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Taxi, Taxi !

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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32 thoughts on “Taxi, Taxi !”

  1. Not sure it will work in India, with verified drivers in taxi services involved in various crimes, and auto-rickshaw mafia in every city I wonder how safe unverified taxis will be…

  2. This taxi thing is now very popular in Delhi thanks to the ubers and olas. It works exactly the same way as you have described in the article. So question of whether it can work or not is really going to be tested.

    But what I do like is the thinking and implementation of the system as you have brought out in the article.

    1. Amsang,
      I do not think ubers & olas work in the same way. These are only taxis and not cars. In Kazakhstan, any car owner can become a taxi at the drop of a hat. 🙂

      Thank you very much. Glad that you liked it.

  3. When I was in Russia, we did something similar, except there cars didn’t have a taxi sign. You would just stand on the side of the road and hold your hands up. Then, a random car would come and you would negotiate a price on where you wanted to go. I was with the locals, so hopefully it wasn’t too unsafe. But, great idea of not hopping in when there is more than one person…

  4. Sounds like a good deal for the driver to make a little money on the side. I personally would be a little worried in some areas but it might be far less expensive than taking a normal taxi.

  5. what a funny quirk. Like the idea that everyone is basically an Uber Pool driver…not app needed though. Obviously safety could be a concern, especially if you’re by yourself, but we a few friends, great way to get around Almaty!

  6. Oh gosh I would have been scared to get in any car that claimed to be a taxi- but if it is the norm I suppose I would have to! Thanks for the tip, I wouldn’t have known otherwise!

  7. Slovenia has a similar sort of system. You can get a ride with people who are not taxi drivers but who are commuting to work or travelling somewhere that are happy to take extra people for a little fee. It’s a great idea.

  8. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this kind of arrangement. After my initial bit of surprise, I must concede that it’s economical. Why shouldn’t both parties benefit from each other??? Cool, I wonder if it’ll work in the States or Europe, though.

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