Getting in Cars with Strangers: Transportation in Astana

*If you are my mother, you should probably not read this post. Or if you do, don’t worry! I never travel alone, so nothing to fear!*

As I’ve mentioned before, the capital city of Astana is a booming city with a lot of expansion and construction everywhere! The university campus, where we live, is set about a mile south of the city, which I assume was intentional to account for future urban sprawl and expansion of the university itself. The downside to being isolated from downtown proper is that we are far from everything. Sure, if the weather was warmer we could find some bikes to ride into the city or my favorite, take a nice long walk! However, when the temperature average is in the single digits, traveling exposed to the elements for 15-30 minutes is not ideal.

For enclosed transportation, we have a few options. Public transportation is currently limited to the bus (though a light-rail is in the works somewhere…?). The bus is cheap, only about 30¢/person per ride! It stops on the other end of campus and many of the buses seem to run directly downtown every few minutes. I’ve taken the bus a few times and have yet to sit; it’s always been standing room only. I also have not learned the bus routes other than one that I know goes to one of the big shopping centers. Overall, the bus is a cheap and somewhat regular option for transportation if you know where you are going.

Ride-share programs, such as Uber, are also pretty popular and very cheap. For those of you who have never used these types of programs (and only hear the horror stories from the news), they are quite simple. Using the app, you download on your phone, you enter where you are and where you want to go, and the app will search for drivers in your area. Once you’ve selected your driver, they show up, you communicate where you want to go, and they take you there. It is all done through credit card, so you don’t have to worry about carrying/exchanging cash. Drivers and passengers both have ratings, so it is possible to avoid the assholes and creeps. You don’t pay per person, so the more you have in the car, the cheaper it is; most of the rides we take work out to be $1.50 to $2.50 total.

While it is possible to find licensed taxis downtown, it is harder to find these by campus without calling to order one. Instead, it is easier to walk out to the main road and flag down what people call a “gypsy taxi.” The first time my husband referred to this, I was like, “What the f—k are you talking about?” Ah, my sheltered life. It is essentially hitchhiking. It’s easy to raise your arm and have someone pull over to see where you want to go. You work out a price, they’ll drop you off at your destination or nearby, and you pay in cash. Yes, like Uber, it involves getting in cars with strangers, but without the record of it happening. It is so convenient though, especially if you are just going a mile down the road like we usually are. Another nice part is not having to wait for your Uber driver to find you. Many know where to go, but one night a few weeks ago, we waited 20 minutes outside in 2°F weather with whipping winds waiting for our Uber. We gave up when he said he still couldn’t find us and hailed a gypsy taxi is a matter of a minute. While this form of transportation is a little more expensive than Uber, it is still only about $2-4 total.

As I mentioned in my notice above, I have yet to travel anywhere by myself yet, mostly because there hasn’t been a need. Since I don’t speak Russian yet, I will stick to the bus for the sake of anonymity; however, when I’m with a group, I definitely do not mind getting a private car instead of waiting in the cold!


4 thoughts on “Getting in Cars with Strangers: Transportation in Astana

  1. evy says:

    Sorry if this was mentioned before and I read over it, but does your husband speak Russian? Or does he teach in English? Gypsy taxy sounds cool but it would be nice to have a fellow cyclist in Astana once the weather improves.


    • skybluegoldensun says:

      We are both learning Russian. He’s been here a few months more than me, so he knows how to communicate prices and where we want to go.


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