Travel in Russia – Understanding the Taxi System

Privyet! Da! Nyet! Dasvidanya! You’ve decided on a trip to Russia and these are the four words you will learn first in preparation – hello, yes, no, goodbye! Understanding how to get around using the infamous Russian taxi system is a bit more complex.

A trip to Russia can be a bit intimidating at first. The culture is very different from what you might be used to at home. For instance, a person walking around smiling very friendly will be met with scowls because to do so is a sign of being a fraudster. Considering how much politicians tend to smile, the Russians might be on to something here.

Regardless, it is vital that you understand, as Dorthy might say, that you are not in Kansas anymore. Your time in Russia will be different. Instead of comparing it to home, try to take it in and enjoy it. I’ve been to Russia a few times and had more than just a good time.

Another element of Russia that can be confusing is the taxi system. In major cities like St. Petersburg or Moscow, it works just the way you are used to. There are cars with “taxi” signs. You wave at them and they ignore you as the pass by. Occasionally, they might suffer the foolish tourist, but only if hard up on money. In short, they act like taxi drivers in any major city.

Once you get out of the major cities, the taxi service becomes all encompassing. In fact, it may be one of the largest forms of business in the country. How so? Well, there are no formal taxis per se. Instead, practically every vehicle is a taxi. You simply stand on the side of the road with your hand out and a meaningful look. If someone is looking for a few rubles to help with gas, they’ll pull over. You then tell them where you want to go and they agree or not.

This informal taxi process really has no limits other than what the driver is willing to do. After imbibing in a few adult beverages [vodka] one evening, I and a friend were able to negotiate a $50 fee with a driver to take us to the next city beyond the one we were in. I did not realize that the next city was 14 hours away. A few more adult beverages and it really didn’t matter. Regardless, this was all accomplished by renting a ride off the side of the road.

If you get outside of a major city in Russia, don’t bother hunting for a taxi. Throw out your hand, give them the “I need a ride” look and the world is your oyster. Okay, Russia is your oyster, but you get my drift.

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