Take a few minutes to read this page to save yourself time, frustration and money!
Sicily's taxi drivers and grooms (horse carriage drivers) are an endearing lot. They'll take you wherever you want to go, usually with a smile. If
you ask in advance, they'll tell you not to worry about the price of the
fare. It'll be less than you expect.
Believing such an assurance could be costly, especially in larger Sicilian
cities like Palermo, Catania or Messina. This comes as no surprise. The
taxi drivers of Naples and Rome are infamous for price gouging - overcharging
for basic fares and doubling their rates after dark. But in some cities
it's even worse. Palermo, Sicily's largest city, is probably the worst of all.
Unfortunately, what has developed is a situation that is absolutely terrible
for consumers, especially foreigners. In fact, most visitors are advised
to avoid employing taxi service whenever possible. Why? Mostly it's a simple
question of not getting ripped off by dishonest drivers, who are the majority.
It's not only taxi drivers who overcharge visitors. The carriage grooms,
particularly in Palermo, are infamous for zealously overcharging. Most of
the grooms also happen to have arrest records for petty (and not so petty)
crimes, a fact indicated to a friend of mine some years by a city council
member responsible for reviewing and updating their licenses. Another unpleasant
detail is their generally inhumane treatment of the horses, something that
the Italian authorities are lax in investigating.
Then there are the gentlemen - typically in their twenties - who take you racing through town in three-wheel vehicles similar to the one shown here.
Visit our transportation page for general information. As regards "personalized" transportation in the cities, let's establish a few "ground rules" here, with an emphasis on fascinating but chaotic Palermo.
Sightseeing: In Palermo, City Sightseeing operates double-deck tour buses
along two routes in the old part of the city with occasional departures for hilltop Monreale from the Port and Politeama areas. A one-day ticket permits
you to hop on or off the bus at any designated stop. Visit their website for
details, rates and a brochure in PDF format. While this isn't the same thing as having a qualified licensed tour guide, it's convenient if you're touring on your own on foot.
Equally important is what kind of sightseeing to avoid. Taxis are expensive, so get the price from the driver, based on your itinerary, before entering. There's no reason for a taxi ride from the city to the airport to cost more than seventy euros, and there are buses and trains that will take you there for just six or seven euros.
The horse carriages are infamously expensive, with the price "invented" for each customer, so here too you should get the price for your itinerary around town before entering the carriage. The three-wheel vehicles driven - in many cases - by younger people
are never recommended! If, despite our advice to the contrary, you decide to see Palermo this way, for your safety at least choose a vehicle driven by one of the older drivers (one who looks to be over 40).
If you must take a taxi, establish the price - and the route - before
getting into the car. The same principle applies to the horse carriages and three-wheel vehicles. Frankly, we generally discourage patronizing the services of horse carriages or three-wheel vehicles at all!
A good alternative to taxis, especially if your stay is to include various mini-excursions, is to hire a car and driver in advance (try the internet). This is particularly practical for shore excursions for cruise ship passengers.
The honest drivers who charge passengers the official rates for service are a small minority, though they should be recognised. There are at least a few fair, ethical "cabbies" in Sicilian cities.
Admittedly, there's nothing "politically correct" or "nice" about our advice. Some folks may even be offended by it. That's okay; we're speaking in the interest of the vast majority of visitors and tourists who want to pay fair prices for transportation. Ideally, taxi drivers and carriage drivers would charge fair prices - those indicated in the official price lists.
In a perfect world Palermo's taxi drivers (perhaps the least honest of
any city south of Naples) would be as ethical as those in New York and London.
Sadly, that's not the case. Taking a ride shouldn't mean "being taken
for a ride." Buyer beware!
About the Author: Roberto Paglia has written several articles for this publication relating to social topics.