Marshrutka, My Sh-route-ka: Interview with a Driver

If there’s anything a Peace Corps Volunteer can relate to, it’s shoving herself into a stuffy, smelly, overcrowded minibus (in Romanian, it’s called a “rutiera,” but down Comrat way we use the Russian term “marshrutka” (маршрутка)) for a bumpy ride with a barnyard atmosphere.


You’re in the back row of one of these beasts. You’re squished between a бабушка and your friend in a 6-person situation, though there are only 5 seats. (There was an empty seat you could have snagged, right before take-off, if that asshole up front hadn’t saved the seat with his bag. Every time – you’ve come to accept it.) The smell of corn wafts when the bus wheel glances off the edge of a pothole, forcing fresh air up through the poorly-insulated back doors and disturbing the caged chicks, who begin to peep with a little alarm. It’s hot (yes, it’s summer – you feel the sweat sling from your temple into the corner of your eye, where it stings a little) and you can’t breathe well. But that one (and only one) Russian love-pop song you actually like is blaring on the radio right now, so you’re still chipper. You’re even grateful that the guy right in front of you, sitting on a little stool in the middle of the walkway, didn’t glare when you kicked him lightly in the ribs as you tried to uncross your legs (there wasn’t enough room to do it). Everyone just wants to get home, especially the cat mewling from some lady’s purse.


In most towns, when you first approach your маршрутка, you’ll be greeted by a man who stands outside the bus – your regular sidewalk usher. He’ll tell you where to go, often by blaring the destination, baritone. I’m not sure how they’re paid, but I once spotted a man in Chişinau who stalked from bus to bus as they glided and bumped toward waiting passengers. He’d announce, then lean in the open front door. It seemed like the men were greeting each other, old buddies passing on cigarettes and juicy quips. But one man was handed a stack of lei – which had me questioning whether the drivers pay for this service.

Always look out for the flash-grin drivers, who love to poke fun. Every time one guy in the South Bus Station outside of Chişinau sees my friend Rachel, he tells her it’s $200 back to Comrat (it’s really only 45 lei, about $2.25).

I wanted to get a better sense of these drivers after my personal experiences (one driver missing a specific and clearly communicated stop, and subsequently stranding us at a gas station on a highway in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night where we planted ourselves in the middle of the shoulder where we “could hitchhike”) and all of the stories (they’re gruff! they’re strange! they’re funny! they’re weird, and bossy! you’ve got to be aggressive to drive!) from my local friends.

I went with one of my partners to solicit some interviews at the Comrat bus station the other morning, and two Comrat drivers agreed to assuage my curiosity.

DmitriiDmitrii is a native Comrat driver who has been working the field for 39 years. He’s driven everywhere – in the North, the Center, even in Russia; currently, he’s got a big green bus that goes between Comrat and Ceadir-Lunga. When you get into this business, he says, “you’re not given a second chance to choose a profession.” Dmitrii is a part of a “dynasty” of drivers – his father, and his 5 brothers, chose the same path. But Dmitrii says he fell in love with the profession, and for him, “it’s romance; it’s life.”

In order to become a driver, “You need to learn to work as a driver for a minimum of 3-4 years, then to work 3 years around the city, then 5 years in the suburbs, and then start up between cities. You need to get the driver’s category ‘D’. You need to be neat, you have to be attentive – you have to be a driver. But first you need to be a person.”

He likes working with his passengers, varied as they are – “There are emotional people, there are different people; drunk, and dirty, we get all kinds. Though you need to tolerate it.” And almost every day is interesting. “There are inattentive people, they sit down with you. I start up, for example, going to Ceadir-Lunga, go about halfway, and they say, ‘excuse me, but this doesn’t go to Chişinau?’ And they have tickets in their hands, they sat down with me, but they don’t know where they sat!” People will sleep through a trip, and then stand, asking for their destination – one they passed long ago. Others forget bags, or anything, really.


Dmitrii’s favorite aspect of his profession is his relationships with his passengers, but given the opportunity to communicate his expectations, he wants all of his passengers to know that the ride is about respect. “I want to appeal to the passengers – they respect me, and I’ll respect them. Here, you see the bus is clean, and neat, and please, this is how it should be.”


Valerii1Valerii, also from Comrat and a man of few words, is currently driving a маршрутка between Comrat and Cantemir, a regional center outside of Gagauzia. Valerii began his career as an army driver, where he served for two years. He transitioned to driving buses after attending auto school in Comrat and Chişinau, and has been working on a маршрутка since 2002 or 2003. Though now 26 years deep, he’s “been behind the wheel since childhood” and still enjoys communicating with his passengers. It seems as though his choice to drive was also a matter of course – in Moldova, “we don’t have coal, there’s nothing to mine.”

But unless you make a habit of sitting in the front seat (and naturally, acting as the person who passes change back to the other passengers), you won’t really get to know the drivers – your маршрутка experience is far more about local culture. Riding on the маршрутка is the best way to understand the lack of personal space characteristic of Moldova. You’re also introduced to the family-like mentality and a blanket level of trust. A seated passenger will notice one of her standing neighbors struggling with an overwhelm of bags, purses and groceries and will offer up the free space in her lap. Sometimes, this free space will be used to seat a floating child. Others use the маршрутка as an alternate postal system, sending packages from one town to the next, where a friend will be waiting at one of the mosaicked stops on the side of a country road.

