Taking Taxis and Using Uber in Tijuana

by wheretheroadforks

While living in Tijuana for the past year, I have used Uber extensively. In fact, for a few months while living in Zona Rio, I took an Uber between my apartment and the border round trip 5 days per week. In this guide, I explain how to stay safe and avoid scams while using Uber in Tijuana. I’ll also outline other Tijuana transportation options including taxis.

the uber app on a smartphone

A Bit of History About Uber in Tijuana

As was the case with many cities around the world, Uber was not warmly welcomed when the service launched in Tijuana. Taxi drivers didn’t appreciate the new competition and responded with violence. They targeted Uber drivers. Multiple cases of beatings and robberies occurred. There was even an Uber related murder. To read more about this time, check out the 2017 article “Uber in Tijuana is the Wild West” from sandiegoreader.com.

Staying Safe While Using Uber in Tijuana

Luckily, the violence against Uber drivers has subsided. These days, it’s safe to use Uber in Tijuana. In fact, I’d argue that taking an Uber is safer than a taxi. The reason is that you have a lower likelihood of getting scammed or robbed because Uber has the driver’s info and can track them down if a crime happens. They aren’t anonymous like taxi drivers.

There are a few precautions that you can take to further reduce any remaining risk of using Uber in Tijuana:

  • If a taxi driver offers you a ride while you’re waiting for your Uber, don’t tell them that you’re waiting for an Uber- Just say no thanks. Even though the anger toward Uber has declined, there still may be some bitter cab drivers out there. You never know. It’s best to stay low key just to be safe.
  • Request your ride indoors and wait there until it arrives- This way, you’re not standing on the street waiting around. When you stand around, you become a potential target for pickpockets or muggers.
  • Check that the driver’s photo in the app matches the person that picks you up- If another person is driving, don’t get in the car. They could be a criminal using the app from a stolen phone.
  • Match the vehicle model and license plate to the info in the app– Make sure you’re getting in the car that is registered with Uber. If the cars don’t match, don’t accept the ride.
  • Ask the driver to confirm your name- The app displays your name to the driver. This ensures that you get into the correct vehicle. Just ask them who they are supposed to be picking up. You can also confirm the driver’s name.
  • Use common sense- If something feels off or you feel uncomfortable for any reason, don’t accept the ride. Worst case, you’ll be charged a couple of dollars for canceling the ride. The driver won’t care because they’ll still make a couple of bucks for doing nothing.

You don’t have to be overly cautious. I moved to Tijuana in September of 2017 and have been taking Ubers since then without any issues. I often speak to the drivers about their jobs during the ride. They all seem fairly happy. I have met a couple that have been robbed while on the job.

For more general Tijuana safety info, check out my guide: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Crime and Common Scams.

Paying for your Uber Ride in Tijuana

In Tijuana, you have the option to pay for your ride in cash or with a credit card or debit card. A cash option is offered so that people who don’t have a card can still use the service. To pay in cash, simply go to your payment options in the app and check the ‘pay with cash’ option.

While using Uber in Tijuana, I recommend you pay in cash for two reasons:

  1. You’ll get a ride more easily- I’m not 100% sure if this is true or not but I have heard that some drivers avoid picking up passengers who pay with a card. I’m not exactly sure why they do this. I would guess it’s because they get paid right there and then rather than having to wait for a payday from Uber. They may earn slightly more as well because there are no credit card or bank fees. Of course, you’ll still get a ride if you prefer to pay by card. You might just have to wait a couple of minutes longer.
  2. You’ll avoid credit card fees- Some banks and credit card companies charge a foreign transaction fee every time you use your card abroad. If your card has a fee, you can save money by paying in cash. If you have a travel card, usually there is no foreign transaction fee. For a few card recommendations, check out my guide: The Best Debit and Credit Cards for International Travel.

dollars and pesos

Tip: When paying with cash, make sure you have exact change. Most of the drivers have some coins to make change with but some don’t. They usually can’t break large bills. I’ve ended up tipping a bit more than I wanted to on a couple of occasions because I didn’t have exact change.

How to Take an Uber from the Border to Downtown Tijuana

This is probably the most common ride that most tourists will want to make. You can walk from the border to downtown. It’s around a mile walk. During the day, the walk is safe. After dark, you’ll want to make this trip by car.

