Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Life in Ukraine - Local transportation

There is never a time, day or night, when there is not someone walking on the streets and roads of our town and countryside.  They are not walking for fun or exercise.  They are walking to get from point A to point B.  Because they have no other means of transportation; because they cannot afford a taxi; because the public transportation, good as it is, only goes to certain places.

They are carrying something.  Usually shopping bags.  Or pushing or pulling something to help carry the load.  Old baby carriages, strollers, home-made wagons.

There are bicycles.  Not for fun or exercise or status but because the rider could afford one, usually long ago, from the looks of the bikes. They also double as transportation for goods; i have seen three large bags of vegetables tied onto a bike and the owner pushing it along.  There are some new bicycles, too, but no fancy multi-multi gear speed bikes, mostly wide tire mountain type bikes to deal with the roads.

Sometimes you see pictures of families loaded onto a scooter with small ones precariously balanced.  The pictures are usually titled something like "bad parenting".  No, these people are making do with what they can afford for transportation.  Those with a little money will buy scooters; those with a little more money will buy motorcycles, like the ones we rode in the early 70s. The safety conscious may have helmets.  If they can afford them and gas too.

Taxis may have regulations and standards but I expect they are honoured more in the breach.  Standards and regulations add to cost if you don't mind what you ride in.  There are two taxi "companies" in town.  How they are organized, I don't know.  But they have central numbers and dispatchers. There are also lots of freelancers on certain days.  You buy a taxi light for the top of your car and hang out where people need rides.  Like grocery stores.

The rates are dirt cheap.  Some cabs have meters, most do not.  There are sort of zones and rates are similar within those zones.  But you always ask first.  From our house to downtown is about 6 km and costs $3 plus or minus. Gasoline is the same price here as Canada so go figure.

The cars are usually old beaters, bought for a couple hundred bucks and maintained and repaired by the owner.  Ladas, Volgas, Samaras, sometimes a Moskvich or a Zhiguli.  Once in awhile a newer Daewoo or ZAZ, both made in Zaporizhzhia.  There is one relatively new BMW in town with a taxi sign on it but I think it is a free lance.  Of course in the larger cities the cars are newer, nicer and the rates higher.

Public transportation in town and to the surrounding countryside and villages is not as frequent as it was in Soviet times but still runs often enough to be very useful.  The buses and minibuses are also old beaters, bought from the larger centres as they bring in good used from Germany or elsewhere.

The farther out from the large centres you get, the older the cars are.  We have more old Ladas than Dnipropetrovsk which likely has more than Kyiv.  And in the villages, old beaters got to die.  Our town has a good mix of newer cars, more every year though I have no idea how they are paid for as the economy is the pits.  Mostly lower end stuff like Ladas, Daewoos, Cherys, Aveos in that order but better brands too.  And of course those that can afford it go all out for conspicuous consumption.  Black cars with black windows.


  1. Very interesting post. I suppose most of the people who are forced to travel on foot or by bicycle would prefer to have cars if they could afford them. And yet when everyone does have a car and no one walks anywhere - as I saw when I would go back to my old home town in the USA to visit family there - those villages and towns also seem to have lost all sense of community. They seem to have paid a heavy price for greater ease in transport (and greater wealth, for that matter). Or am I looking backward with rosy spectacles at what was probably just a tougher life. How to keep the best of the past while also welcoming development: always a problem!

  2. There are losses and gains in every social or economic shift. And winners and losers. Which is why all "reforms" are opposed by some. I would guess 80% of the citizens of the FSU were better off under the Soviet System than they are now. Society, at least in Siberia, where Tanya was from, was much closer knit, people were far more equal and they were looked after by the system.

  3. When it takes so much longer to get places and do things, does it follow that there is less frenetic activity too? I am not minimizing the economic hardship where you live but wonder if our affluent, automobile addicted lifestyles really increase stress-driving in traffic, thinking you can do a great many things because of the transportation. We have one car and I often make my way around by foot, public transit or cycle. On those days I tend to be more realistic about how much I can accomplish.

    1. When you have no money, all you have it time. Everything takes longer. Inefficient use of time means wages are low. Low wages encourages inefficient use of time. When I see so many people walking, walking, walking, I think "don't these people have something to do?" and the answer is no, they don't. Life is geared to accomplishing very little.

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