BazaarMarshrutkaTraveling this way is convenient and cheap (you can go virtually anywhere in Moldova on a маршрутка – and if you can’t do it by minibus, you ask one of the local taxi drivers to get you the rest of the way you’re going). However, it can get messy when trying to schedule a trip – the Moldovan transportation website isn’t always accurate, and the bus station attendants even less so. Yes, you may hear from an attendant that you can get from point A to point B this way, only to discover, upon arrival, that your connection doesn’t exist! And the last buses are often early, so it’s not hard to get stuck in an undesired destination.


So much of the life in this country revolves around this zany transportation. The history is becoming our history…

We won’t forget that balmy Chişinau morning, around 9, when my friends and I stepped off in Cimişlia for a weak coffee and a sugary wake-me-up. We observed two grandmothers who were taking shots of vodka, soberly, in front of the coffee counter. Do you think we followed suit?

For those interested, the Russian transcription of the interviews follows:


  1. Как вас зовут? Дмитрий зовут меня.
  2. Откуда вы? Я из Комрата.
  3. Сколько времени вы работаете водителем маршрутки? Очень много. Стаж у меня 39 лет.
  4. Что нужно делать, чтобы стать водителем маршрутки? Что нужно делать? Надо отучиться на водителя проработать минимум 3-4 года, потом надо работать 3 года по городу, потом 5 лет на пригород, а потом пускает на межгород. Надо иметь категорию “D”. Надо быть опрятным, надо быть внимательным, водителем надо быть. Человек в первых быть.
  5. Почему вы выбрали такой вид работы? Потому что я люблю общаться с людми, люблю работу свою.
  6. Что вам больше всего нравиться в работе водителя? Но я, честно говоря, по своему водительскому стажу, работал на дальнобое, работал на севере, работал везде. Эта романтика, эта жизнь. Если человек выбрал профессию водителем, ему другую профессию выбрать нельзя. Я автодорожный техникум в Кишинёве. Но просто я полюбил водительство. Династия у нас есть, все братья, отец был водителем, все были водители. 5 братев, мы все водители. Я и здесь и в России работал, 5 лет работал в Тюмени. Я работал водителем, на дальнобое работал.
  7. У вас есть интереснии истории о ваших поездах или пассажирах? Есть разные истории. Есть люди, невнимательные садятся тебе, я трогаюсь, например, я еду, например, в Чадыр-Лунгу, доезжаем до полпути, они говорят, извините, а что этот в  Кишинёв не едет? И у него билет в руках, они сели ко мне, и не знают куда сели, и интересно с ними. Разворачиваешься и приезжаешь, привозишь… Вывает человек уснул, будишь, проехал село, встаньте, пожалуйста, а ты где, вы где? Мы в Чадыр-Лунге, а ей надо было выйти в Томае, уснула.  Бывает, сумки забывают, всё бывает. Но с людьми трудно работать. С людьми, это не то же самое, что грузы возить. С людьми надо к каждому уметь подход найти, ну всё надо уметь, потому что это человек, у каждого свой характер, может у него дома плохо или что-нибудь ещё. Надо к каждому подобрать как подойти, как поговорить, как успокоить. Есть эмоциональные люди, есть разные, есть и пьяные, есть и грязные, есть и всё бывает. Но надо терпеть.
  8. Если вы хотели, чтобы ваши пассажиры знали что-нибудь о водителбстве, что вы хотели их знать? Конечно! Хочу обращаться пассажирам, чтобы они уважали меня, и я буду уважать их. Вот видите  автобус чистый, опрятный подал пожалуйста, и так и должно быть. Нужно  уважать друг друга. Такая наша работа.


  1. Как вас зовут? Валерий.
  2. Откуда вы? Из Комрата
  3. Сколько времени вы работаете водителем маршрутки? В девятностого года. Я ещё на автобусе работал. Тогда на автобусы были. На маршрутке, это где-то из двух тысяча второго, третьего года. 26 лет.
  4. Что нужно делать, чтобы стать водителем маршрутки? Нужно иметь первоначальный стаж. До-того как на автобусе нужно иметь 3 года, стажа общего. У меня было 2 года в армии, и год после армии… да, выучился на категорию “D”. Здесь у нас есть, в Kомрате, школа. Уже после семи лет вождения, имеешь право учиться на категорию D. Чтобы водить автобус и прицеп.
  5. Почему вы выбрали такой вид работы? Ну, почему? Как-то так… Тянуло с детства за руль. Потом окончил автодорожный техникум в Кишиневе и  уже пошёл по специальности. В армии был водителем, и потом пошёл водителем. Угля у нас нет, добывать нечего.
  6. Что вам больше всего нравиться в работе водителя? Общение с людьми.

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Haley Bader

Hey! You've made it to my site, and I'm thrilled to introduce myself... my name is Haley, a writer and artist with a passion for adventure, volunteering, cooking and generally tossing myself into some sorts of shenanigans. I hope you enjoy what you find!

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