Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Using taxis in Dakar is a huge challenge - especially if you're used to Uber, or something like it. With no charging meter or official pricing, limited or no French, limited knowledge of official addresses and street names, and problems with cash and change, there are plenty of anxiety-causing hurdles in getting from Point A to Point B. It's all pretty much a skill - or art! Use this handy guide to help you the next time you hail a cab, to avoid the headaches.
1. How to Calculate a Fair Rate
I once overheard two taximen laughing about how one of them charged a foreigner more than 10,000 CFA ($20) to go 3 kilometers, (it should have been no more than 1,500 ($3). Apparently the passenger felt guilty about negotiating with him. We don't need to feel this way! On the contrary, we earn respect when we know and insist on local prices. But this is a topic for another day.
Most times you need to haggle, whether at a market or for a taxi, it helps both confidence and fairness if you have a good idea of a fair price before starting your negotiation. Never let the vendor or taximan start the process!
Many people will advise you to simply "divide by 3" or by "half" of whatever the taximan will tell you. This is a decent rule of thumb; however, what if (a) The taximan is aware of this rule, and compensates by giving you an even higher amount? or (b) they are actually giving you an honest price -- I know, rare, but can happen!
So what do you do? Fortunately, I've put together an *average price/kilometer, based on our time-tested and locally-vetted knowledge of taxi prices.
Here it is: ~300 CFA/kilometer
Use Google Maps to search for your destination and location, and press "Itinerary/Directions." This will give you an idea of how many kilometers you will need to travel. Multiply this number by 300 CFA, and voila! You should have at least a starting point before hailing a cab. Then you can negotiate with confidence, and know how reasonable the driver is being with you.
Of course there are a few exceptions: if you are located anywhere in midtown Dakar (from Medina, Mermoz, Mamelles, Almadies, Ngor, or Virage) you should never pay more than 2,500-3,000 CFA to go either downtown (Plateau) or uptown (Pikine, etc.) So this becomes ~200 CFA/kilometer for longer distances.
*If the Taximan doesn't accept your price, don't feel bad about hailing the next cab! Sometimes they will make you feel guilty for staying firm, and rejecting the trip. Don't let them! You may have to hail 2-3 cabs before getting your fair price.
2. Google Maps is Your Best Friend
In recent years, Senegal as a whole - and especially Dakar - has really "gotten on the map." Before, satellite representation of streets and addresses was completely blank. Now, even streets without a name are shown, and even Google Business listings for many establishments, with reviews and photos available. You can easily draw up a Directions itinerary from wherever you are in the city, to wherever you are going.
The bad news is, that most taximen have not heard of Google Maps -- and most do not have a smartphone. Their knowledge of the city streets are based on experience, and to whatever extent they have a photographic memory. Taximen also do not know addresses or street names, as a general rule - and especially for anywhere north of Medina.
Because most taximen will never say to you, honestly, "No, I do not know where that is. Sorry!" -- it is up to YOU to guide them. Often, you will find that you are driving around in circles, or on a completely opposite end of town, before you realize the taximan is lost - or didn't know in the first place, where you were going.