However, while taxis may be cheap, the combination of Shanghai traffic and errant drivers means that cabs are often the most convenient option, but neither the fastest nor safest.
Price and payment
- The base fare for a cab is 14 RMB (18 RMB 11pm-5am), which covers the first 3km of the journey. Every additional kilometre costs 2.4 RMB (3.2 RMB 11pm-5am).
- Like most big cities, taxi drivers appreciate it if you give them the cross street for where you want to go. In Chinese, this can be done simply by saying the two roads after one another, for example "Yǒngjiā Lù, Màomíng Lù" means the intersection of Yongjia Road and Maoming Road.
- At the end of the journey your driver will generally ask whether you wish to pay by cash or with your transport card ("现金还是卡?" - xiànjīn háishì kǎ?). Answer "xiànjīn" for cash or "kǎ" for card and hand over your payment.
- Always get a 发票 (fāpiào - "receipt") from your driver at the end of the journey, even if you don't think you need it. They aren't just tax receipts - they contain a lot of useful information about the journey which can be invaluable if you have a problem, particularly if you accidentally leave something behind in the cab.
While there are some smaller companies and private drivers around the city, there are 5 main taxi companies operating in Shanghai, most easily distinguishable by their colour:
|Name||Colour scheme||Call centre number||Website|
Note that each of the outer districts of the city (outside of the 市中心 - shì zhōngxīn, "core city") has their own local taxi company, which are coloured differently from the main 5 companies. These taxis are a little cheaper than the big 5, but are not allowed into the city centre, so they're great for whizzing around the outskirts, but not suitable for commuting. You will generally still be able to find central taxis in the outlying districts, but their numbers will obviously be sparse compared with the city centre.
Quickly after they were introduced in late 2013, smartphone apps that allow users to book a cab quickly and conveniently became very popular. When the apps first launched, they offered a small discount to the passenger every ride (as well as a bonus to the driver) for booking using their app, but this was only an introductory offer. Even so, using an app to book a taxi is still a very simple and convenient alternative to booking a taxi over the phone or flagging one down on the street, especially if it's late or you are in an area where there aren't many taxis.
In fact, due to their overwhelming popularity, the Shanghai city government restricted the use of taxi booking apps during rush hour periods because it had become too difficult for people not using the apps to flag down a cab.
Bear in mind that since the apps became popular, it has become a much more common sight to see a taxi with a green light on top of the cab (showing that they have no customer) but with a red light in the window (showing that they are on their way to pick up a booking). Don't try to flag these cabs down, they will not stop for you.
The two main players in the taxi app market are Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba, represented by their apps Didi Travel (弟弟出行 - dīdī chūxíng - Android / iOS) and Kuaidi Taxi (快的打车 - kuàidi dǎchē - Android / iOS) respectively. The 弟弟出行 app is highly recommended since you can tie it with your WeChat wallet and even automate payments in many cases, so no money needs to change hands and payment becomes almost completely painless.
WeChat, a hugely popular instant messaging app made by Tencent, has the advantage of allowing users to book taxis directly through the WeChat app, though unlike the 滴滴出行 app the functionality is limited only to typing in your address, your destination, and waiting for a nearby cabbie to accept your booking. However, foreigners may have an issue connecting their bank card to their WeChat accounts since most require a Chinese ID card number. This is not required for China Merchants Bank customers, but your mileage may vary depending on your bank.
Taxi drivers and ratings
Taxi drivers in Shanghai (and China in general) are notorious for driving very fast, and not very safely. The reason behind this is that the faster they can deliver their passenger to their destination, the faster they can pick up another one. It has been said that you can't truly say you live in Shanghai until you've been involved in a taxi accident!
Driving in general in Shanghai takes place in a pretty dangerous and competitive atmosphere. That being said, the longer your cab driver has been at his job, the more likely they are to be a little safer and chilled out behind the wheel.
There are a couple of ways you can gauge your cabbie's experience: firstly, through the number on their ID, which is a plaque in front of the front passenger seat. The lower the number, the longer the driver has been doing his job. With new drivers nowadays having numbers above 350,000, you can consider anything below 200,000 a good sign; anything below 100,000 is a veteran and likely to be a far better driver with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Shanghai's streets.
Secondly, the star rating below the identity number is a great indication of the driver's experience. The drivers have to have quite a few years behind the wheel and take pretty tough exams to earn these stars: anybody with 2 stars and above should be able to deliver you to your destination in one piece without too much trouble or discomfort. 4 and 5 star drivers are rare, and usually have 20+ years of experience: cherish the journey. If you're late for a plane and need a French Connection-style car chase just to make it to the airport on time, these are the guys you want behind the wheel.
专车 and Uber
Uber (Android / iOS) does work in Shanghai and there is pretty good coverage with plenty of drivers around, but you should be warned that many Uber drivers are nowhere near as well-versed in the city's layout as taxi drivers are. As such, they are over-reliant on GPS and if you aren't able to communicate well in Chinese or give them a specific address that they can program into their GPS easily, you're likely to have a frustrating experience soon after getting in the car. Uber cars are generally nicer than the standard taxi Volkswagen Santana or Touran, but there are a few Uber scams going on at any given time and in general 滴滴专车 is a better option.
