Updated: Mar 14, 2020
The suicide mobile, colloquially known as the “marshrutka”, is one of the primary modes of transport in Tbilisi and all of Georgia. And indeed, if you visit this country without riding in one of these daredevil tin cans, it can hardly be said that you’ve visited this country at all!
2020 was supposed to be the year ending the marshrutka, where Tbilisi City Hall was going to sit down and re-think all the routes, upgrading the majority of them to larger vehicles. This is primarily because the contract for The Marshrutka Company was going to run out. The Marshrutka Company, believe it or not, was a private company, proving that even private companies can be run as grossly incompetent as the government. Well done TMC! Their webpage is a joke, barely working on PC and forget about it on mobile (I mean, really, who would want to find a transit route on mobile?). Many of their routes simply overlaid already existent routes, the things are always overpacked, always zipping across lanes and cutting off other drivers, and always responsible for causing general mayhem on the streets. But then the genius mayor, Kakha Kaladze, a rich footballer who’s never taken public transit in his life, decided to keep the things around and scrap any plans for serious thought put into the transit system. I take that back, he did do a photo op on the bus once, so…
A beautiful marshrutka cruising down the middle land of Rustaveli
We were lucky a few years ago when they at least integrated the payment system, so that you can use the same card for metro, bus, and marshrutka. And even more, some charitable young Georgian made this web page to find routes. Like, seriously, if people have to do this kind of work for free while you do nothing but count your mounds of tetri, you’ve failed as a transit company.
The only time I ever take a marshrutka is when I’m traversing three neighborhoods and the destination isn’t on the same metro line. So from Isani to Pekini, I’d use a marshrutka. Or going anywhere in Vake, because Vake is a void of valid vehicular options.
Traveling across the country
If you’re wanting to go to the countryside, it’s likely you’ll have to take a marshrutka, as the places you can get to via a reasonable method of transit, ie train, are quite limited. Of course, you can always just rent a car as well. Strangely, there are direct marshrutkas to just about every village in the country.
You can always rent a car from these guys, like I do:
There are two main marshrutka stations in Tbilisi: Didube (Okribe) and Samgori. Smaller ones exist at Isani, Station’s Square, Sports Palace, and a few other places. Follow this basic rule of thumb: To get to anywhere in Kakheti or Kvemo-Kartli, just go to Samgori. To get anywhere else in the country, go to Didube. Just be aware that coming back, you might end up at one of those other stations. Never fear though, they’re all on a metro line (possibly the only reasonable thing about marshrutkas).
Okribe, a great place for marshrutkas and shawarmas
Don’t expect a schedule. Sure, they might say “The next masrhrutka leaves at 1:00”, but what they really mean is, “We’ll leave when we’re full.” Don’t stress out about it. Or even better, just buy a beer and sit back. But do remember there aren’t any pissy pauses.
Also, it’s not normal for marshrutkas to charge for luggage. The guy in Kazbegi tried to do this to me and two of my tourist friends. I told him where he could stick the luggage. He backed off and harassed some Asians instead. That said, you’re kind of at the mercy of the marshrutka driver.
That lady's about to wave down another marshrutka (see tip 2)
How do you ride a marshrutka in Tbilisi?
You figure out which marshrutka you need to take. The routes are printed in Georgian on a small card stuck in the windshield. Probably it’s better to check that guy’s website first.
Wave. The marshrutka will stop for you. Seriously. Unless you’re on a main route, where you have to do this at a bus stop. If you want to look like a local, you’ll actively seek out the most inconvenient and most dangerous place for the van to stop. In the middle of an intersection? Great! On the tightest section of a two-way street where only one car can pass at a time? Even better!
You get on and find a seat. Haha, just kidding. You get on and stand, cramped between a fat man and a lady with botoxed lips so far out that you’ve got to duck, and by ducking you stick your butt in some other lady’s face who’s constantly passive aggressively whining about this fact. And fat Georgian men make it a rule to stand up for every lady that gets on a marshrutka, so the aisle is always impassable. Wouldn’t it be a better rule to let these fat guys sit down and get the heck out of the way?
Since you probably didn’t get a seat, you’ll have to bend down really low to be able to see out and figure out where you are and where you’re going. And since the typical marshrutka driver is usually on his cell phone with one hand and the other is extended out of the cab with a cigarette or making obscene gestures at other drivers, and he’s swinging the wheel like a boat captain in a typhoon, it’s no easy thing to stay upright.
When you’re ready to get off, yell “Gaacheret!” (rhymes with caught). They’ll immediately pull over and stop. Since they like to speed down the middle lane, this often means they’ll cut off two or three lanes of traffic to get you to your stepping-off ground. This is unless you’re on a main road. Then you should yell “Shemdegi gacherebaze gaucheret!”
Squeeze past all the fat guys clogging up the aisle like corks in bottles.
Either give the driver 80 tetri, or a lari or two lari coin (they always have small change), OR swipe your metro card on the glove box until you hear a beep.
Step off and go directly to the medical clinic to make sure you didn’t catch the coronavirus after you were sneezed, coughed, and farted on.
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Also, if you want to tour Rustaveli, get off the marshrutka at Philharmonia and download my audioguide here at VoiceMap.