Sofia Taxis Demystified

21.07.2012 § 3 Comments

image from sofia-guide.com

You’re in luck. Only a couple of years ago, Sofia was crawling with gouging, faker taxis that charged 3.50 Leva per km and relied on tourists’ naiveté and inattention to fleece them. Thankfully, a couple of reliable companies have emerged, as well as legislation that caps the maximum one can charge for a certain distance.

I’ll make it even easier: ОК Супертранс (OK Supertrans), recognizable by the big OK signs on their doors and, more importantly, by the number 973-2121 printed on them, is the most reliable among Sofia’s companies, holds the concessions for the official taxi stands at Sofia airport and the bus terminal, and operates close to half of the city’s fleet. My advice: just go with these guys. They’re mostly reliable, their rates are on par with everyone else in the city (who’s legitimate), and their dispatch system is incredibly efficient.

But first, let’s talk about

Taxi etiquette

Sofia taxis are required by law to be painted yellow, to have a ТАКСИ (Taxi) marker on their roofs, to display their rates in Bulgarian and English and to have a working meter capable of producing receipts. They are also all equipped with little traffic-light indicators on the front windshield. The indicator is green if the taxi is available and red if it’s engaged.

If you’re approaching a taxi at a taxi stand, you should choose the one furthest forward that seems reputable. Taxi stands are often queues, and drivers near the front have been waiting longer.

Whether you’ve hailed a cab or are approaching a resting one, poke your head through the passenger side window or open the door and state your destination. If the driver agrees to take you, (unfortunately, occasionally they’ll refuse if the destination is too close. If this happens, you have recourse, so read on) ask approximately how much it will cost. To give you an idea, a trip downtown from the airport should cost no more than 10-12 Leva, and trips within the downtown area come in at 3-6 Leva, depending on traffic. Make sure the meter is on and displays the correct rate when the taxi is at rest and travelling.

You have a choice of where to sit as well. Unlike cabs in other locations, there are no barriers between front and rear seats and the passenger seat is a perfectly acceptable place to sit, especially if you’re travelling alone. Moreover, it is possible that the taxi is not equipped with rear seatbelts or their buckles have been removed. So, sit in the front if you can.

At the end of the trip, ask for a receipt (касова бележка) and tip up to 10%, rounding to the nearest Lev. Cabs in the city tend to only accept cash. 

Cab drivers can be a bit surly, they can also smoke and blare odd music while they drive, but they are generally safe and they provide a transportation service that is among the least expensive in Europe. Comparing a rate of 1 Lev for a single bus ride in the city, paying 3-4 to get exactly where you’re going is quite reasonable.

Scams and Recourse

A very popular scam until a few years ago was to register a taxi company called “OK Something”, imitating the logo and layout of the OK Supertrans brand, and charge exorbitantly high rates for trips. This has been made quite illegal, but you should still check the fare rates as you enter the cab and make sure the side of the cab has the number 973 21 21 on it.

It is also not advisable to follow anyone who asks you if you need a taxi in an arrivals hall. They are there because they’re not the official carrier, and they may not even be licensed as taxis.

Even with a reputable carrier, you may have an unpleasant taxi experience. If you’re concerned about your safety, your driver’s ability or the fare, ask the driver to stop the cab (“Спрете тук”). It’s best not to argue about the fare quoted unless it’s ridiculously high. If you’re in an OK Supertrans cab, there’s a 3- or 4-digit driver number that’s visible on the dashboard. When you’re safely out of the cab, call + 359 2 973 3770 (in English) and lodge a complain with OK Supertrans headquarters, quoting the driver number. It’s not a good idea to do this or to threaten to do it while in the cab.

Special Circumstances

There is one situation in which you may find yourself at the drivers’ mercy: if you’ve arrived late at night, especially at the airport. There is currently no other reliable transportation between Sofia airport and the city, and after midnight even city buses don’t go there, meaning that it’s a taxi driver’s market. You will be able to bargain to be taken to the city for a flat rate of 15 or 20 Leva. I would take down the driver’s number and report them anyway, once you’re safely at your destination.

Ordering a Taxi

OK Supertrans have a very reliable dispatch system. If you call their number from a landline, they will have your location and you won’t have to state it separately. Otherwise, tell them where you are and where you’re going, and when you’d like the cab. They will quote the number of the car they’re sending and the approximate arrival time. This incurs an extra charge of 0.50 Leva, but it’s often easier than hunting cabs down in the streets.

Fares and Fare Comparison

Below is a table of the current rates of OK Supertrans as of the date of this writing. Other companies’ rates should vary very slightly in the same ballpark. I have also converted Toronto’s Beck Taxi rates to the same units and I’m providing them for comparison at the current exchange rate.

OK Supertrans Beck Taxi
Initial Fee 0.60 LV
(0.38 CAD)
4.20 CAD
Call-up 0.50 LV
(0.32 CAD)
FREE
1 km (daytime rate) 0.59 LV
(0.37 CAD)
1.61 CAD
1 km (nighttime rate) 0.70 LV
(0.44 CAD)
1.61 CAD
1 minute wait 0.18 LV
(0.11 CAD)
0.48 CAD

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