Marshrutkas

The Neva River is but a block’s walk from my apartment, and on the opposite side of the my bridge toward the metro station “Lomonosovskaya” is a gorgeous park with deep green trees, lush grass, and a giant statue of Lenin.

My daily trip to Lomonosovskaya station is an interesting one, for I have three options to get there. Either a 20-25 minute walk, a 15 minute bus ride, or the Marshrutka. I had my first, certainly interesting, Marshrutka experience recently, for you see, the Marshrutka seems to have a culture uniquely its own. From the outside, the Marshrutka is merely a small van-taxi which drives different routes. It is an alternative form of public transportation; however, the all inclusive metro cards are not accepted on the Marshrutka. Rather, there is a flat rate, 27 rubles (about 90 cents), which must be paid no matter where you enter or exit. Payment, however, is where it gets exciting.

When one thinks of public transportation, no matter how hectic, we think of procedure and structure: transport stops at designated location, passengers pay, transport continues. The Marshrutka is quite different. While the Marshrutka has a determined route, it is simply that it has two determined end-points, and a few roads that it takes to arrive at those points. Predetermined stations are not in its lexicon. Instead, one waves his/her arms frantically as this tiny white van weaves in and out of traffic maniacally, driving as fast as possible through stop-and-go traffic. Once the Marshrutka stops, the driver gives you about 3 seconds to jump on before he pulls away with or without closing the doors. He then continues to speed through the city without asking for payment. Don’t think, however, that you have gotten a free ride by chance. His accomplice in the passenger seat, usually a grumpy middle-aged woman, eyes those who entered and points to anyone who is not already offering up money. Because the van is packed, no vacant seats mind you, it is impossible to pay without allowing your money to change hands several times with strangers as it makes its way to the angry lady. I, stuffed right up against her seat recently, had the pleasure of receiving the money from goodness knows which passengers. Here I thought I was clear once giving her the cash. And I was, except for the change. I then had to turn around to an overcapacity van full of Russians and attempt to hand back the right amount of change to the correct recipients. As far as I know, all was well and good. My first real interpersonal-Russian experience, a success!

By: Justin Sharrow

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program (RLASP)

Term: Fall 2011

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