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Taxi Driver
Text Fred Flintstone

Vladimir Putin, his term as president ended, is standing by a wet road trying to catch a taxi. A black Mercedes speeds by without stopping. Then a Zhiguli that is well past its best-by date pulls up. The former president is not sure exactly where he is going and how much it should cost, but, not wanting to be cheated, he sets his ceiling at 200 rubles. Thus begins a hilarious video recently posted on YouTube. Sooner or later, every expat is likely to have the same dilemma of sorting out “gypsy” cab etiquette when the metro is either closed or far away and your car and driver have gone home.

There are still not many official taxis in Moscow, so residents and visitors rely on independent operators, the only cabs available before taxi companies were organized just a few years ago. However, gone are the days when an outstretched arm could cause a traffic accident as three or four cars stopped and several more that had already sped by screeched to a halt and backed up. Today, one is lucky to get any car to stop, and more likely than not it will be a version of the grimy Zhiguli in the Putin video. There was a time when Muscovites needed the extra money they could earn as an impromptu cab driver, but today the labor market is tight, wages are climbing, and there is no shortage of money. Unemployment in Moscow is “structural” — only those unwilling to work or incapable of holding a job don’t have one.

In the 12 years that Fred has been hailing cabs in Bedrock, at all hours of day and night and various levels of sobriety, he has had only one conflict with a driver over a fare (a few tense moments when he obstinately argued about a mere 50 ruble overcharge). Recently, though, Fred has noticed significant deterioration of the quality of the vehicles that stop and a marked increase in wait time. He has also found that drivers seem less stable and more reckless. For the expat hailer, greater caution is in order. Better yet, plan in advance and reserve a taxi from a service. Though even the best services suffer reliability problems, the journey leaves less to chance.

The first taxi an expat or visitor is likely to take is upon arrival at the airport, where hordes of drivers still block the terminal exits, hectoring passengers with whispers of “taxi, mister?” The cars and drivers offered are a mixed bag, and that insistent voice is likely to be an agent for a car waiting up the road. Fred usually bypasses them for the MosCab kiosk near the exit, where prices are posted and cars generally good. The passenger pays a clerk at the MosCab counter and gets a receipt.

Thus today it is possible to achieve a certain level of transparency in the taxi transaction. The real problem remains the variance in the definition of a ”good driver.” Is this someone who would meet the approval of a Western traffic cop and who makes his passengers feel safe, or a wannabe Formula 1 driver out on the roads for a little practice before an upcoming race? The resident expat or occasional visitor, unable or unwilling to challenge the driver, or not wishing to distract him, is often left quietly gritting his teeth in the back seat, praying for one more safe arrival.

In the interest of our readers’ well-being, Fred, desiring to make a small contribution to road safety in Bedrock, has created the Passport Visitors’ Taxi Instructions and Grading Form. He encourages you to cut it out and make copies. Note that the form is best used for taxis from organized companies like MosCab, whose drivers may actually be concerned about their rating, and it may have unintended consequences if used with an independent driver who will never see you again (see above quotation from the Martin Scorsese classic).

Passport Visitors’ Taxi Instructions and Grading Form

Part I – Instructions to Driver

Dear Driver:

As visitors to Moscow, we are interested in having a pleasant, stress-free experience in your fair city, but we have heard many stories about the high accident rates and poor driving habits of Moscow drivers. Passport has provided us with this form so that we may rate and give feedback to the city’s professional drivers.

As your taxi passenger, we wish to convey the following:

  • We would appreciate attention to speed regulations. Please reduce speed according to road conditions (rain, snow, ice).
  • We believe that you are a skilled professional driver, and we do not need a demonstration of your ”best” driving moves.
  • We value courtesy on the road — to other drivers and especially to pedestrians.
  • We do not smoke and prefer that you refrain for the duration of our trip. / We do not mind if you smoke.
  • We prefer a quiet trip without music. / Please listen to whatever you wish.

We appreciate your cooperation, the extent of which will be remunerated upon safe arrival at our destination.

Part II – Passport Driver Rating System

 Top-notch driver — knowledgeable, courteous, safe, friendly!
 Better than average, relatively safe!  4
 Adequate!  3
 Significant deficiencies — unsafe, rude!  2
 The sooner the police take him off the road, the better!  1

Categories for consideration:

  1. Attentive to passengers’ requirements
  2. Overall safety of driving
  3. Speed
  4. Courtesy
  5. Knowledge of road to destination
  6. Specific skills:
  • Steers clear of other vehicles and pedestrians
  • Does not tailgate
  • Stops before red light (on the yellow light)
  • Stops for pedestrians in the striped “zebra” zone
  • Able to drive between the white lane lines when visible
  • Does not drive recklessly

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