As I was sitting down to write this, I was kind of torn – should I even be writing about something as mundane as the transportation system? After all, I’ve never really gave much thought to, say, the MTA in New York and certainly never had a desire to write about it.
But I think that the way of getting around in Dushanbe, and Tajikistan in general, has a few differences from what we are typically used to…
Public Transportation – Buses & Trolleys
So, Dushanbe – being the capital – is pretty well connected. You have buses and trolleys traveling on major streets. They are pretty cheap (about $0.15 USD). Each bus has 1 or 2 people that stand next to the doors and collect the money from the new passengers as they enter.
Since it’d be virtually impossible to actually track how much money is being collected, as there are no actual tickets given out, I’ve been told that the process works a bit differently. These guys, along with the bus driver, are required to submit a specific amount of money each day to the department of transportation (e.g. $80) and the rest, they can keep for their work.
Interestingly enough, this makes for a pretty efficient bus system. Unlike New York, where I think that the bus drivers get some sort of a sick pleasure of closing a door right in the face of a passenger that’s been running for the last 200 meters to catch it, things work much nicer here. In fact, the buses are usually more than willing to wait for an extra passenger – as that means “more income” for the people working on it.
If you need a faster way to get around, you have a million “marshrutok” available at your disposal. Armed with a 15-year van and a desire to cut off every other driver in the city, the drivers of these vanpools will get you from place to place for just around $0.25c.
But you’ve got to be careful – since they are always in a rush to complete their route and turnover more passengers, they have a tendency to start moving while you only have one foot inside and the other one is still on the pavement. Plus, if you tend to be one of the unlucky ones to get in when all of the seats are full, you better find some sort of a nuggin to hold on to during the sharp turns and stops while you’re standing in the aisle. The car’s capacity is taken as a suggestion, not an absolute!
But there is something really nice about marshrutki. For example, if a woman with a kid and a big bag comes in, somebody will right away take the kid and put them on their lap or hold them while the woman gets settled. When I get in and have to stand because the seats are full, somebody always takes my bag (sometimes without asking :)) and holds it on their lap while I stand. Everybody works together as a well-oiled machine – it’s just how it’s done.
Finally, you also have a ton of taxis roaming the streets. There’s even a whole bunch of them stationed next to my apartment building (since there is a popular cafe nearby). By this point, we know each others’ names, shake everybody’s hand as I pass through, etc. – even though I haven’t taken them at any time.
Taxis are also a convenient way to get to major points, such as bazaars, or between cities. For example, if you’re headed to a market, there is a specific place in the city where taxis wait for passengers headed in that direction. You’ll always share it with 3 other passengers (and the driver), but the ride will be relatively cheap – just $0.50-0.75.
Even if you’re headed out of town, taxis are a great alternative to marshutkas. If you need to get to one town, there is a specific place where taxis headed there wait. If you need to go somewhere else, there is another place. For towns that are 1-2 hours away, it will cost you about $2 to get a ride or a little more as the distance increases. But, ultimately, you can get to virtually any place in the country using these shared taxis.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been traveling to different towns pretty regularly. And I am starting to derive an immense satisfaction from being able to get to where I need to go easily and knowing how everything connects. So, even if it takes 1 bus, 2 marshrutkas, and a taxi to get to where I need – it’s fine because I almost feel like a local 🙂