There is a Rainbow of Taxis Coming Your Way
When you live in Azerbaijan, the ubiquity of the taxi as a means of transportation is striking. You can’t walk a few feet before stumbling over a taxi. Mostly, they are Lada 2107s, a rather spartan vehicle with simple mechanics and even simpler design. Occasionally, you come across the Mercedes taxi, or an even rarer BMW. Outside of Baku, we are especially saturated with Ladas of all ages. A taxi driver across the street from my apartment building drives a green Lada that is from about 1972. He has to pump the choke while driving it to make sure the engine keeps running.
So, as the Azerbaijani government is preparing to introduce new rules for taxis, I’m curious about how the new administration of taxi services will take place. There are all sorts of new proposals that are really very exciting: From new taxi cabs from London (purple!) to requirements for taxis to be metered; from a palette of colors where each city features it’s own signature tinctures to fancy new registration rules.
Are these changes going to shift the structure of taxi transportation in Azerbaijan? The meter idea certainly will change things. These days, taxis are relatively cheap. 1 AZN gets me anywhere in Lənkəran surprisingly quickly. 3-5 AZN in Baku gets me anywhere I really need to go in the small metropolis (unless I’m trying to route the entire city). While that’s a too-large fare for a Peace Corps Volunteer to regularly take taxis, it’s not breaking the bank to use the service occasionally (thus my referencing “my taxi drivers” somewhat frequently here on the blog). I’m curious about what the prices will be set to once the meters are installed. And while I can’t find a link or story, I know that metered taxis were attempted a few years back in Baku, but they all broke due to poor maintenance and high humidity, so the city quickly returned to the bargaining system that pervades today.
Just a tangent on the huge presence of taxis: one of the reasons for the relative glut of taxis here (take a look outside my apartment window someday to see the line of taxis awaiting fares), is a fairly poor public transit system. While Baku has a thriving subway system and pretty good buses (though they could really use some route maps), the regions outside of Baku leave something to be desired in terms of public transport. Marşrutkas do a good job shuttling people around town, but schedules and routes can be unpredictable. The buses in Baku change routes fairly often, and it’s impossible to figure that out until the driver makes a turn you weren’t expecting and you’re suddenly cruising out to the hills of a nearby suburb instead of downtown Baku. And timing anywhere is subject to the quantity of riders, the motivation of the driver, weather, and the fitness of the vehicle, among other uncontrollable factors. The amount of uncertainty in the transport system is often overwhelming. Add to this the average Azeri’s inability to purchase a personal car, and the need for cheap, plentiful taxis becomes apparent. Thus, Azerbaijan’s receiving a new fleet of 7,000-8,000 taxis. That’s for a population of probably less than 8 million. That puts the density of taxis compared to population at a higher rate than New York City’s.