Shiny & Clean: The Future We Hope for in Georgian Taxi Services

Like life itself, taxis in Georgia are a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Your driver might be one of the many in the city who smells as though he and water have never met (it’s a sort of stale sweat meets cigarettes and eye-wateringly bad breath sort of odor), whose car looks like it survived the war of 2008, with an engine that runs on gas of some description, and sounds as though it may explode at any moment. But you may also find yourself, as I once did, being driven by a young man who studied at Chester University – “Don’t look at me like that,” he told me in flawless English as my jaw punched a hole in the floor: Chester is a good university, or used to be, but the mad bugger told me he absolutely enjoyed driving his taxi and so didn’t want to apply for any other job; I bet his parents were less than happy.

The cars from taxi companies are generally the best, since there’s less chance of the driver trying it on with their female passengers; if I had a Lari for every time my wife has told me taxi drivers have played the usual Georgian flirting card of ‘You are so beautiful’ and then expressed angry disappointment when she reveals she’s married to a foreigner, I’d be as rich as Croesus. The standard of driving might also be marginally better, but any longer distance journeys outside of the capital generally mean one has to roll the dice of getting transport which is nothing more than a Georgian man with a cheap ‘TAXI’ sign on the roof of his ageing car.

This is really one of the main reasons why I want to see taxi services regulated in Georgia, and why I hope the introduction of regulated ‘official’ cars at Tbilisi International Airport spreads throughout the land. I was very nearly killed last year by a reckless taxi driver trying to show off to my wife and our friend (an incident I recounted on these pages over a year ago), and have been frequently frightened by many others with no other outlet for their testosterone.

In the long-run, entirely regulated taxi services will be good for the country, but their introduction at the airport will see some short-term benefits too. There is nothing more frustrating or embarrassing than meeting friends and family new to the country at the airport and then escorting them through the mass of shouting, unwashed and unkempt men wanting to overcharge them for a relatively short journey; you can see them wondering where the hell they’ve come to. One of them even had the impudence to grab my brother’s arm when he visited the country two years ago, and he’s a shy sort of chap: the good impression thermometer reached an absolute zero from the start for him, and I doubt he’s alone.

One concern consistently raised over regulating taxi services is that it will put many people out of work when they fail to pass the re-vamped driving test or when their vehicles are declared unsafe and unsuitable for use in a service industry. That’s a matter for the government to deal with, I’d say – as awful as it might be for a horde of ageing Georgian men to suddenly be unemployed, I’d rather reach my destination in one piece – and if Georgia wants to impress as a tourist destination, then the taxis around the country had better become as shiny, efficient and clean as those sitting outside the airport.

Tim Ogden

22 February 2018 19:41