Rome vows to crack down on ‘rip-off’ airport taxis targeting tourists

Local authorities in Rome said they were working to address the city’s “shameful” problem with unscrupulous taxi drivers after foreign journalists’ stories of being overcharged were widely shared online.

Rome vows to crack down on ‘rip-off’ airport taxis targeting tourists
Rome authorities said they were increasing checks on taxi operators amid widespread reports of overcharging. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Reports of taxi drivers ripping off unsuspecting tourists in Rome and other major Italian cities are nothing new. 

But this week, Rome’s local authority has pledged to take action – at least against unscrupulous drivers operating out of the city’s airports – after two foreign correspondents based in the city sharing their accounts of being overcharged.

READ ALSO: Rome taxi drivers clash with police during Uber expansion protest

The BBC’s correspondent in Italy, Mark Lowen, took to Twitter on Tuesday to share the story of how a friend was charged €70 for a journey from Fiumicino airport to the city centre – a trip that has a fixed cost of €50.

The driver also claimed his credit card machine was not working and so he could only take payment in cash, Lowen said.

His story struck a chord with many of Rome’s residents and visitors, with the tweet shared hundreds of times and the city’s mayor repeatedly tagged by social media users.

Another of Rome’s foreign correspondents, Gavin Jones at Reuters, described his own bad experiences with Rome airport taxis in a Twitter thread last month, noting that “there’s nowhere obvious to queue for a taxi at Ciampino” and that a driver quoted 40 euros for a ride that “should cost 20 at most”.

The city now plans to launch a new service for arrivals at both Ciampino and Fiumicino airports aimed at preventing rip-offs and reporting rogue drivers, according to the city’s tourism councillor, Alessandro Onorato.

“The illegalities that we have found in the airport areas are truly shameful,” Onarato told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why can’t I get an Uber in Italy?

Commenting on Lowen’s tweet, he said the incident was “unacceptable”.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to make a note of the licence number, plate or operator name. In that case we would have report these serious irregularities to the police.”

Onorato said city police and airport authorities were already collaborating to increase the number of checks carried out on the taxi sector, “leading to an increase in regular journeys in the first half of this year by 58 percent compared to the previous year”.

Starting on Tuesday, they also plan to “set up a steward service to welcome passengers at international arrivals, providing timely information to tourists and collaborating with the police to report irregularities,” he said.

Rome’s Fiumicino previously launched a similar initiative in 2020, providing special paths to guide tourists towards licenced taxis and employing security guards to “protect” them from being approached by unauthorised drivers.

But Rome residents and visitors also regularly accuse licenced taxi drivers of unscrupulous behaviour, with many suggesting that the best option is to avoid taxis altogether when travelling to or from the airports.

While Uber isn’t necessarily a cheaper option and isn’t widely used, it does exist in Rome (and Milan). Other frequently recommended options for hailing a reliable cab service include the FreeNow app (in most cities or major towns in Italy) and the Samarcanda taxi company (in Rome).

Public transport options from Fiumicino include the Leonardo Express, a direct train into the city which costs €14 and takes half an hour, or a shuttle bus to Termini train station, with several different services available and tickets costing around six euros.

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Italy’s summer tourism boom driven by American arrivals

Tourist spending in Italy is set to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer, boosted largely by visitors from the US, says a new industry report.

Italy's summer tourism boom driven by American arrivals

Italy’s tourism earnings are predicted to total €17 billion this summer, restoring the industry to a state of health not seen since the start of the pandemic, according to a study released by the retailers’ association Comfcommercio on Monday.

Americans are the lead drivers of the recovery, the report shows, with 2.2 million US visitors expected to bring in €2.1 billion between July and September – 20 percent more than over the same period in 2019.

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Canadians, Australians and South Africans are also anticipated to make up a significant proportion of this year’s visitors.

The high value of the dollar against the euro is thought to be partly responsible for this year’s boom in US arrivals.

The euro slipped to parity with the dollar for the first time in nearly 20 years this month, as a cut in Russian gas supplies to Europe heightened fears of a recession in the eurozone.

It has since recovered a little, to around $1.02 per euro, but remains a huge bargain for visitors, giving tourists from dollar countries a spending power boost of well over 10 percent from six months ago.

The number of Spanish arrivals is also expected to return pre-pandemic levels this summer, with an estimated one million visitors due to arrive between July and September.

Domestic tourism is also up, with 35 million Italians travelling on holiday in their own country despite an ongoing cost of living crisis caused by soaring inflation and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, according to a separate study by the agricultural association Coldiretti.

READ ALSO: Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

By contrast, the number of tourists coming to Italy from Asian countries is down; while EU sanctions introduced in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have seen Russian tourism drop to near zero.

Germany, a key source of tourism particularly in the Italian south, was down 27 percent in July compared to 2019 – a drop thought to be caused by air travel disruption.

In a typical year, the majority of Italy’s tourists (14.1 percent) come from Germany, figures from Italy’s National Statistics Agency Istat show. Around three percent come from the US, and another three percent from the UK.

“The return of foreign tourism after three years helps to consolidate our economic recovery. The outlook, however, is uncertain due to the decrease in consumption, the unrest in air transport and the unknown pandemic,” said Confcommercio president Carlo Sangalli in a televised statement.

“Support for the tourism sector must therefore be among the priorities of the next executive in terms of combating expensive energy and reducing the tax burden,” he added.

Italy will vote for a new government in late September after its ‘unity’ coalition government collapsed in July, triggering snap elections.