Most taxis have meters and do not try to rip you off. If, however, the meter isn’t working in your cab, you have the right to refuse to pay. For the most part, metered taxis are honest, to the point of offering discounts if they took a wrong turn or missed the right street. Watch out, though, for unmetered taxis such as pedicabs or hei che, literally “black car,” which are individual car owners who try to make a few bucks in their spare time.
Fares for unmetered rides need to be agreed on and negotiated before you get into the vehicle because, as one expat put it, “The price of a ride depends on the length of your nose.” Make sure that the amount is the total, not a per-person rate (a favorite trick played on unsuspecting tourists), and carry small bills to pay the exact fare. Some taxis can even provide receipts for these expensive negotiated rides: They don’t run the meter, but they’ll give you a receipt for a higher amount from an earlier rider that didn’t take the receipt (an unethical way for the cab rider to make a little profit off corporate expense accounts while the cabby doesn’t have to report their earnings to their company). If you spend any length of time traveling around China, you will eventually be the victim of a conniving cabbie. Disagreements with drivers over fares can get quite ugly; you’re better off just letting it go.
If you do feel that you are being taken advantage of by a taxi driver, be sure to write down his license number, posted in front of the passenger seat, as well as the phone number for the cab company (also posted within the cab). If your disagreement is with a rickshaw or pedicab driver, or some other private taxi service, look for a nearby police officer to help you negotiate the situation. Often seeing someone in your party go after a man in uniform will make your driver immediately give up his attempted scam. You can also call 110 to summon police help, which is staffed by bilingual operators in larger cities.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in China.