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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Fare Deal? Testing Time for Taxis

It is the great hope of city transportation planners that some day, paying for a taxi in Moscow will not be like haggling over the price of tomatoes at an outdoor market.

To that end, yet another breed of experimental taxis, equipped with meters, has hit the streets of Moscow, determined to break the grasp of the gypsy cab.

The first returns, however, indicate that metered taxi fares are not in the immediate future of Moscow cab riders.

The new Moskvich cabs are bright yellow. They have little lights on their roofs. And, under the ash tray, they have an electronic meter, which calculates how much you pay, based on how far you travel.

Since the city's system of taxi parks was privatized in 1991, bringing taxi meters the same fate as statues of KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky, bargaining has been the rule. But imagine not having to stand in the street, stick your head into a window and yell about how much to pay for a ride home.

So far, so good, except that the people yelling right now are the taxi drivers, who say it is impossible to make a living by the meter.

"If someone wants to ride by the meter, I'll tell them to sit behind the wheel, turn on the meter and drive themselves," said Gennady, 30, a taxi driver who wouldn't give his last name. "I'll tell them how to get there."

Gennady, who works out of the 17th Taxi Park on the fringes of the city along Volokolamskoye Shosse, is driving one of several shiny new Moskviches bought by his taxi park as part of the newest experiment.

To listen to him and drivers like him, though, is to abandon hope that Moscow will ever adjust to the meter.

He rents the cab from the taxi park for 85,000 rubles (almost $20) a day. He spends about 54,000 rubles a day on gas. And then there's inflation, spare parts, and the wife and children he has to feed. A quick set of informal calculations showed that he would have to make around 350,000 rubles a day to live normally.

That means he would have to set his meter at 1,500 rubles per kilometer, assuming there is always a passenger in the car. And that never happens.

"Competing with the chastniki [gypsy cabs] is impossible," Gennady said. "They run red lights to pick up passengers."

This is not the first time the city has licensed some cab drivers to try their fortune on the street. In January, the city struck a deal with the South Korean firm Daewoo to buy about 7,500 fully equipped cabs, and set three on the roads as trial models.

The three Daewoos are still on the road, but the contract has not been completed, said Valery Naumov, the chief specialist in the city's department of transportation and communication.

Enter the Moskviches. Naumov, who wasn't sure exactly how many trial models were on the road, said the city is trying these specially developed cars to see how well they hold up. Over the next several weeks, he said, the city will decide which taxis to use on a large-scale basis. And that's when the meters will be set.

"The tariff depends on the kind of car that we use," he said. Daewoos, Moskviches and even Mercedes -- yes, the city once contemplated using the ultimate status symbol as a taxi -- all have different fuel economies and upkeep costs.

Naumov feels assured that once the choice is made, taxi drivers will have no choice but to switch on the meter for each passenger.

"He will be required to use the meter," Naumov said. "There is a law."

The law of the city of Moscow and the law of the road, however, are not always the same. Sergei, the deputy director of the first division of the 17th Taxi Park, says meters will come, even if drivers have to set them higher every week.