have a bus service which will take you to the city for a fraction of the cost of a taxi (to Mumbai by bus and train is around 20 rupees), and it's always worth asking about these. Don't ask a taxi driver, however, as he will, of course, tell you that there's no bus and that his is the only available mode of

Kochi is a pretty special case, as the airport is a LONG way -- at least 40 km -- from Fort Cochin. So, when we arrived there about 7 p.m., we were anxious to find the cheapest way to cover this route. I had read that the taxi fare to Fort Cochin was around 450 rupees, which was more than we were paying for accommodation, so I was especially eager to find a bus and do it for 10% of the price.

The taxi drivers were out in full force as we stepped off the plane (a local flight containing mainly locals, so we tourists stood out like sore thumbs and were highly sought-after), and right from the start were more cocky and more authoritative than the taxi drivers I had encountered everywhere else. They didn't ASK whether I wanted their service: they TOLD me to go straight to the prepaid booth, and that the price for Fort Cochin was 700 rupees. This was nearly double what I had been told -- surely prices couldn't have gone up that much? -- so I dismissed them with "I'll go by bus or autorickshaw". They assured me: no bus, and no autorickshaw. Autorickshaws were not permitted in the airport grounds. Only taxi. R700. Come now.

I decided to stall them by ringing for accommodation from the public phone, situated midway between arrival and departure (about 70 metres from each). While I made three calls, a cluster of them stood around me, almost touching me, the whole time. VERY intimidating. At one stage while I was dialling a number, the page I was looking at flipped over in the light breeze, and one of the drivers simply reached out and restored it: they were THAT close. Try making a private call with this mob around! I gestured for them to stand back, but they wouldn't budge an inch.

I was quickly making up my mind that there was no way I was going to travel with ANY of these people, even if I had to trek the whole 40 km! And then I noticed that, every couple of minutes, an autorickshaw would drive up to "departures", deposit its passenger, and then drive off. So much for no autorickshaws!

My calls complete and accommodation settled, I strode through the mass of taxi drivers, once again firmly declining their services, and headed straight for the "departures" set-down. True to form, an autorickshaw was just pulling up to deposit its passenger, so I went straight up to it and asked for a price to Fort Cochin. 250 rupees. That was a lot better than 700, so, of course, we climbed in, without even haggling.

And then the fun really started. Three or four taxi drivers came over and ordered us out of the autorickshaw, telling us we MUST go by taxi. A couple of others started yelling at the autorickshaw driver -- it looked like things might even come to blows! We refused to comply, and instructed the driver to drive on. At that, we were suddenly surrounded by about a dozen taxi drivers who stood around the autorickshaw, leaning against it, and refused to let it proceed. All the time they were threatening the poor driver, who was obviously torn between letting them have their way, or picking up an easy 250 rupees for a trip he was going to have to make anyway.

I let them keep yelling (doing a bit myself, saying they were nothing but stand-over men and that in most countries they would be hauled off to the hoosegow), knowing that, if we could just hold out long enough, a policeman was bound to investigate. Sure enough, one was nearby and came over to see what the trouble was. I told him that these men would not stand out of the way of my transport, and insisted that he tell them to stand clear so that we could depart. They started yelling at him. And, to my surprise, he sided with them. He turned back to us and said, "You must go by taxi. Aurorickshaws are not allowed in the airport." Of course, autorickshaws had been pulling up and leaving every couple of minutes during the entire fracas -- one was pulling up as he said this, and I pointed that out to him. No matter. I had to go with the taxi drivers and pay their price.

My wife had been silent up until this time, but it was she who broke the impasse. She said, "OK, we'll just sleep here in the autorickshaw", and proceeded to do just that! Seeing she was perfectly serious, the policeman then turned back to the taxi drivers, who hadn't budged an inch, and started talking seriously to them. A few moments later, he came back to us with a compromise. If we would get out of the autorickshaw and walk back up towards the car park entrance, the autorickshaw could drive along beside us, and at the car park entrance we could re-board, "legally". Although there was a light rain falling, and the idea of walking through the rain, an autorickshaw at my heels, JUST to placate a bunch of stand-over taxi drivers, didn't exactly appeal, it seemd like the easiest way of getting out of the impasse, so this is exactly what we did. We walked off, through the bunch of hostile faces, leaving our packs in the autorickshaw, and headed for the car park. A few started following us; most continued to argue with the policeman and the autorickshaw driver.We had only gone about forty paces when the band of drivers gave up following us, and then the autorickshaw driver, suddenly allowed to go free, appeared and was able to "re-admit" us. That was my one experience of tipping in India. As a rule, we never follow the American tradition of tipping unless we're in America, where we realise that it's part of the necessary cost-structure -- but in this case I gave the poor autorickshaw driver 300 rupees, as compensation for the trauma he had been put through. He had enough English to tell me that while other airports are controlled by the Airport Authority of India, Kochi is privately owned, and corruption there is the order of the day -- the policeman and the drivers and the prepaid booth are all of one mind -- to keep out the competition by whatever means are necessary.