Uber in Tijuana works exactly the same as it does everywhere else. I recommend you wait until after you pass through immigration and customs to request your ride just in case there are any delays.

  • If you crossed at PedEast (this is the eastern crossing near the trolley station)- After you exit immigration, continue walking on the footpath until you reach the first street. This street is called Frontera. This is a good place to request your Uber to pick you up. There is a pickup area where they can pull out and you can load your luggage.
  • If you crossed at PedWest (this is the western crossing near the outlet mall)- After you exit immigration, continue walking until you reach the first street. This street is called Professor Jose Maria Larroque. Here, you can request and wait for your ride. They will probably pull into the pickup area on the street.
cars waiting to cross from Mexico back to the US

Cars waiting to cross from Mexico back to the US

If you don’t know where to have the driver drop you off, I recommend you start at the Monumental Arch. This famous Tijuana landmark is in the middle of the most touristy part of downtown on Avenida Revolucion. From here, you can easily explore the city.

For more info, check out my ultimate guide to visiting Tijuana from San Diego. Here, I outline things to do, the visa, safety, accommodation, nightlife, restaurants, and more.

How to Take Uber from Central Tijuana to the Border

The one thing to remember when making this trip is which border crossing you want to be dropped off at. Most travelers will want to be dropped off at PedEast. This crossing is closest to the trolley, Greyhound bus station, and most border parking lots.

One problem you may run into is requesting your ride. Some phone plans don’t work in Mexico. Some charge expensive roaming fees. Check this before you head to Tijuana. If this is the case, try to find a place with wifi to request and wait for your Uber. Many restaurants and most hotels have wifi.

Can I Take an Uber Across the Border Between Tijuana and the US?

No. At this time, Uber drivers are not able to drive you across the border. Probably for legal and insurance reasons.

If you wish to take an Uber from downtown San Diego to downtown Tijuana, you’ll have to request a ride to the border, walk across the border on foot, then request another ride in Tijuana after you cross. It’s inconvenient, but it’s the only option at this time.

For help crossing the border, check out my step-by-step guide: How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana.

In the past, there was a service called UberPassport which allowed you to cross the border from the US to Mexico in an Uber. This service was discontinued in 2016. For more info on the discontinued program, you can read about here this ABC news article.

You could ask your Uber driver if they are willing or able to drive you across the border. In this case, you would arrange a rate with them outside of the app.

If you’d rather take public transportation, the trolley blue line drops you off in San Ysidro right at the PedEast border crossing. If you’re traveling to Tijuana from outside of the San Diego area, you can take a Greyhound Bus to the border. 

Taking an Uber to Tijuana Airport

If your destination is Tijuana airport and you’re starting in the US, you can take an Uber directly there without having to walk across the border and request another ride. To do this, you can use the Cross Border Xpress. This is a skywalk across the border that leads directly from the US to Tijuana airport. Your Uber can drop you off right outside.

If you’re already in Tijuana, you can take an Uber directly to the airport. The driver can drop you off outside of your terminal. 

Taking an Uber from Tijuana Airport into the City

You may have trouble requesting an Uber from Tijuana airport into the city. The reason is that the police like to fine Uber drivers picking up passengers at the airport for some reason. Some drivers will risk it. Some won’t.

If you can’t get a ride, you only other option is to take a taxi. Unfortunately, airport taxis are expensive. Expect to spend at minimum 250 pesos from the airport to the city center. 

Uber Alternatives in Tijuana

These days, Uber has some competition in Tijuana. I’m not talking about taxis. A couple of other rideshare apps offer service in Tijuana including:

  • Cabify- This Spanish rideshare company operates in Tijuana.
  • DiDi- This Chinese rideshare company recently began operating in Tijuana.

I haven’t tried either of these in Tijuana. I once tried to schedule a ride from 5y10 to the border with Cabify but there were no drivers available. The ride would have been cheaper according to the app. I had to take an Uber instead. It may be worth trying one of these apps out if you plan to take a lot of rides. 

Is Lyft available in Tijuana?

No. At this time, Lyft doesn’t offer service in Tijuana. Hopefully, they will in the future. 

