January 2006


Free Market Transportation


Originally uploaded by elmada.

The most impressive thing about Kyiv was it’s free market.

Katya was a master of this—for example, we had taken the subway out from the center of the city to the stop nearest her house, where we were to take bus number 487 to her house. The bus is a Marshrutka, a minibus taxi.

Bus 487 can hardly be called a bus, to be frank. It’s a minivan with 10 or 11 seats, including the one next to the driver. You can flag it down whenever you see it—pay the driver 1 hryvnia (about 17 €uro cent) and take a seat—according to Katya, during peak travel periods, people actually stand on this bus: I suspect crouch and try not to get your clothes dirty touching the ground is more like it. Once aboard, the bus slowly weaves its way down the pot-holed street.

However, this particular day, we arrived at the subway stop around 6pm, bought a couple bottles of mineral water and then went over to where we expected to pick up the 487 bus.

And waited.

And waited some more.

We waited 40 minutes before Katya flagged down a random driver and negotiated a price: 10 hryvnias to get a lift home: 1,67€. For two of us. And I thought it was expensive to pay that much, but when I look at the price written in €uros, it seems incredibly inexpensive. When I get back to Weimar later tonight (I am writing this on the train from Berlin), I will spend about 7€ for a taxi that will take me less than half the distance.

However, this wasn’t the end of her negotiating skills. Katya negotiated many great deals with both taxi drivers and random drivers on the street. And I saw many other people doing the same—and at one point, while Katya was negotiating with a taxi driver, another car pulled up behind it, just in case we weren’t able to strike a deal.

Last night (January 2nd) these skills were invaluable, as we had planned to go out to a club. When we arrived at the club (Katya had called to ask about the dress code), we were informed that we needed to be members, and there was no way to become a member at midnight. Wandering around Kyiv, we found nothing, two taxi rides later, we ended up at the “Caribbean Club” (The club name was not in the Cyrillic alphabet), which was a great deal of fun.

Well, fun for the first several hours—but then the club’s crowd thinned and it was mostly (heterosexual) couples on the floor, and we wanted to leave. The original plan had been to wait for public transit and to take it home, but at 5:00, we didn’t want to wait an hour—so Katya negotiated our trip home, declining 50 hryvnia offers, until we found a 40 hryvnia offer—which was achieved by walking away and a driver thinking better of the offer.

Amusingly, Katya observed that the driver was a little upset after agreeing to the price, once he heard us speaking English—The assumption is that English speakers are rich and can afford to pay more (sometimes even at official state institutions, more on that later, if I have time).

Ultimately she jotted down the number of one taxi driver—the most competent and decent one of the evening, and called him this morning to negotiate a trip for me from her family’s flat to the Kyiv airport—80 hryvnia (13,34€) for a 20 minute ride. It seemed to me that he was a wee bit tired as he drove me out to the airport, listening to KISS FM / Ukraine, Dance Music (Announcements in English, oddly)—but he did it quickly, efficiently, and didn’t get in any accidents (as previously noted).

I’d post his phone number here, but Katya has it, and I doubt many of you would have any use for it in the near future.

1 comment to Free Market Transportation