When we got to Fort Cochin, we approached the taxi stand there and asked how much for a taxi trip to the airport. 450 rupees, he said -- exactly what we had expected originally from the information we had been given. So we WERE being exploited with the 700 rupees "prepaid" fee!

Hopefully, there's a lesson to be learned from this experience, which is why I'm sharing it. I'm sure that travellers entering Kochi by rail would have no trouble, but if you are forced to fly in, then be vary wary of this cartel of "mafia drivers", and don't let yourself be ripped off. There will ALWAYS be an autorickshaw ready to take you for a third of the price, even if you do have to walk to the aiport entrance to hail one! Don't pay the mafia 700 rupees!

Note: For more info on airport taxis etc., read these threads -
For Delhi

pooch Nov 22nd, 2004 11:32

I do think there is a law at some Indian airports regarding taxis and autos not registered with whatever authority of the airport. For instance if you are to pick someone from the airport your taxi or auto you arrive in will have to wait at the exit point. This happens to me in Mumbai all the time. I think the law is that an auto or taxi can bring in passengers but not pick up arriving passengers from the airport.

sudheer poppa Nov 22nd, 2004 12:25

Make it a formal complaint. Yes we can all protest and talk about it, but if there is a need for a change send a mail to these guys...

Email K C Venugopal - Minister for Tourism

Email District Collector - Ernakulam

Email Tourism Secretary (Fairly Effective)

Email V J Kurian - Chairman, Kochi International Airport

Email Alex Varghese - General Manager, Kochi International Airport

Email A Chandrakumaran Nair - Airport Director, Kochi International Airport

beach Nov 22nd, 2004 13:37

There is a railway station near by at Angamali or even Alway . You can catch a Taxi or a Rickshaw to these places at a much cheaper fare. And then you can catch trains (in ever 1 hour or so), buses very frequent or even a local taxi to the main City. These two places are sort of small towns a few kilometers away from the airport. They have good connectivity to the Cochin city .

If Iím right Alway-Cochin is just rs9 by that red blood color city bus. They are extremely fast. You can get seat at the starting points at Alway or Angamali. From Alway every 30 seconds a bus leave for the City center.

These are the other options for those who want to travel economically to &from Cochin airport. A direct taxi is a bit painful. It's almost like calling for a taxi from one town to another.

This new Cochin airport is far from the city center. The earlier one was bang inside the Fort Cochin area. Surprisingly all this is happening inside the countries only private sector airport!!

Kerala is a 100% literate state and yet 0% (well almost) industrialised place. Itís just because of this militant attitude in work that drove enterprises away from this place. Itís Gods own country, no doubt about it. But Kerala is genetically mutated with the communist blood.

Yes. I agree with Sudheer. Please do write strongly to one of these people (to all if possible). Iím sure it will make a difference at least for the future passengers.

Nick-H Nov 22nd, 2004 17:43

Even at Heathrow, London...

Only London Black cabs are allowed to pick up passengers. The much cheaper minicabs are absolutely banned, although they may, of course, set down passengers.

The is no question of the fare: it is according to the meter. In this respect London taxis are absolutely straight, but still an expensive way to travel.

I don't enjoy being ripped off either, and I have had some 'on principle' arguments with chennai auto drivers, but...
  • If the 'true' taxi fare should have been 450 then the auto driver was surely way overcharging at 250?
  • The entire unpleasant episode resulted in a saving of R450: about £5. Was it worth it?

For me, the best method of travel from an airport is to be met by a car sent by the hotel. Of course those who haven't yet found a hotel don't have this option.

Alan D Nov 22nd, 2004 18:11

I'm not absolutely sure here that the taxi drivers are the guilty party.

There is obviously some agreement between the airport admin and the taxi drivers but the taxi drivers may have to pay a lump sum or a percentage for the concession. Even in my home town of Southampton, the airport has an in-house taxi service which costs more than a normal taxi but there is a train station a couple of minutes walk away.

The real difference with Cochin airport seems to be that nothing else is available from within the airport, unlike Heath Row, Delhi, Funchal, Istanbul etc where there are much cheaper bus services available.

