Tales from the Gipsy Cab

A line waiting for the automated parking space for official taxis in Moscow, with a capacity for 12 vehicles. Source: RIA Novosti/Ruslan Krivobok

A line waiting for the automated parking space for official taxis in Moscow, with a capacity for 12 vehicles. Source: RIA Novosti/Ruslan Krivobok

Anytime and everywhere – in Moscow you always have your personal taxi around, the “gipsy cab”. Cheap and always funny, you are not just getting where you want to go, but often into funny adventures.

I like to stay flexible – always, especially in Moscow.

With the horrible traffic situations I am not keen on getting my own car and driving it to work in peak hours. Most of the time the great Metro network is more than sufficient for my needs, but sometimes it’s gotta be a cab.

In Moscow apart from official taxis, which function ok, but need to be booked ahead, sometimes quite in advance given the size of city and depending on which company you chose, hope they send you a car in time. At least an hour before you should calculate to get an ordered cab.

But there is something else in Moscow – the gipsy cab.

Just stretch out your hand on any street and look out for ordinary cars stopping, tell them where you want to go (best you mention some major sight, or metro station that is close to the place you need to go, although some have navigators and can help you with exact addresses) and offer your price.

Now here you need an idea before (from an experienced resident of Moscow) to be sure not to overpay, but mostly it depends on your negotiation skills and mood of the driver.

Example: I work in the center but live from there about 10km south. With an official cab that can be around 600 rubles one way, with the gipsy cab its 300 rubles for sure, or cheaper. I have gotten even free rides.

Don’t expect them to have change ready, they might, but you better clarify this before, and also no credit cards – sorry.

Now, who are those gipsy cab drivers? Usually, the term refers to immigrants that make money with driving around people, but there are also all sorts of people stopping and taking in passengers.

I came across the young business men with Audi and Mercedes (they usually don’t care much about the money), immigrant students who make a little money on the side to finance their life in Moscow, often from countries of the former USSR and also e.g. Nigeria.

Apart from a driver giving me a Russian history lesson, I had the Russian grandpa with his granddaughter on the backseat who turned out to be a professional singer, so for 200 RUR I enjoyed a 15 minutes performance of him, while the little girl showed me proudly her trinkets and treasures of her toy-bag.

Another time I had a honey salesman, who brings honey from the region to Moscow and also a guy who does the same with meat, so if I would have wanted I could have even bought fresh produce while getting to work.

Other drivers have movies running on their ipads, tell you all about their life and ask you about yours, so you cannot get bored (maybe annoyed though). I got offered food (dried salty cheese balls from Turkmenistan),

My boyfriend got a driver offering him a free ride, in case he could answer some questions correctly (He failed, but what an opportunity to get a free ride and some fun!)

But there are more adventurous stories to tell. Once my boyfriend (who is native Russian), tried to hitchhike back from Seliger lake, outside of Moscow, where he spend a few days as journalist with Russia’s politic youth parties. He was picked up by some Tschetschens in a crappy old car.

Driving along towards Moscow he found a weapon and bullets in the bag seat pocket and to all that the car was stopped by police, having the driver and policemen arguing about his non-existing driver’s license. Scared by this ride, my boyfriend got out and asked the policeman for help, who then started stopping passing cars, asking them to take my boyfriend back to the city.

Is this actually safe? Many of our foreign visitors keep asking me that and honestly, I don’t know the answer.

I think it is and nothing has happened to me so far. The range of cars you will get to know if interesting, there are the Dzhigulis and Ladas where you ask yourself how they can still be moving at all and occasionally the modern and nice cars, where I wonder, why the hell would they pick up people for 300 rubles?

My personal conclusion is they must do it out of curiosity, interest or simply being nice and taking a person in the same direction with you, if they are anyways going that way. I have not heard of any real problems with catching a car like that in Moscow, the worst that happens is a driver asking a girl out, or for their telephone number (keep always some story, or fake number in mind, or say you are married).

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