Now that I’ve travelled by marshrutka six times I’m obviously an authority on the subject and qualified to give advice on this means of transportation. The thing is, though, I don’t think it’s really possible to be a marshrutka expert. I’ll tell you why later. First, what exactly is a marshrutka? They’re a common form of transportation in the Former Soviet Union (and, I believe, other parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, though I have no direct knowledge of this). “Marshrutka” is usually translated in English as “route taxi” or “minibus”. They’re multi-passenger vans that provide public transportation between different cities in a region. Their destination is shown on a sign placed in
the windshield. There are marshrutka stations at the beginning and end of the route, but you can ask the driver to let you off at any point, and passengers can stand along the roadside and hail any passing marshrutka. The driver may have a schedule in mind– a certain number of trips he’d like to make in a day, or making sure he gets home in time for dinner–but there isn’t an official schedule. Generally, the marshrutka leaves when there are enough passengers for the driver to make a profit. Now, this is simple enough but what always makes me nervous is the reliance on luck. Maybe there aren’t any marshrutkas at the station when you get there, so you wait until one shows up. Maybe the passing marshrutka is full. Maybe you can’t read Georgian letters quickly enough to figure out if you need to hail that marshrutka or not (this is the reason I usually walk a little further to go to the stations, actually). Although all these “maybes” always make me nervous about “marshrutka-ing it”, I haven’t yet had any problems. On one of my trips there were no marshrutkas destined for my town, so I took a marshrutka to the next town and got off along the highway (a longer walk, but not at all a problem). Though I remain skeptical of the system’s efficiency, it seems to work and has been working for millions of people for years…
Update May 25, 2012:
I’ve noticed from my WordPress stats that many people seem to be finding this post looking for advice on how to ride a marshrutka, so I’ve written another post dedicated to that subject just for you!