China's competitor to Uber, 滴滴专车 (dīdī zhuānchē), is available from the above-mentioned Didi Travel (弟弟出行 - dīdī chūxíng - Android / iOS) app, simply by selecting the 专车 (hire car) tab at the top of the screen rather than the 出租车 (taxi) tab. From there you have a selection of different levels of comfort and size of vehicle, which are priced accordingly. Like Uber, 专车 drivers vary in how well they know the city (many of them are not from Shanghai, as indicated by their car's plates), but the advantage is that the 滴滴出行 app has GPS guidance well integrated into the app, so when you give the destination when ordering the car, it'll already be programmed into the GPS by the time the driver picks you up.
One further note about Uber and 专车 services is that drivers tend to drive more slowly and more carefully than cab drivers. If you're in a desperate hurry, a cab is still your best bet.
- You can flag down any cab that has the green light lit up on the top of the taxi. However, if the green light is on but there is also a red light in the front window, that means that the cab has either been reserved or the driver is on a break and probably going somewhere to get some food.
- Expo taxis - the larger vehicles that were introduced to Shanghai during the 2010 World Expo - are always your best bet: not only are the cars themselves newer, more spacious, safer, and more comfortable than normal taxis, but the drivers tend to be better and more experienced. The best part: they cost exactly the same as the standard cabs.
- There is no need to tip cab drivers, even if this is standard etiquette where you're from. A lot of taxi drivers will refuse tips, but the less scrupulous ones will gladly take the extra money from naive passengers (for more info on tipping in China, see the article on tipping).
- It can sometimes be tough to find a cab in Shanghai, especially when it's raining. In situations like this, it can be a useful idea to head towards the nearest hotel or large restaurant, as these will often have a few empty cabs waiting outside.
- Remember to get a 发票 (fāpiào - "receipt") from your driver. Not only can these be used to claim back living/travel expenses at your workplace (if your company offers a living allowance as part of your salary package), but this scrap of paper can be a lifesaver if you leave something in a cab and want to get it back - the fāpiào contains essential information such as the cab company, the number plate of the cab, the driver ID, and the time and date of your journey. Armed with these clues, you're much more likely to be able to get back your lost items.
- Even though the seatbelt situation in Shanghai is steadily improving, you will find that the majority of non-Expo taxis in Shanghai will not have seatbelts in the back seat - either they are hidden away under or behind the seats, or there will be a cover over the seats that obscures them. This is one reason why many locals will choose to sit in the front seat of a cab (where there is always an available seatbelt) rather than the back.
- The TouchMedia screens built into the back of the front passenger's seat of many non-Expo taxis may seem cool at first, but you'll soon realise that they are useless for anything except feeding obnoxious, noisy advertisements directly to your face. To mute the screen, tap the mute/power button in the bottom right corner twice. To switch the screen off altogether, carefully hold the bottom right corner of the mute/power button for a second or so and the screen should go black.
- If your Mandarin isn't up to par (or if you simply don't know the city very well), it's always advisable to carry a business card from the hotel you're staying at, or a piece of paper with the address written on it in Chinese. Show this to the cab driver and you can save a lot of trouble with cab drivers not understanding where you want to go. iPhone users can also download the Shanghai Taxi Guide app, which allows you to choose a destination and then gives you an easy-to-read on-screen prompt to show the driver the precise address. While expensive at $9.99/£6.99, and even though the app hasn't been updated for a while, it can still be useful for directing cab drivers to hotels and other areas.
- Even if your Mandarin is non-existent, if you know the way you only really need 4 or 5 simple phrases to direct the driver:
- 左拐 - zuǒ guǎi - "turn left"
- 友拐 - yòu guǎi - "turn right"
- 一直走 - yīzhí zǒu - "go straight"
- 调头 - diào tóu - "turn around"
- (在这里)停车 - (zài zhèlǐ) tíngchē - "stop (here)"
Main article: Common scams
- This really should go without saying, but it is highly recommended that you do not used unregistered cabs. If there's no meter, the driver is probably going to try and take advantage of you. If you are waiting for a cab and an unmarked car drives up and asks you where you want to go, just wave him on and wait for a legitimate taxi. If you are in a situation where you have to use an unlicensed taxi (e.g. you're stranded in deepest, darkest Pudong and there are no legitimate cabs for miles around), make sure you agree on a price before you get into the car (you will probably have to haggle).
- There is a scam you should be on the lookout for if you often pay for cabs with your Shanghai Public Transport Card. Upon giving the driver your card to scan the fare, he may pocket your card and give you an empty one back, and tell you that you have no credit on your card. This can easily be avoided by personalising your transport card with a sticker or something, so you immediately know that it is yours.
- Try not to pay taxi drivers with 100 RMB notes: either use your transport card, or lower RMB denominations. A common scam is for dishonest taxi drivers to take your legitimate 100 RMB note, subtly exchange it for a fake one and pocket yours. He will then make a show of 'checking' it, before telling you that he can't accept the note because it's a fake, and hand it back to you. This leaves you with a fake note and a taxi fare still to pay. If you fall for it and hand him another 100 RMB note, the driver might even try it again. Although the majority of cab drivers are on the up-and-up, this is a well-known scam, so if you're stuck in a situation where you can only pay with a 100 RMB note, make sure you're paying attention once you hand it to the driver.
For more information on common scams in Shanghai and how to avoid them, check out the common scams article.