An airport taxi ride in a new city could be one of the most exciting parts of your arrival – you’re almost guaranteed a hair-whitening, eye-opening, heart-stopping gallop – but taxis can be as expensive and potentially dangerous as they are thrilling, depending on where you are.
They can also be an unexpected budget-killer if you’re not careful. Plus, if any of the drivers decide you’re naïve enough to pay double, you will.
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Since getting into the city from the airport is something you just need to do, alternatives will be as welcome as a breath of fresh air.
Below are 10 hot travel cities around the world that have great public alternatives to the dreaded airport taxi.
London (LHR/LGW) 17/30 miles from central London
Super-convenient express trains leave from Heathrow and Gatwick called the Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express. They’ll get you into town in roughly the same amount of time as a taxi and you’ll pay 75% less. They run around £20 (US$30) (buy online for a discount) and give you a peace and serenity you won’t find on the roads outside London. The trains arrive at Paddington and Victoria Stations where you can connect with the Underground to get closer to your final destination.
London taxis can take 30 minutes to an hour depending on which airport your using and fares get really steep, really quickly, potentially over $100 depending on which airport you’re coming from. Watch out for Luton specifically.
Paris (CDG) 35 miles NNE of the city center
There’s no reason to take a cab into Paris from Charles de Gaulle as there are two great alternatives. The Roissybus transfers passengers from the airport to Place l’Opera in the city center every 15 minutes and takes 45 – 60 minutes depending on traffic. The cost is €10 ($13) (or free if you buy the Paris Visite travel card). At the same price point, your other option is the RER, the city’s commuter wing of the Metro network. The RER B line, €9.50 (US$12), goes from the airport to Gare du Nord where you can pick up the regular Metro to anywhere in the city.
Taxis: if you hell bent on getting in a Parisian taxi, you’ll end up paying around $60 – $75, being subjected to a mind-numbing hour with a witless driver who may or may not be completely offensive.
Moscow SVO/DME: 27/37 miles of the city center
The Aeroexpress is 320 rubles (US$10.50) to get to Red Square. It’s 35 mins from SVO and 42 minutes from DME. The cars are new and serve beverages and have a secure area for luggage. You’ll need to pay serious attention while transiting from the Aeroexpress to the local Metro as there’s almost no English signs to guide you through. But it’s not impossible, an adventure even.
The taxi experience will likely cause you more headaches then any train and certainly lighten you of your cash, patience and ego. It’s up to $100 for the 90 minute onslaught to Red Square.
New York (JFK): 13 miles SE of the city center
Your best alternative to the taxi in NYC is the New York Airport Service. This large and AC-equipped bus will take you from JFK to major points in Manhattan (Grand Central, Penn Station, the Port Authority) for $20, with discounts available for students and senior citizens. Kids under 12 are free to ride, and as an added bonus you get to see the skyline from high up on your way in. Another rather more time-consuming alternative is the AirTrain JFK. It’s only $7.25 and includes subway fare.
Taxis are a flat rate into Manhattan but now $52 plus tolls. The bonus here is that you get your indicative NYC-cabbie experience, complete with stench, potholes and ever-so-cunning New Yorker humor.
Los Angeles (LAX): 15 miles SW of the city center
LA has the Flyaway bus. For $7 you will get from the airport to Union Station downtown in less than 50 minutes (other stops include Irvine, Van Nuys & Westwood). Coverage is not as widespread but it’ll avoid you having to brave the freeways in a sweaty LA taxi. Worth the price right there.
Taxis are usually a flat rate of $50 for the 30-minute trip.
Hong Kong (HKG): 21 miles W
There’s absolutely no reason to take a taxi from Hong Kong Airport. The Airport Express train will get you to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island in less time, more comfort with infinite Zen for far less money than a taxi ever could. It’s HK105 (US$13) and 24 minutes to HK Island and the station is right in the terminal.
Your average taxi costs $45 and takes twice as long.
Shanghai (SHA): 10 miles W
Has one of the most fearless and pulse-rising ways to transit into the city – the Shanghai Maglev Train (short for magnetic levitation). It goes from zero to 180 mph in two minutes and maxes out at 250 mph. For 50 Yuan (US$8) you can get downtown like greased lightning in a candy shell – in 8 breathless minutes. Buy a round trip ticket and save even more money.
A taxi isn’t expensive but takes forever in comparison. $20 will get you to the city center in around 45 minutes. Snails will seem to pass you.
Tokyo (NRT): 41 miles E
Has one of the most expensive taxi-to-city rides in the world. From Narita, fares can be over $200 for the 41 mile trip.
Take the Narita Express train and get in for ¥2940 (US$31.50). Plus there are anti-theft cameras in the luggage areas to watch over your bags and keep them from harm. Your sense of budget victory will be unmatched.
Bangkok (BKK): 25 miles ESE of the city center
The Airport Express bus provides service from the Suvarnabhumi Airport to several downtown hotels on AC-equipped buses. There are 4 different routes that cost Bt150 (US$5) each. If your hotel isn’t on the list, take the MRT train to your particular accommodations once you alight.
The bus runs till midnight but many flights get in around that time. If you’re late into Bangkok a taxi may still be necessary.
Taxi riders take note: arriving at the airport is like running the gauntlet. Do not fall for the attempts of the drivers inside the terminal. They will rip you off. Period. Part the sea of yellow shirts and beeline to the exit. The taxis queued up in the taxi stand should only charge you $10 – $15 for the ride in. But make sure to negotiate the fare beforehand, lest you become yet another Bangkok taxi rube!
Delhi (DEL): 12 miles SW of the city center
Delhi is one of the cities where taxis are the better alternative for airport transportation. It’s less than an hour to the city center and costs about $5. Not to mention you will get the ride of your life. However, numerous taxi scams are in operation at the airport. Definitely use a pre-paid taxi booth rather than selecting from the hordes out on the street. Also prices rise after 11pm.
Cape Town (CPT): 12 miles NE of the city center
There is no official public transportation from the CPT airport. Taxis run between $25 – 30. But the alternative is the Backpacker Bus that runs to various budget accommodations around the city. At ZAR 175 (US$20) it’s a little cheaper plus it will be an adventure of sorts where you can chat up that cute backpacker girl/boy before you get to the hostel.
Sydney (SYD): 6 miles SW of the city center
The Airport Link train will get you quickly and efficiently into the Sydney city center. At about AUD15.90 (US$16.30), it doesn’t save you a heck of a lot over a taxi (if you have multiple people) but it will give you a sense of satisfaction that you started your Sydney stay authentically. And you’ll be there in 15 minutes.
For about $30 you can taxi to Central Station. There’s a $3 airport toll as well.