Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Drunk after a long meal of wine and barbecue, I’d stand at the curb, wave my hand, and miraculously a dozen odd vehicles would line up on the street, honking and shouting, asking to take me somewhere. The cars were anything from dusty Lada Jigulis to shining Mercedes, anyone who was out driving and bored or needing some extra cash was there to pick up strangers on the side of the road.
Even if you didn’t need a taxi, often a car would pull up to your side and creep along, with the driver sticking his head out and whispering, “Taxi? Taxi? You want taxi?” My American lady friends thought they were just being targeted by creepy guys, but this wasn’t necessarily the case. The Georgian taxi driver did this to everyone. Albeit, this didn’t mean he wasn’t creepy…
That was the taxi situation 10 years ago.
Times have changed though.
Recent laws and Georgians’ love for copying successful trends have done a lot. Firstly, the government required every street taxi to undergo a white facelift and to get a proper license. So now when you wave your hand, only a couple of white cars will pull over, and each of those white cars will typically have a taxi sign and a license. Probably for the better, but it has certainly decreased the completely random conversations with old guys about how they’ve got 12 law and medical degrees from the Soviet Union and now they’re stuck driving a taxi in Tbilisi.
Prius, the unofficial car of Tbilisi taxi drivers
The other big thing is that deep in the taxi cave, where the Taximus Prime, Lord of Taxis lives, it was decided that every taxi driver should drive a Prius. He snapped his fingers and it became so. Now if you’re a taxi driver without a Prius, you’re dreaming of buying a Prius, and if you’re a security guard secretly yearning to be a taxi driver, then you think you have to buy a Prius first. And if you’re a Prius driver who doesn’t operate a taxi, you get confused for a taxi all the time. The trend is inexplicable, except in the case of there actually being a taxi god.
Getting a taxi and for how much
Just like hailing a taxi anywhere else: You stick your arm up when you see an approaching taxi. It’s easy these days to tell who is a taxi as the car must be white and there will be a sign on top, it will be lit red for occupied and green for available (not always, plenty of drivers are too lazy for this function).
Is he available? Is he not? Does he have a passenger? Eh, who cares!
The majority of taxis do not have meters. That means YOU MUST negotiate in advance. If you don’t, they’ll likely assume you’re an idiot foreigner and charge you an absurd amount of money. Within a neighborhood, expect from 3-5 lari, if you’re taking the taxi from one neighborhood to the next, like Rustaveli to Vake, expect 4-8 lari. If you’re going across town, expect 8-12 lari maximum. It’s okay to refuse a taxi and take someone else. Here I’m giving you typical foreigner rates, as Georgians can get them even cheaper.
Sometimes it's a Prius followed by a Mercedes
Tbilisi Taxi Apps
The best way to get a taxi is to just use an app. Bolt, Maxim, and Yandex all operate pretty large fleets here and you’ll generally never have to wait more than 8 minutes. Download the app ahead of time, and you can even use your credit card. Uber does not have a presence here, as they have a strategic deal with Yandex that they won’t enter any more post-Soviet markets. Do note Yandex is a Russian company (Maxim is Ukrainian, Bolt is Estonian), which doesn’t matter much except there apparently have been some reports that they send your info back to the Motherland. Those reports are from Georgian reporters though, so take that with a grain of salt.
Take a seat. Guys typically take the passenger seat up front. Ladies always in the back. Ladies should sit in the back because they don’t have to worry about the Costanza Move, “Stopping Short”, as illustrated here:
It’s generally pretty fun sitting in front for guys though. For one, you get to witness firsthand all the absurd driving going on. For two you can get into all sorts of awkward conversations about your salary, religion, and political positions – generally a taxi driver will bring up everything you consider taboo to discuss back home.
Most taxi drivers will flat out refuse a tip, or even get confused and possibly insulted by your insistence to give extra money. Which is weird, because if you don’t have change they’ll also gladly keep the change when you didn’t intend to give them any. This I think depends on where they’re from. There are plenty of taxi drivers from the villages who don’t know what tipping is, and then there are those Tbilisi old timers who often do everything to cheat you out of your coins.
Other times it's a Mercedes followed by a Prius
Tbilisi airport taxi
There is a taxi mafia that exists at the airport, like anywhere else. Don’t use them. Supposedly the cost from the Tbilisi airport to the center should be about 25 or 30 lari to get to the center from the airport, but in reality these guys will try to charge you the equivalent in euro, or even charge up to 100 euro for the trip. The best thing then is to use one of the taxi apps, or to shuffle on over to the Arrivals gate and catch a taxi just arriving and dropping someone off. They’ll take you to the center for anywhere from 15 to 30 lari, which is far more appropriate.
And you’re off!
Now you should be prepared for taking a taxi in Tbilisi. That’s all the advice I can give you. By and large, they’re super friendly people, and I suggest chatting and getting some insight on the country. Most taxi drivers have chosen their profession because they enjoy people (and because they’re desperate for cash and their favorite hobby is driving in circles). But yeah, they’re nice people. Just start off by saying how much you love Georgia, and you’ll get a positive experience every time.
And yet other times it's a... wait, what is that car?
Lastly, if you’re looking for somewhere to go in that taxi, think about heading to the Philharmonia where you can start on a GPS-guided audiotour of Rustaveli that I’ve prepared over on VoiceMap. Check it out here. And if you enjoy it, please rate it!