If you’re looking to flag down a taxi in Almaty you might struggle. There’s few of them and they generally only come when called by phone.
Instead you just stand by the roadside, hand out, and wait for a non-marked car to offer you a ride. You agree on a price and then you’re off. Well, when we say you, we mean your Russian speaking host. It’d be a struggle for a tourist.
Some of the cars might be looking to pick up passengers, taxi style. Most are going somewhere themselves, and happy to give you a ride for extra cash. This is pretty remarkable and has some significant upsides. First, you might pay a lower price to reflect the fact that your driver is just offsetting the cost of their own journey. Second, it’s better for the environment than having taxis cruising looking for business, and driving where you want to go and then returning to where they might pick up passengers. Efficient.
The willingness to step into a strangers’ car also says something about public attitudes and community safety. It’s hard to imagine New Zealand parents encouraging their kids, especially their young women, to get into strange and unmarked cars. But it seems safe enough to not raise any eyebrows in Almaty.
My general view is that the taxi sector in New Zealand is over regulated. In particular I think the mandatory security camera installation in taxis was an overreaction to isolated tragedies. And calls to cap the number of registered taxis seems to me a solution in search of a problem (that creates problems too). I’d stop short of complete deregulation to the point of citizen taxis Almaty style. But I think a community where we feel safe enough to get into a strangers’ car is something to which we should aspire.