Thursday, August 7, 2008

Marshrutka, Matatu... a boneshaker by any other name

Just like matatus in Kenya, most of urban Kyrgyzstan travels in "marshrutkas." We used to have more vans plying the shorter/narrower routes in Colombo too, but bigger Lanka Ashok Leyland buses force their way down most roads in Colombo now. Just like back home, marshrutkas obligingly stop for anyone anywhere, and I've seen with my own eyes (didn't expect Bradt's Kyrgyzstan to come alive in this way) a marshrutka abandon its route to drop the last passengers of the day off somewhere else.

Marshrutkas here mostly "imported" Mercedes goods vans or relic Soviet vans (I swear I saw one with a badge saying "Latvia" on its grille - no idea if that's the real name - most of them don't have any grilles or badging anymore, makes comparison a tad difficult)

The big sliding door on the side is welded shut, and people have to climb in through the passenger door. This allows another row of seats and helps the driver manage fares, I guess - at least when his son/nephew/brother/cousin is not sitting on a seat made of old wire milk crates. Metal piping is bolted on to the roof for handrails. I always manage to knock some poor babushka or aksakal in the head when I'm moving around.

Business innovation has been on my mind what with the project I've been working on. I was quite pleased to see innovation in the second marshrutka in as many days today - a little magnet stuck on the dashboard to catch all the coins sliding around. Notes are tucked into A/C grilles, in the sun visor, in the cubby holes... The guys should give the vans a good cleaning before they dump them, to snag all the spare change that must be knocking around in there.

Today's marshrutka actually had all its dials working - a first as far as I've seen here. Progress! I hear that Bakiev, the president, has just banned marshrutkas in favor of buses in Bishkek, the capital.

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