Taxi Mafia – a malign tumour weakening Budapest nightlife.

Taxi mafiaWarning! The following text may seem to be beyond comprehension, even after having been read several times, but any reader who should feel like that must know it's not their fault...

Here we go:

Unfortunately I can't say this is a typical post-communist phenomenon, as it can only be found in Hungary and practically nowhere else. So what I'm about to write about is unique to Hungary, a "hungaricum" if you like, a little like Tokay wine or pálinka brandy, even though the latter are at least imitated by others. The taxi mafia of Budapest, however, seems set to remain a shameful spot on the face of the capital forever, which, no matter how much we'd like it to, just won't go away.

Once upon a time, when Hungary was in its infancy and foreigners had just discovered it and immediately started flooding in, all that incoming money started to induce a strange schizophrenia in Budapest nightlife immediately. Regulations hadn't really been formed yet, but the few that was there, ceased to exist too and so the majority of the entertainment industry was taken over by well or not-so-well organised criminal groups. The participants of the sex industry, night clubs included, all fell victim to this as hitmen and gangs not knowing the first thing about entertainment or running a business gained control over almost every brothel and nightclub.

The results were soon to be seen. Naturally until Budapest was a fashionable, cheap and popular destination, and so all bars and clubs were filled up with people without any particular effort, there was no problem. The trouble started when we weren't the only ones in the spotlight anymore, but we had to compete with cities like Prague for example. That was when desperation and the lack of professionalism gave birth to the shameful and corrupt taxi mafia.

How could this all happen?

Like so:

When everything was free and virtually everyone came to Hungary to pick up hookers or girls, it didn't take rocket science for these circles to work out how to manage a club. The situation - as I've already mentioned - changed when Hungary stopped being so hip and the number of tourists visiting the country started to decline drastically. Idiotic criminals had already involved taxi drivers with their business using an almost acceptable per capita commission system, but what followed was hell itself. Because when the automatism started to work less and less smoothly, the dim-witted criminals, who knew nothing about marketing or business management, arrived to the conclusion that the only way to attract more customers was to fill the pockets of the taxi drivers with even more money, brutally increasing the per capita fee. One club started this, and when the others saw this, they were head over heels to follow suit, trying to win over the taxi drivers. It wasn't long before the commission paid FOR ONE PERSON reached HUF 30,000, which at the exchange rate today is € 120! This meant that for the delivery of a group of four the taxi driver often received as much as 500 Euros, which was a good month's salary in Hungary at the time.

Incredible, isn't it?

Well, no, the really incredible part is yet to come:

It turned out that there were still spare resources. Every club paid the taxi drivers, practically for everything. If the customer entered, if he stayed, if he spent money and if he took a girl. Everything had its own tariff as ignorant criminals were paying to taxi drivers through the nose until they had to realise something. That they didn't have a penny left. Those twats had given everything they had, but even when customers did come, the only one earning was the taxi mafia. There was nothing to do but think until they conceived the worst idea of the century:

Let's trick the customers and rip them off even more!

This wasn't much of a problem as these people were living off crime as it was, so fraud and ripping clients off fitted well with their profiles. Poor tourists saw the worst of it all, at times being presented with bills as high as 4-5000 Euros, and they either paid or got threatened and maybe even beaten up. Unfortunately the local media didn't pick up this for a really long time, and when they did, this matter was already all over the international press. When there was a big scandal and the local municipality closed down a club, it re-opened under a new name after a couple of weeks, picking up where they had left off. And then neither the municipality nor the district police did anything for a really long time...who knows why? They turned a blind eye to the criminals and let them carry on with their stealing.

In the meantime the situation couldn't get better, it only got worse. The hotel industry wanted to get in on the act as well. The taxi drivers of the big 4 and 5 star hotels had been at the forefront of this whole phenomenon for a long time when finally the receptionists and doormen of the hotels decided they wanted to earn too and got involved as well. They weren't going to let all that money exchange hands right in under their noses without them getting any of it, especially because they were the first to get in contact with guests, so this was more their area, not that of the taxi drivers. What this led to was that the guests who became the most endangered were those of prestigious hotels like Kempinski, Marriott, Inter-Continental or Hilton. They didn't have a chance of getting to an honest club, because as soon as they asked the receptionist for advice, let alone the taxi driver, they were immediately sent to some criminals' den. Important persons, guests of five star hotels got robbed, ripped off and sometimes even held hostage. With respect to the many complaints received, embassies finally declared war on this phenomenon. They would no longer allow their citizens spending their vacations or business trips in Hungary remain unprotected by the police and they had come to suggest - something they had reason to do - that besides the bar owners, hotel employees and taxi drivers, the police might also be involved in this corrupt mess.

