Behind The Iron Curtain:Hitching a Ride

Recent post by Scott Adams described his vision for the future of public transportation in the new economy.

Suppose the government enacted laws that made it legal for anyone to be a taxi driver in his own car without a special taxi license. And suppose the income was non-taxable. The result would be cheap taxis and high availability. Every time you wanted to run an errand, and had an extra minute, you could choose to pick up a rider and cut your own driving expense in half. Technology will make it easy to match amateur taxi drivers with riders. And the market would keep prices low.

This is very similar to the system that existed for years (and still alive an well) in the USSR and countries that followed it. In addition to pretty well developed system of public transportation and state-owned taxis, a person could just stand on the street, raise a hand and flag down a private car. Both sides benefited equally: a passenger received a semic0mfortable ride for a price comparable to a cab (general price/distance ratio was common knowledge) and a driver made some extra money without making any extra effort. Some people liked it so much that they made it into a part-time job. Others just picked up passengers on the way home or wherever.

Imagine yourself standing somewhere on the Lenin Street (each city had one of these), you raise your hand and soon one of these beauties stops to pick you up:


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Soviet Union had its own “Big 3”: GAZ, AutoVAZ, and AZLK; ZAZ in Ukraine produced some of the ugliest and the most unreliable even by the Soviet standards vehicles. Due to the shortage of cars and years-long waiting lists people were happy to get anything with wheels. Sometimes, when at the end of the month autoworkers were rushing to fulfil quotas so they can get their bonus, a lucky buyer would find a bucket of uninstalled parts inside his new vehicle. Despite these cars being 20-30 behind the rest of the automotive world when they came off assembly line, many of them are still on the road closing in on 40 years. Soviet people invented ingenious ways of keeping them going and they turned out relatively easy to fix and maintain.

My current situation does not easily lend itself to carpooling: I don’t always go straight to work and don’t always drive straight home. The other problem is potential emergency situations that happen rarely but still have to be planned for. In this city I don’t have a reasonable way of getting home from work without my personal vehicle, so I would welcome an opportunity to get a ride from someone who is already headed in the same direction. The only issue  is that when I was growing up© people getting into a stranger’s car were not afraid to be later found in the woods in a block of concrete; drivers were not generally scared of being robbed, killed or raped. Once I hitchhiked almost 200 miles  from where I was stationed in the army to my hometown, changing 5 or 6 cars in the process and never felt any danger; I was wearing my uniform and no one ever asked me for any money. (if some window pops up, just click “return to map”) I don’t know if I would have the same trust now, but if sharing a ride was commonly accepted practice I would probably give it a try.

If you are ever so lucky to get a ride in an old Soviet Car make sure to try this, it will make you instantly popular:

  • tracy

    yeah, getting into unregulated taxis is never going to be my thing.

  • just because it’s reguated it’s not necessarily safe 🙂