The omnipresent marshrutka (Russian for taxi van) or երթուղային տաքսի (մարշրուտկա) is an invaluable part of transportation all over Armenia as well as most all post-Soviet and Central Asian countries. They exist as a privately-owned and operated supplement for inefficient and incapable public transportation. Whether a Gazelle or a Ford Transit, whether diesel or natural gas, you can’t look around any city without coming across a marshrutka. Using the marshrutka system is a great way to get around on a budget, and in the spirit of the AYF Youth Corps program, allows the rider to experience the real Armenia…rather than a touristy bus, or taxi. However, there are some important rules to follow…so you don’t look like a noobie.
Be ready for your personal space to disappear
While you might get on the van (which has 16 total seats) with 4-5 people, the number of riders will quickly multiply…exponentially. 6…8…10..14…16…20…22…24…26…and the most I’ve ever seen 28 people packed like sardines. While everyone is contorted and smooshed, there is a certain elegance to it all that resembles some sort of acrobatic act, or ballet. Sweltering at times, the seats next to the windows are few and very much in demand. While the men tend to drip sweat, and remind us of the sparse usage of deodorant, the female riders, never flinch, never sweat and never lose any of their gracefulness.
Know proper marshrutka etiquette
Marshrutka etiquette always says that first-come-first-served doesn’t exist. Men give up their seats to women…and everyone give up their seats to the elderly. Also, people actually help each other, and you should be ready to help your fellow riders. Help them in and out, help open the door when people need to get out, help get change to a rider leaving the van, help each other carry bags and groceries. This is all unspoken and a very powerful indicator of the communal and hospitable aspects of Armenia.
Don’t ask how much
Wanna look like a rookie? Ask how much the ride costs when you get on. Wanna look like a pro, either assume it’s a 100 dram, or keep a keen eye out on how much riders leaving the van are paying. Also, always keep in mind that you pay the driver when you leave for your stop. If you have more than one rider with you, pay together and mention how many riders you’re paying for.
Know your route
Different marshrutkas have different routes and the best way you can find out which you need is by asking locals. Don’t wait to get on the van and ask where it goes, ask the locals in the area you are in which van you need to get to where you are going. It is critical to note that the driver will never announce the stops along the way..so know where you are going and when to ask the driver to pull over…or else you’ll end up at the end of the route.
Getting lost is the best way to experience the country
Try it! Don’t worry about getting lost, or taking longer than expected to get to where you are going. The satisfaction and personal experience of using public transportation, along with the thousands of drams saved from using taxis is well worth it.