Krishnika Nov 22nd, 2004 22:23

I remember flying in to Kochi from Goa in 1999 and had the same problem. But when I asked where the closest place was to get a rickshaw, I was told at the airport entrance, so only wasted about 10 minutes with the taxi guys.

Nick-H Nov 23rd, 2004 02:59


Originally Posted by Alan D
unlike Heath Row, Delhi, Funchal, Istanbul etc where there are much cheaper bus services available.

I forgot. Of course Heathrow (whilst banning minicabs) has, not only buses and tube trains, but also the expensive Heathrow Express to Padington.

Just that I don't count public transport as a possibility when returning with all the stuff bought in India!

jarman_ah Nov 23rd, 2004 03:54

Sudheer: Thanks for this very useful advice. However, I would be a little afraid of making a formal complaint to the chairman, general manager, or Airport Director, because the result of my cpomplaint might well have the opposite effect to what I intended (if, in fact, these people are "behind" the monopoly; their reaction might well be, "OK, the easiest way to fix this problem is to force the autorickshaws to let their departing passengers off at the main gate, so that the incoming passengers never get to see an autorickshaw". I think that's how problems such as this one would be solved here in Australia!

beach: that information is the most useful (to future travellers) of all the posts on this thread. How I wish I'd had time to ask, on this site, the question (about ALL my India destinations) "How do I get from the airport to town by public transport?" BEFORE I embarked on this holiday. I would have saved myself a comsiderable sum of money in Hyderabad, Leh, Indore and Delhi, at all of which points we took the available "private" transport (mainly autorickshaws). Really, it's worth starting off one of those "perpetual" threads, like Steven Ber's train threads, which keep getting added to, headed "public transport from the airports of India". Yours could be the first entry. How about it, indiamike?

Nick-41: I seldom had the opportunity to work out what fraction of a taxi fare the autorickshaw should be charging, as we generally managed to avoid taxis. So maybe that 250 rupees was overcharging (but, surely, not by much... the trip took just over an hour!). That, however, wasn't the point; it was, at least, a significant cost saving, and it allowed me to carry out my resolution NOT to use the stand-over mob regardless of price (if they's suddenly matched the autorickshaw's price, I would have still said "no").
Was it worth the 400 rupee saving? I guess that question, while interesting to speculate about, could be asked in retrospect about everything everyone ever does in life. Ask Bill Clinton if it was worth having a quickie with Monica. Ask Saddam Hussein if it was worth thumbing his nose at the weapons inspectors. The point is, at the time I made the decision to go with the autorickshaw, the "cost" I was considering was simply a 70-metre walk over to the Departure drop-off point. Not being prescient, I had no reason to "factor in" the possibility that I may wind up in an incident involving the local police! That's life. But, on reflection, yes, it was worth it -- not for the 400 rupees, but for the satisfaction of seeing the cartel back down. (P.S. We also took an autorickshaw back to the airport at the end of the visit; we said that we'd understand if he chose to drop us at the gate and not drive in to the departure drop-off point, and he was happy to do that. So we had to walk, packs on backs, straight past the waiting army of taxi drivers again. I am sure a couple of them would have been in the original group and recognised us; this time, however, no one said a word.)

Baldy Nov 23rd, 2004 05:18

Nick - you have to remember that fuel cost is the issue. You cant simply say a 3 wheeler should be x% of the taxi fare. 40km wil cost.

Nick-H Nov 23rd, 2004 06:05

jarman_ah, yes, I can believe that your satisfaction at beating the mob was well worth R400! I should have started out by congratulating you on not letting them get away with this.

I did a similar thing with an auto driver (though there was no mob involvement, so it wasn't so brave) who 'changed his mind' about the fare after driving around one corner. I told him three times that he had made the bargain, if he would not keep it I would take another driver. It wasn't the money; I think I paid as much to the next driver, but I wasn't going to be messed around like that.


Originally Posted by Baldy
Nick - you have to remember that fuel cost is the issue. You cant simply say a 3 wheeler should be x% of the taxi fare. 40km wil cost.

I wonder what size an auto engine is? a few hundred ccs? Yes, fuel cost is an issue, but compared to a car it would be much less.

I have several times been told that I could have got a car for the amount that I'd paid an auto to do a trip of several miles, and that I should have paid very very much less. But as Chennai auto drivers seek to charge more and more, it seems to have a backlash effect with the locals trying to pay less and less!

My local advisors also just could not comprehend that I like to travel by auto! Their attitude was that I could afford a car, what on earth was I doing going by auto? !

crvlvr Nov 23rd, 2004 09:08

the local bus service in Cochin is pretty good and may be the most cost effective way to travel longer distances. Although the signage is in malayalam, most buses have door-men, who help passengers get on and off the bus at stops and they will be able to tell you if the bus will get you to your destination.

