We are running a bit late … hurriedly making our way to the main road from our hotel. The sun has almost set and it has started to become cold. The evening breeze is not so gentle, in fact it’s not a breeze at all. We can call it wind … strong wind. My hair is restless, probably trying to fight a losing battle with the wind. I adjust my muffler around my neck and hands go in my jacket’s pocket.
We reach the main road in five minutes. We are on our way to meet a friend who has invited us for dinner. There is no bus stop in the vicinity but we were told taxis are aplenty. There is hardly anybody on the road. With temperature nearing zero degrees Celsius it is not surprising. A few shops on the other side of the road are pulling down their shutters. I do not expect Almaty to be like this.
All of a sudden, a car pulls over near us, the driver tips open his door and we hear a voice “Taxi, taxi?”. There is no sign of it being a taxi. No sign board, no special color. It’s a red sedan, it’s a big old car! I am hesitant. The driver looks at us with a question mark on his face. My friend nods his head “Yes, yes”. And it unfolds the inquisitiveness in me.
In Almaty, don’t look for any taxi with a taxi sign on top! Anyone can work as a taxi driver if he owns a car. Some work as full time taxi drivers while others do it part time. These part time drivers pick up passengers on their way to or from work or while running any errands. If the route matches, the driver may take him, for a fee.
To get a taxi, you stand on the side of the road and wave your hand at a car. The car would stop and you can negotiate the price depending on the distance and number of passengers. Obviously you would need the knowledge of local geography and language to use this service but it is quite interesting to interact with a no, a yes and a calculator. Many times the deal doesn’t happen due to the destination or the fee we are willing to pay.
I find this arrangement a cool idea. Locals do this all the time. Someone with a car is looking to make some money, and you are looking for a ride. It’s a perfect match. Some car owners carry a removable TAXI board, so they can put it on when they intend to run the car as a taxi.
In most cities of Kazakhstan you need not use official taxis as this arrangement works good…. at least in Almaty & Astana. But if you are in Karaganda the best way is to book a taxi by phone. It turns out cheaper and time saver since you don’t have to wait hitch-hiking.
1. Negotiate the price and destination before you agree to go. About USD 2-4 is fair for a ride within the centre of Almaty.
2. To be safe, do not get in a car if more than one person is driving. Also, do not take these taxis for long distances or anywhere that goes through remote areas, as there are cases of robberies, especially of foreigners.
P.S.- This journey was taken around 20 years back. Don’t have any photos but thought sharing story is more important than the pictures.
Let us know if you were aware of it. Would you like to go in such taxis?
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