In the West and much of the world, we’re trying to be environmentally friendly and more economical with the resources that we have. Everyone keeps banging on about the sharing economy – Airbnb, lots of different rideshare systems, and of course, Uber, which is the perfect example of this. The original idea was that someone already had a car that they were using, and the concept was that you’d get a cheap fare, and they’d get to share the resource that they were already using. In effect though, they’ve just become taxi drivers and more often than not, it’s their full-time job. Quite often drivers will have a car specifically for their Uber needs which they keep in cleaner and better condition for the purposes of being an Uber driver. In many countries, they need to have stickers or other identifying features to show that they are Uber cars. If it walks, talks, and squawks like a taxi, it’s just a taxi. So in the end, there’s just yet another way of catching a taxi and in many places, even more taxis on the road.
However, the former Soviet countries have got it right. They understand how the sharing economy is meant to work, and they did it by accident before it was cool. They’re called gypsy taxis.
So what are they?
They are literally anyone with a car who happens to be driving at the time. It could be a mum going to pick up her kids from school, a businessman on his way home from work, someone from another city going to visit their family, or anyone else that happens to be on the road at the time. We even do this with our own car in Almaty.
How does it work?
You stand on the side of the road where you wish to be picked up and stick your hand out, as if you were hitch-hiking. This can be confusing when you first visit a former Soviet country as you might wonder why everyone’s hitch-hiking everywhere, including around the centres of cities, but they’re actually just catching taxis. It’s just that easy – no downloading an app, plotting your departure or arrival point, or making sure you’ve got internet signal.
How has this come about?
Well once upon a time, not that long ago during the Soviet Union, not many people had cars. Those who did have cars had mostly worked hard, saved up and waited a long time to get those cars. They were privileged to have them, but they didn’t come for free, so there was a mutually beneficial mentality that those with cars should give lifts to those without cars, but those without cars also shouldn’t take those lifts for granted, or for free. So it began basically as paying a nominal amount to cover petrol to get a lift somewhere with someone already going that way.
What’s the catch?
There really isn’t one, but the hardest part is just knowing the market; knowing what an acceptable price for a particular lift in a particular city is. On our tours we make sure that we do this as it’s an important part of Central Asian life, so you can get an idea of prices then; otherwise, you just have to ask a local for an idea and play it by ear. With the exception of in Uzbekistan, though, they’re really not in the habit of ripping off tourists, it’s just not part of their mentality, so you don’t need to worry too much.
Want to try it for yourself? During our Turkmenistan Easter Tour you’ll have several opportunities to try out the gypsy taxi system, and if you want to give it a go in a few different countries, join our Five Stans Tour.
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