The change.

Very slowly, but, thank God, change has finally arrived. Needless to say it's not the bad guys who have gone good waiving their commission fees, and the taxi mafia is just as hungry as ever. Let's face it, these people are not capable of growing and changing for the good. The change is due to two external factors. One was quite predictable, but the other came out of the blue, surprising everyone. The first significant positive tendency was started by the central authorities. They saw that this whole mess was a threat to the good reputation and tourism of the entire country so they took action. Many clubs were closed down and a lot of criminals are still serving their sentences for crimes committed against foreigners. But this is only the smaller half of the developments bringing change. What was completely revolutionary and what finally resulted in change was the arrival of the internet. This is the thing that has an actual chance to oust the taxi drivers, these parasites from the entertainment business for good and to allow things to return to normal. Today loads of useful information gets posted on the web. Anyone who hasn't gone totally blind and dedicates 5 minutes to this can be considered protected. There are many forums, articles and blogs listing the places where you just simply shouldn't go and the ones that are not to be missed. It's not only this site, but also many other internet forums that describe what it is that taxi drivers do, and they publicise how they try to talk people out of honest clubs and take them to places which would pay a commission to the cabbie. So anyone who gets informed will know what can be done and what can't, and it appears that people have started to act accordingly. Today each club has received its ranking making it crystal clear for the tourists visiting us which are the ones to visit and which aren't. Because of the high quality of their services, some of these clubs are now world famous, so anyone from any part of the world can now look these clubs up on the web and if they don't let themselves be talked out of going to these places, they are in for an amazing ride.

Finally, some good advice:

  • Never ask a taxi driver or hotel employee for advice.
  • If you do end up at a place or in a situation like this, don't be scared and don't pay unrealistically expensive bills, but call the police immediately.
  • Keep your phone with you with the emergency numbers saved in it.
  • If an employee or taxi driver of your hotel wants to divert you from the club you have chosen, report this immediately to the hotel manager.
  • If you are offered prostitutes from a catalogue by a receptionist, never say yes, because these are unreliable services provided by criminals. If you become their client, you will no longer be safe.
  • Only visit clubs about which you have found information on the web from independent sources.
  • Usually the best places are those where the taxi driver or hotel employee would not like you to go to. If they try to talk you out of it, insist on your original destination.


Related Reviews

MrBig's story

Yes, what happened to us the other day in Budapest at Hotel Sofitel belongs right here. Browsing the web we had found Royal Palace club and we asked the doorman to call their free transfer service and we gave him the number. He said this club had moved outside the city and its name was not Royal Palace anymore but Royal Delight. So he called the cab of the hotel and told us he would arrange for the ride to be for free anyway. We got into the taxi and started talking to the driver who kept telling us what a great choice Royal Delight was and how much better it was going to be than Palace. We asked them if this meant that Palace was still open then. He said it was, but that he wouldn’t recommend it to us. So we asked him if Royal Delight wasn’t the same club as Palace, but at a different place. He turned all red in the face and obviously felt he was in trouble because the doorman before him told a completely different lie. We got really angry and told him to take us to Royal Palace immediately, otherwise we would call the manager of the hotel. Then at Royal Palace we talked to the manager of the club, a really pretty and nice blonde lady who jokingly told us off for not having used their free transfer service. She told us that now the taxi driver and the doorman were asking her for money and she had to pay them some commission... she wasn’t happy. We told her what happened which made her totally angry with the taxi driver and told us this kept happening every day and that they could do practically nothing to stop it. The cabbies and the hotel employees are corrupt to their bones and with clubs like Royal Delight they are plotting to take away their guests with frauds and lies. She also told us how lucky we were that we finally insisted they take us to Royal Palace because the places these taxi drivers work for would not let guests away without making them pay a bill of 3-400 Euros, not even if they only had one beer and nothing more. But what it all boils down to is I must thank the staff of Royal Palace for their great services and the unforgettable evening. Congratulations for this extraordinary club, for the incredible atmosphere and for the gorgeous girls, we had a blast and will definitely return soon!

P.S.: …and I can promise next time we won’t be taking the taxi of the hotel to get there :)

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