Bigzero Nov 23rd, 2004 09:38

the "door-men" in kerala buses are a special lot. Ask the kerala women.. :) :) :)

to jarman - not exactly the welcome one would expect in what is supposed to be the Gods Own Country! I have never landed in Kochi's new airport, but have experienced similar issues in Calicut airport - though the tourist arrivals there is much less. and I think tourists are easy targets anyway ( at least in their perception ). You should give a formal complaint - i dont know to what extent it will help tone down the Taxi mafia, but it will still be a step in the right direction.

All the taxis & Autos out of airports in india charge more than normal fares - the attribute it to some "licenses" or "fees" to the airport authority. i dont know whether the hike is proportional to the fees though.

the best option is always to see if a pick-up cab can be arranged. hope one day they will start suburban train services from the airport like in major airports elsewhere.

the worst incident i had to face was in mumbai airport - i had arrived from frankfurt at 1.30 am and had to catch a flight to hyderabad at around 3 am or so. there is this concept of "shuttle" that one can catch from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. i waited at the pick-up point for a good 20 minutes or so, getting more and more nervous as time went by. there were some 10 other passengers too, but they were more relaxed as they had more time in their hands. i finally chased one official and was told that "it is better to go out and pick a cab". he says he didnt have a clue when the blessed shuttle would arrive. i finally decided to take the cab option, and shelled out around 150 or 200 to reach the domestic terminal. Perhaps i could have sood my ground and negotiated, but time was not on my side.

about kerala's militant labour culture - i have lots to say on that! but later...

sudheer poppa Nov 23rd, 2004 10:16

My suggestion to send mails to all of them (Something like - Gentlemen, for your information) was because I know a little background them.

V J Kurien was the ex tourism and industries minister of Kerala. Even though he is the Chairman, he is more like a public face rather than acting executive. Hence, if you sent a mail with him in the loop, the current buch of government officials can hold it on him. Moreover, the government sponsorship to the Airport is in order to develop it as a great convienience to Tourism industry which is the biggest money earner for the state (except NRI's). So if you share in your mail, that you are talking about this to your local travel agent and sharing the same in Internet forums- the same is bound to have an impact on them.

And the airport executives (like the director and GM) would be the one who are directly responsible for the dealings with Taxi unions and all. If they see the rest of the huge names addressed in that mail, they will have to prepare some action plans and answers for all the queries they are bound to get.The fact that you could get the Auto after talking to the policemen, proves that it is an unwritten law. And further, they can only have limiting agreements on other taxi's coming and picking up people and NOT autorickshaws.

End note - Tourism is almost the ONLY business in Kerala. So the guys at the top, do look after the same with a little better "attitude" than all other industries.

Personaly I have had one of the most amazing experience in the same Airport. 1st May 2004, 1 am - I took an auto, which was standing in an Auto bay at the Airport (???) to the Angamaly Station. It was a 20 minute ride at 1 am in the night and the auto guy took ONLY 60 bucks. I cannot imagine that distance and such low price at middle of the night anywhere in India !!!

findbluesky May 15th, 2006 18:52

Airport cab to hotel, etc. - Scam?!?!
OK, we got off the plane at Delhi International Airport and went up to a pre-paid taxi kiosk in the arrivals lounge. We showed them the name of the hotel we were staying at, gave them some money and they said no problem and put us in a taxi. Great we thought, simple.

When we got close to Delhi, the taxi driver said he didn't know where the hotel was, and we spent half an hour driving round with him occasionally asking friends of his if they knew. Fair enough we thought, he isn't sure of the location. After a while he asked another friend who said he didn't know, but we could stay at his place if we liked. It was the Hotel Prince International, in Karol Bagh (which to be honest is a pretty crappy area to find yourself after an 8 hour flight). We started to suspect that we had been taken for a ride and our suspicions were confirmed when we met someone else staying at the hotel who had exactly the same thing happen to them.

I just wanted to post this to let other people know that if they end up at the Hotel Prince International by a "lost" taxi driver, then they should know it is a scam. I don't mind staying somewhere else if I can't find the hotel I want to stay in, but its just the sheer audacity of those people.

Also, do not get them to order you a taxi, as they will ignore your request to go to the train station and take you to their travel agent instead - who gives you the very-hard-sell and after we walked out, the taxi driver asked us for 500 rps to go to the station! I didn't even look back as I walked away from him!

Apart from that, once we got out of Delhi we have had a wonderful time! Pushkar was peaceful, and Shimla is cool. I can highly recommend these places!

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