Hailing a cab in central Prague? Nine times out of ten you’ll get ripped off says filmmaker Janek Rubeš whose Stream.cz web series Praha vs Prachy (Prague vs Crooks) has exposed the primary players behind the city’s taxi scam ring while getting its host assaulted, threatened, and, naturally, overcharged. Rubeš recently spoke with us about what to do if you are taken for a ride in more ways than one.
I understand it began with a controversial 2012 National Geographic Channel exposé on Prague taxi drivers that allegedly used hired actors.
This show [led us] to create our own show and defend the truth because City Hall took a stand which we could not agree with. I have no idea how the Czech police came to the conclusion that the show was staged. The cab drivers and most of the people shown were real. The more we shoot, the more we realize that it was, in fact, true.
What inspired you to go to bat for unwitting tourists?
I travel a lot, and when somebody helps me in another country, it is always something you remember. I try to do the same with tourists in Prague. They came [here] to spend their time and money, so we should be help. And most of us do. But there are crooks that take advantage. Those are the people I deal with on my show.
Are some of these tourists partially to blame for not being savvier?
Yes and no. They should [have to] be careful, but only to a certain level. If they sit in a car that has an official permit from the city to be driven as a taxi within Prague, they should feel absolutely safe, not like today.
You have also uncovered crooks in restaurants and exchange places. Why enter the ring with cabbie crooks?
I was hoping to never have to enter the ring. I imagined a fair fight taking place partially on the street, but mainly in the editing room. This changed quite quickly. And the reason I eventually entered the ring is that they have been doing this for 20 years. It’s about time somebody stops them.
Why didn’t you bring charges against the taxi driver who robbed and assaulted you in Episode 7?
As of right now, I don’t think I will file any charges. If I have a problem with them, I go directly to them. I know for a fact, that pressing charges wouldn’t change a thing. I just wanted my 600 CZK back, and this chubby taxi driver to be a man and not act like a coward.
The police seemed incredibly indifferent to you being attacked. Are they part of the problem?
Well, just like in the movies, you get the good cop and the bad cop. The cops that arrived at our little incident were trying to help within the law, but I didn’t really want their help when the fight was over. They were called to prove to our viewers that calling the police isn’t as good of an idea as City Halll claims.
You say there are many taxi drivers who do their jobs well and that you deal with a specific group of thieves. Are they organized?
I’m focusing mainly on the smaller groups who “work” on Pařížská, Karlova, Malé náměstí and partially on Dlouhá. Then there is another “family”, if you will. They park near Karlovy lázně (also partially on Anděl and Smíchov), and recently during the IIHF World Championship, took over parking places near O2 Arena. Another group is on Václavské náměstí.
So are you saying that those “Fair Places” aren’t exactly fair?
How is a sign with a thumb up going to prevent a driver from overcharging? Anyone can park there or stand there (not legally of course). But these crooks we’re talking about take it to the next level. They are parked illegally in the best spots in Prague, with no permit. That’s what makes us so angry.
Do they belong to a company? Can you name it?
Most of them are “freelance”, because that makes them harder to get. So no big names involved. I did film some crooked drivers that run under a big company, but I don’t want to name it, as it would hurt the name for all of the other drivers.
Give us some tips on how to take a cab in Prague.
Don’t. You simply don’t need it. From the airport yes, but they will tell you the price, and it is safer than it used to be. Get a printed receipt at and ask for the price in advance. Of course, after midnight when you need it you always have to call. After 2 am getting an official price off the street is nearly impossible.
What would be on a highlights reel of all the episodes you’ve shot so far?
Quick cut of all the tourist saying the prices they have paid. Me trying it in person. Being pulled out of the car. Being threatened, and then, the best one, the mayor telling me I am acting unmannerly. And that my parents made a mistake during my upbringing. Just this.
Have your films had any influence on the situation?
Close to zero. The reaction from the mayor, that we are about to publish took a lot of strength. I can’t tell you how much I hope, that the city officials take this show and do their job. Karlova Street seems to be clear, at least since our episode most of these crooks will now tell you the price in advance. They claim that it is then legal (which it’s really not, they are still bound by Prague regulations).
The public response, at least, has been one of overwhelming support.
It shows that after all, the citizens of Prague DO care. We hope to inform people enough, to fight for the future of Prague, where we can invite people to visit us, without giving them a security briefing ahead of time.
How do you see the industry changing?
It’s 2015 and there actually really IS an app for everything. Uber, Liftago, Wundercar and some other apps are doing a great job. Unfortunately the city is not helping them and they are actually bullying them. One day hailing a cab of the street will be like sending a fax.
The next epdisode of Prague vs Crooks featuring an interview with Prague mayor Adriana Krnáčová, will be streaming on Tuesday, May 26.