When Not to Use Uber in Tijuana

There are a few occasions when Uber is not the best choice. For example, if:

  • You’re in a hurry- You can usually flag down a taxi in less time than it takes to wait for an Uber to show up. Mote on Tijuana taxis in the next section of this guide.
  • Your phone plan doesn’t work in Mexico and you don’t have access to wifi- You need an internet connection to use Uber.
  • You’re traveling outside of Tijuana- Uber is cheaper than taxis for trips within the city. For longer trips, you can save money by taking a bus.
  • You’re on a tight budget- If you want to save money, you can take a taxi de ruta or colectivo. I’ll outline those in the following section.
  • You need to be picked up from Tijuana airport- Many drivers won’t pick you up there out of fear of being fined by the police.

Taxis in Tijuana

a yellow taxi

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to take a taxi, Tijuana has 3 types of taxi services available:

1. Taxi Libre (White Taxis)

These are the best and cheapest private taxis in Tijuana. They offer metered fares around the city. When you get in, make sure that the driver sets the meter. Some drivers won’t. They’ll say it’s broken or the ride is cheaper if you don’t use the meter. This is a lie. If this happens, I recommend you say no thanks and wait for another taxi to come along. You won’t wait long.

Once the ride begins, pay attention to the route that the driver takes. Use the GPS on your phone if you can. Some drivers may try to take the long way around to rack up a larger fare if they suspect that you don’t know the city. If they see that you’re using the map on your phone, they probably won’t try this.

If you know how much a particular trip is supposed to cost, you can negotiate a ride without the meter. You might be able to save a bit because that trip goes unreported to the taxi company. Generally, taking these taxis is still more expensive than Uber.

For whatever reason, I have found that Taxi Libre drivers tend to be pretty honest. Their cars are also generally well maintained.

Taxi Económico (Yellow Taxis)

In theory, these taxis are better because they operate on a fixed rate with prices posted at the taxi stands. In practice, you must always negotiate the fare with the driver.

These taxis may be faster because you’re paying the same rate no matter how long it takes the driver to get you to your destination. They don’t have the incentive to take a longer route like a metered cab driver may. If you’re in a hurry, this is your best option.

Most locals avoid these taxis because they are too expensive. The drivers also tend to be less honest, in my opinion. Occasionally, they’ll try to run a small scam. The vehicles aren’t very well maintained either.

CECUT, the cultural center of Tijuana

Taxi Colectivo/ Taxi de Ruta/ Taxi Sitio

These shared taxis operate as Tijuana’s pubic transportation system. They run on fixed routes through the city. You can hop on and hop off wherever you like along the route. The route does not change.

This is the cheapest way to get around Tijuana. Even cheaper than Uber. Expect to pay 10-20 pesos (50 cents-$1) per one way ride depending on how far you’re going and the time of day. For example, the ride from the border to downtown is 10 pesos (around 50 cents). The ride from downtown to Rosarito is 19 pesos (around $1). At night the fare increases by 2-3 pesos on some routes.

To ride these shared taxis, simply flag a bus or van down as it passes by when you want a ride. Alternatively, you can look for a bus stop where these vehicles park.

If you’re getting on at the origin of a route, you’ll have to wait until the van fills up before it leaves. How long this takes, depends on the time of day and popularity of the route. Usually, the wait is less than 15 minutes.

When you want to get off, just tell the driver that you’d like to be dropped off. Saying “pare aqui, por favor” (stop here, please) works fine.

Unfortunately, taxi routes aren’t really available anywhere. The destination is written on most taxis but that doesn’t help too much if you don’t know the city well. To find the right taxi, you just have to ask around to find out where to catch one going in your direction. If you can find a taxi stop, you can ask one of the drivers if they know which taxi you should take. Most locals are happy to give you directions if they can as well.

The taxis are mostly passenger vans that hold 15-18 passengers. There are some larger buses and standard cars also being used.

You can identify the taxis by color. For example, if you took a red taxi to your destination, you’ll take a red taxi going in the opposite direction to get back.

You can pay either when you enter or exit the vehicle. Try to have exact change or close to it if you can. Most drivers have a tray of coins so they can break 20 and 50 peso bills easily. If you try to pay for a 15 peso ride with a 500 peso note, the driver may not have change.

Overall, taxi rutas are pretty safe. The most common crime to look out for is pickpocketing. During busy times, these buses get packed full. It would be easy for a criminal to snatch your wallet or phone while exiting the bus. This happened to me on a similar minibus in Tanzania.

