"Don't worry, I won't charge you anything else until we get to the center of town," chuckles José, a taxi driver working out of Barajas airport, when he saw the reaction of a client to the meter: 30 euros, for opening the door.
Since Tuesday, new tariffs negotiated with the city authorities are fixed at 30 euros for journeys originating or ending within the M-30 beltway that rings central Madrid. However, a minimum fee of 20 has also been fixed for journeys to closer ports of call; good news for drivers who may wait two or three hours for a fare, but a large increase for the passenger. "Before you could get a client wanting the Hilton, which is right here, and you had to take them. Now it's 20 euros and it's worth it," says Andrés, who has been driving for 10 years.
Unfortunately, nobody thought to tell customers about the new tariffs, which have expunged the previous system of supplements. There are no posters, no pamphlets, and the tourist information staff seemed unsure of the details. "It's a good idea because the client isn't overwhelmed and it's going to come out more or less the same, but if you don't tell people it's not much use," says Andrés.
Benito López, a taxi driver for 34 years, identifies another potential problem: "Even among drivers there's little information. Through not knowing or slyness, drivers can continue to charge the supplement because the meter still allows it." The Professional Taxi Federation, which has 5,100 licensed members, a third of the total number of drivers in the capital, has complained that this is indeed the case. Its president, Mariano Sánchez, says he saw a receipt for a journey to the center for 41.15 euros, the driver having applied a supplement.
Julio Moreno, president of the Taxi Trade Association, with 9,000 drivers, notes that drivers have always been able to charge supplements whether they genuinely apply or not. "Any driver doing so now is breaking the law and a customer can make a police complaint on the basis of the receipt." Moreno adds that the fixed tariff will also serve to dispel the notion — founded or not — that drivers take customers at the airport on the "tourist" route into town.
"It's like taking the scales away from a butcher because you think he's cheating people," says a driver who believes the new tariff was brought in for this reason.
At Barajas, Carola, just arrived from Italy, doesn't need long to decide: "Taxis in Spain are very expensive, but what are you going to do?" she asks, looking forlornly at her enormous suitcase.