In Bishkek, as in many cities, public transportation is the primary and most effective way to get around town. There are four widely-used types of public transportation here: municipal bus, trolleybus, taxi, and marshrutka.
Locals have mentioned to me that marshrutkas are their most disliked method of transportation, but they are also evidently the most widely used type of transport in Bishkek. Bishkek’s marshrutkas are rather easy to recognize: the boxy white or yellow minivans that constantly weave among cars and buses to move their passengers swiftly to bus stops near and far. At 10 som ($0.14 USD) a ride, the marshrutka remains one of the cheapest ways to get around the city, and, after taxi, it is the second-fastest.
However, the marshrutkas’ speed and low cost are more than offset by their rather poor safety record, for marshrutka drivers tend to be extraordinarily bold while ferrying their cargo through the city. During rush hour, marshrutkas can become overfilled with people so adamant about getting home quickly that up to twenty passengers may crowd into a single vehicle. This experience can be a massive culture shock to those who have never been enclosed in a small moving space with several other people. It was certainly a culture shock for me when I first rode the marshrutka.
The marshrutka drivers also do not to call out stops or street names, making it harder for foreigners like me (I’ve been in the city for only a week) to know where to get off. Once during rush hour, the van was filled with so many people that I could not even see my stop, so I missed it by accident. I’ve found that using the 2gis app (which contains a GPS-enabled map of Bishkek with bus and marshrutka routes) helps greatly in knowing where my next bus stop is as well as which marshrutka or bus I need to take to arrive at my destination. Without the 2gis app, I fear that I would already have gotten lost many times.
2. Bus and Trollybus
Those traveling to Bishkek who feel that the marshrutka is too extreme for them can either walk, take the trolleybus, or hail a taxi. I have already walked a few times to the London School as well as rode the trolleybus, which costs 8 som ( $0.11 USD). My walk to the London School from my homestay is about 2.6 km (1.62 miles) and provides some much-needed exercise before and after class. Public buses are also a more comfortable way to reach the school in about 20 minutes. It also helps shelter passengers from the summer heat and provides spacious seating arrangements while also swiftly navigating the city.
Taxis are yet another convenient way to get around Bishkek; however, they are much more expensive than the marshrutka or municipal buses. My taxi ride to school normally costs more than 100 som ($1.40 USD), but it is quicker, safer, and more private than other modes of transportation. Bishkek has a few ride-hailing apps that are similar to Uber; the most popular are Namba Taxi and Yandex Taxi. So far, I have had great experiences using the Namba Taxi app and with the safety and courtesy of their drivers.
In the end, I would highly recommend that those interested in sojourning to Bishkek take either the trolleybus or taxi when in need of public transportation in the city. Out of all the widely-used types of transportation here in Bishkek, I personally prefer walking, taking a taxi, or riding the trolleybus for its comfort and spacious seating. As of now, I have come to the conclusion that I will only take the marshrutka if I am in a hurry.