The most convenient thing about taxis in Russia is that most drivers are potentially ready to become one. Stick out your hand and negotiate your price and destination with the first person who stops. If the first car does not fancy this price/destination combination fear not – there’s probably already a queue forming behind him waiting to get their chance. This standard practice of negotiating your price with the driver beforehand niftily saves you from the agony of the London black cab as you sit watching the little red figures on the metre rise exponentially every couple of seconds and is one of the main reasons why I am a fan of the “gypsy cab”.
The ubiquitous Lada “Zhiguli” model (yes, it’s the one whose inventors were clearly inspired by the cars they drew in crayon as children) in various states of disrepair or, more comically, with tinted windows, shiny hubcaps and leopard-print furry seat and steering-wheel covers is the first “taxi” that you will probably come across. My favourite Zhiguli experience so far (and there are indeed, many) was one with a tinted rear windscreen etched with a line drawing of Tyra Banks running through a forest accompanied by wolves. The driver really didn’t look the type. Indeed, whilst hailing a car, although it is easy to pick out from a distance which car in the line of traffic will be the one for you (bets are on that it won’t be the guy in the Mercedes), predicting the conversation in store is more of a refined ability.
The price of your journey will depend on various factors, including whether the driver is going that way anyway, how small his normal wage is, how keen he is to have someone to rant at, whether you can show them how to get to where you’re going and how direct the road is. If your destination is straight on then you’re in a good position to negotiate. If your destination is to the right then, at least in Moscow, the city where it is impossible to make a right-hand turn, getting to where you want to go will involve 3 left hand turns and/or u-turns and so your price is likely to be higher. In any case, you can be sure that you will get from A to B in the fastest possible time by weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating the car in front, or even better, tailgating an ambulance passing through a red light. Don’t be surprised if you driver tells you that you don’t need to put your seatbelt on when he sees you making an attempt to do so. Don’t be surprised either if he sees any attempt at putting on a seatbelt on as a personal insult to his own driving abilities. And don’t be too surprised if your car happens to have a portable police siren stuck to the roof. It’s all part of the experience.
Driver: D’you know the way?
Putin: Not really, I’m from Petersburg myself.
Driver: How much you payin’?!
Putin: I don’t know… 200 rubles?
Driver: Call it 300 and let’s go.
Putin: No, I won’t pay 300 sorry
Driver: Alright then, let’s go.
Putin: Excuse me, can you…?
Driver: It’s alright… I’ve got one myself.