To get from place to place in Ulaanbataar, one need only stand on the curb, put out a limp wrist, insouciantly, and a random, unmarked car will soon pull over and ask your destination. The driver agrees to take you there, and waits as you pile into the backseat. Then they drive you there — with right handed steering wheels, but on the right side of the street – like American postal vehicles!
These are NOT taxis – they’re just people who drive around and pick up people. But it is not hitchiking, either – they tell you the price at the end and you’re expected to pay it. The price is lower than a taxi, I’m told, but the taxis have the advantage of trunk space, so if you’re embarking on a “serious” ride, say, to the airport, it should be a “real” taxi.
There doesn’t seem to be any sense of rivalry or ill will between the taxi drivers and these “freelancers,” as far as I could tell. Although only men have picked us up so far, many women take these rides by themselves. It seems safe, fully tolerated by the police, and culturally well established. When I asked my host about it, she said she’d probably discourage her young daughter from taking a ride alone, but wouldn’t really worry if she did. “We are all the same people and we know each other,” she said.
Much less pleasant, though, is the prolonged honking of many motorists; they express their impatience with 3-5 seconds-long laying on the horn when they feel another vehicle should move. Usually the traffic is totally impacted at that point, and no one can move an inch, so it’s just “self expression” of the noisiest sort! And oh yes, (don’t worry Mom, but – ) there is absolutely no quarter given to pedestrians. Although no one is driving drunk or speeding, drivers also do not yield in the least to pedestrians ~ it’s up to you to jump out of the way!
Impressions from a busy day on “Peace Street” in downtown Ulaanbataar….