Imagine my surprise on Monday as we stood outside a popular Moscow restaurant and I learned from my colleague that we would hitch a ride back to the hotel. With three people in our group, we stood on the curb doing our best to grab passing drivers’ attention. Within two minutes, four cars had stopped. Question 1: are you going near our hotel. Question 2: how much will it cost. With the location and price agreed and a car to fit three passengers (amongst sippy cups, baby seats and discarded magazines), we were on our way.
So, taxis. A valuable window into the Moscow economy. In most markets (like London and NY), there are two safe options. Option one is preferred, but comes at a premium—the company car. A person waits for you and personally delivers you to your destination (generally in a luxury car). The second option is the Yellow Cab. You just walk out and grab one—they’re accredited and licensed and generally safe and fair.
In Moscow, however, I was treated to paradigm shift. Here, private cars are commonplace but private vehicles take the place of the yellow cab. If you haven’t pre-booked a company car, you must stand on the side of the road and flag down a ride. It’s similar to hitch hiking in the US, but way more folks stop to help. When folks stop you discuss where you’re going and if it’s on their way and payment. So long as they’re going your way (generally), the cost of the lift is generally a quarter or half of the cost of a private pre-booked car. And for the locals, it’s a great way for them to fund their car payment and fuel costs. And, to the passenger’s benefit hitching costs a half to quarter of what pre-booked cars may.
Not generally to go along with the flow on potentially life-threatening arrangements, I initially questioned the safety of this option. Apparently it’s mainstream and the only way to get home if not convenient to public transport.
Welcome to Moscow where the upper and lower ranges are covered, but the middle has yet to be activated.
The appears to be true of local hotels. When booking through our corporate agent, there’s a conference in town and so every available option was in the neighbourhood of 16,000 rubles (ie ~£320 or $640). Not wanting to spend so much on accommodation, I asked that they keep looking. FINALLY, they found an acceptable hotel with a room rate of £150 ($300 per night). Anything less expensive would have been scarily inadequate…a la Bates Motel. The Mid-market hasn’t yet been activated. There’s a huge market opportunity for motivated entrepreneurs.