€20, €25, €35? Taxi driver in hot water over price misunderstanding

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

A misunderstanding between a French couple and a taxi driver over a fare landed the latter in court on Thursday. The incident happened on 8 September when an elderly French couple took a taxi from Valletta to their hotel.

A 49-year-old man from Ħamrun was accused of causing damages to third party property which amounted to €2,400, of causing slight injuries and breaching public peace.

Duty magistrate Doreen Clarke acceded to a request to hold an emergency hearing since the alleged victims and main witnesses will leave Malta in the coming days.

The couple wanted to get a taxi from Valletta to Golden Bay.

According to the French tourist, the driver had told them that he would take them to Radisson for €25. The man explained that since it was close to the price he paid in the morning, the couple accepted.

Once outside their hotel in Golden Bay, the passenger gave €25 to the driver, however, it was immediately rejected. The French tourist told the court that the driver insisted he wants €35. An argument ensued between the two when the man got out of the car and the driver followed him. The tourist explained that he wanted to get someone from the hotel to assist since they could not understand each other.

According to the witness, the driver attempted to stop him from entering the hotel. The security was called by the hotel manager who was inside in the lobby but could see them arguing. He added that the driver screamed and hit the man. The man’s glasses ended up on the ground and were broken as a result. The witness said that he lost one of his hearing aid during the argument.

His wife intervened when she saw her husband about to fall. It was around the same time  that the manager and security from the hotel went to see what was going on. The couple made their way to the hotel while the security tried to reason with the taxi driver.

The man’s wife took out a €10 note and gave it to the taxi driver. The man in his testimony insisted that he did not want his wife to do so, saying that the agreed fare was €25.

Asked how much do the pair of glasses cost, the man said that if he had to get a new one, it was around €400. He added that the hotel had taken care of getting them fixed.

Asked whether he had gone to the doctor to get a medical certificate for the injuries he allegedly suffered, the man replied “no”.

Lawyer Malcolm Mifsud appearing for the accused asked the witness what he asked the accused. The man said he told him they need to go to “Radisson”, later adding that they need to go to “Radisson Golden Bay”.

“What if I tell you he told you €20 for Radisson, but upon understanding it is the one at Golden Bay he told you €30?” the lawyer asked the witness.

The witness denied, saying that was what the taxi driver was alleging not what he was told then.

The man told the court that he had already prepared the €25 for the taxi driver. He reiterated that the taxi driver told him €35 upon arrival.

The pair of hearing aid which costs around €4,000 are needed by the witness because he has a 50% hearing loss.

The defence asked the witness whether he was the first one to push the taxi driver, to which he replied: “am a 75-year-old man, I can’t attack a driver”. Adding that he was hit by the driver.

The defence asked the witness again “what if I tell you that he pushed you after you pushed him twice?” The witness turned to the lawyer and in English told him to “shut up”.

The reply caused a stir in court. The lawyer remarked that if the witness behaved in such a way in court, then one would not be surprised he would adopt such an attitude with a taxi driver. The Magistrate intervened, while the witness replied that he did not know he could not reply in such a manner.

The witness told the court that he realised that one of his hearing aids was missing in the corridor on the way to their room.

The man only realised he lost one of the hearing aids when he was returning to his room. The defence questioned him why he did not retrieve the hearing aid when he picked up his glasses.

The couple did not have travel insurance.

The wife also testified on Thursday. She remarked that she could not speak in English.  The court was told that the husband had spoken to the driver and was told that the fare was €25. Her husband prepared the money for the taxi driver. She added that upon arrival, the driver immediately refused the €25.

The woman described how her husband got out of the car and was quickly followed by the driver. She was still inside the car when the two started arguing outside. Admitting that she could not really see or understand what was going on, she only intervened when the accused allegedly pushed her husband. The woman added that her husband was about to fall.

The woman told the court that she gave the taxi driver an additional €10 note when the two were safely inside the hotel.

During cross-examination the woman said that they told the driver they wanted to go to “Radisson”, “Radisson Golden Sands”. Asked how many hotels with that name are in Malta, the woman replied: “I don’t know”.

Asked if her husband was initially told €20 and then €30 by the accused, the woman also replied that she did not know. She told the court that even though she was close, she does not understand the language.

The woman said she did not see her husband pushing the taxi driver twice before the taxi driver pushed him.

The prosecution did not object to a request for bail filed by the defence.

The accused was granted bail against a deposit of €300 and a personal guarantee of €1,000. He has to sign the bail book once a week.

Police Inspector Paula Ciantar prosecuted.

Lawyer Malcolm Mifsud appeared for the accused.

Magistrate Doreen Clarke presided over the case.