Never, ever take a taxi from the Rome airport of Ciampino.
Why? Because, it turns out, the taxi drivers at Ciampino have a racket going on—one revolving around (illegally) ripping off tourists.
Since I normally take the bus from Ciampino to the Rome center, I had no idea. But last week, after a 5-hour flight delay that meant I arrived to Ciampino exhausted (and harried), a friend and I decided to split a cab.
A taxi from Ciampino airport to Rome is €30. That's the flat rate set by the city; it includes all passengers in the vehicle, all of their bags, and one stop in the center. For that, it's illegal for drivers to charge more. (From the Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci airport, there's also a set fee, €48). (Here, by the way, is the list of legal Rome taxi fares as published on the Comune di Roma's own site; the second page of the PDF has it all in English).
So, bags in hand, we walked out to the official taxi queue. Repeat: the official taxi queue. Filled with registered, licensed, official taxis.
And, as is the case for all official taxis (to try to minimize the number of scams exactly like this one), each one had large lettering on the side saying that the flat rate, for Ciampino to Rome, is €30.
Here's where it potentially gets tricky: The writing directly on the cab calls the "Rome center" anything within the Aurelian walls of the city.
Of course, as a tourist, you wouldn't necessarily know what that means. But, as it's delineated in the city's laws, it includes the heart of Rome, plus Trastevere and the Vatican neighborhood. In other words, 99% of tourists coming into Ciampino (or Fiumicino) are staying within the walls, since it includes the area around the Spanish Steps, Termini train station, Piazza Navona, and St. Peter's are all in the center.
My friend and I live right near the Colosseum. Which is also well within the walls.
The old (and sweet-looking! and smiley!) old taxi driver at the head of the queue went to take our bags. In Italian, we asked if there was any way he could do two stops—a favor, we knew, even though we live only 3 minutes apart from each other.
"Si, senza problema," he said, putting our bags in his trunk. "I'll do both stops for €50."
"Oh, no, never mind," I said. "Forget it. We'll both just get dropped off at the same place, the Colosseum."
"Okay," he said. "I'll do that for €40."
Me: "What? It's €30."
Him: "No, it's €40."
Me (still in Italian): "Listen, I live in Rome. I know it's €30. That's the flat fare."
Him (taking my arm and pointing to the side of his cab): "No, but see, it's €30 to the walls of Rome. That's not where the Colosseum is."
Me (at this point, floored): "No, it's €30 to within the walls. To the center."
Him: "The Colosseum's not in the center."
(Um, we might have been wearing flip-flops, and I might have been speaking Italian with an American accent... but really? At this point, he was seriously insulting our intelligence).
Taking my bag back from him, I turned to the other drivers. All of whom were loitering next to their cabs in a group, watching the exchange silently.
"So..." I said, flustered. "Will anyone here take us for, you know, the €30 flat fare?"
As I angrily dragged my bag toward the bus stop, along with my friend, another man appeared in the parking lot. "What happened?" he asked. I explained, briefly. "Look," he said, "I'm a taxi driver too, and I'll take you. Yes, for €30. Wait down the road."
As we headed a little bit down the street from the airport, I looked back. Sure enough, he'd gotten into another official, licensed taxi.
And the reason why he wanted to pick us up away from the others was clear: As he drove by them, they picked up on what he was doing and started—I kid you not—yelling at him and banging on his window.
All because... he was following the law.
Look, I should be used to stuff like this in Italy. But it's been a while since I've seen that blatant a display of law-flouting and intimidation; remember, again, these were all official taxi drivers. And watching them try to scare another driver into not following the law was something I won't forget for a while.
On top of that? How unfair to tourists! I had the good luck to know what the "center" and the "Aurelian walls" really mean. But not everyone does. And many visitors probably wonder how they wound up spending a ton of cash on what, in no traffic, can be as little as a 20-minute ride.
As the (legit) driver drove us home, he was apologetic for the others' behavior. "Look," he said, "they've been waiting out there for five hours without a single fare. That's why."
Right. And now, instead of getting a fare, they were going to sit and loiter in front of the airport for another few hours. Really smart, guys.
In sum: Don't take a taxi from Ciampino airport. Unless, that is, these guys actually start paying attention to the flat fare. There are lots of other easy ways to get into the center, including the €5 buses (as soon as you exit the baggage area, you'll see ticket desks for the buses); in retrospect, exhausted or not, that's what we should have done.
Here's more info on how else to get from Ciampino airport into the center of Rome.
For more tips and tricks to Rome (including more on how to get around Rome... and how not to get scammed!), check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!