I have also heard about the occasional robbery on these taxis. In this case, a criminal boards the vehicle and demands that everyone hand over their wallet and phone. They would also take all of the fares from the driver. This is extremely rare and will be considered a serious crime by the Tijuana. This is public transportation, after all.

The Tijuana River

Should I Use Uber in Tijuana or Take a Taxi?

If you want to use private transport rather than public transport to get around Tijuana, your options are taxis and Uber. I recommend you use Uber in Tijuana for the following reasons:

  • Uber is cheaper- After taking dozens of rids in both taxis and Ubers in Tijuana, I have found that Uber is almost always around 10% cheaper. If you’re a particularly good negotiator, you may be able to get the same rate in a Taxi.
  • You don’t have to negotiate the fare- Uber sets the rate. This is great for people who don’t like to bargain.
  • You can pay by card or cash- Many Tijuana taxi drivers can’t or won’t take cards. With Uber, you have the option to pay whichever way you prefer.
  • The vehicles are in better condition- Uber seems to have higher standards than most taxi companies. Once, while taking a taxi from the border to Tijuana airport*, the car died in the middle of the road. Luckily the driver got it started again and I made my flight. Uber drivers tend to maintain their vehicles better.
  • The drivers are more honest- Taxi drivers are notorious scammers. This is true everywhere in the world. In my experience, Uber drivers in Tijuana are more honest.
  • Uber drivers aren’t anonymous- Uber can track a driver if they commit a crime against you.
  • Most of the Uber drivers speak some English- This is just my personal experience. Almost all of the Uber drivers that I have met speak at least a bit of English. This is probably because they tend to be younger. Taxi drivers are usually less fluent or speak no English.

The only drawback that I have found to using Uber in Tijuana is the fact that you have to wait for your driver to arrive. If I’m in a busy neighborhood, my Uber usually arrives within 5-15 minutes depending on the time of day.

The city has a lot of taxis. If you’re on a busy street, you can almost always flag one down within just a couple of minutes or less. If you’re in a hurry, taxis are probably your better choice.

map of Southern California and Baja

My Experience Using Uber in Tijuana

Really, it’s been pretty uneventful. I’ve never had a particularly bad ride. Of course, some drivers are more friendly than others. Some keep their vehicles cleaner than others. Just like anywhere.

Most of the Uber drivers like to chat. They all ask me about how I like Tijuana, how long I’m staying, etc. I ask them about their job and how they like driving for Uber. The conversation is always pleasant.

One female driver told me about her soccer team that she plays with in Otay Mesa on the weekends. Another driver I met only drives at night because he attends University during the day. An older, retirements age driver explained that he recently moved back to Tijuana from the US. He could retire earlier due to the low cost of living. I guess he was driving for Uber for some extra income or something to do.

Sometimes the conversation gets a bit awkward due to my Spanish language capabilities. Most of the drivers speak decent English, in my experience. Overall, I haven’t had any bad experiences while using Uber in Tijuana.

Other Transportation Options in Tijuana

  • Drive yourself- Many people will advise you against driving in Tijuana due to the risks of police corruption, accidents, and poor road conditions. I tend to agree. Having said that, you can reduce the risks significantly by having good insurance and being prepared. For more info, check out my guide: How to Drive to Tijuana.
  • Ride your bike- You can take bring your bike on the San Diego trolley for free. Walk your bike across the border and you’ll have free transportation when you arrive. I recommend you bring a good bike lock with you. For more info, check out my guide: How to Travel from San Diego to Tijuana by Bicycle. 
  • Walk- The touristy parts of Tijuana are surprisingly walkable. During the day, the city is safe enough to walk around. You can even walk.

One of the reasons I prefer using Uber to driving in Tijuana. This is was the road to the border after a heavy storm.

Final Thoughts on Using Uber in Tijuana

If you prefer private transport over public transport, Uber is the best way to get around the Tijuana, in my opinion. It’s affordable, safe, and efficient.

If you’re on a tight budget and up for a bit of an adventure, you can save money by taking a shared taxi ruta instead of Uber. The journey may take a bit more time, but you can get anywhere in the city this way for around a quarter of the price of a private ride.

In my opinion, taxis are best avoided in Tijuana. The drivers are less honest, prices are higher, and the experience is overall worse.

Do you use Uber in Tijuana? Share your experience in the comments below!

More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks

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