A traveller wanting to hire a cab in St. Petersburg in 1900 would first find themself bargaining over the price, possibly with several cab drivers at once. Petersburg cab drivers were a pretty intimidating lot - and in 1900 there were 13,666 of them in the city. Cab drivers were called "izvostchik" in Petersburg and it was easy to spot one. They wore big padded blue coats, bound about the waist by a sash or thick belt, and black hats. These padded blue coats were worn year round - even in summer. In winter coachmen would add huge splendid furs to their outfit - making them appear like huge Siberian bears. Bigger was better as far as the cab drivers were concerned. Like sumo wrestlers girth and bulk were both admired and envied amongst them. Cab companies competed for the biggest and most impressive drivers. Huge beards were also the sign of a fine driver - and customers often remembered them for the color and style of their facial hair.
Coming outside one's hotel to select a cab first began with the cab drivers fighting over which one was to have the honor of carrying you to your destination "I'm his driver" exclaims one cab driver - "I took him to Yelagin yesterday!"; "No way, I took him all over the city for three days in a row, right, mi-Lord?"
In reply, it was good form to 'play the game' and find fault with both drivers, their carriages or their horses - for THIS was the real start of the negotiation that would determine how much you would pay.
All izvoschiks had the same nickname, "Vanka", and they were almost always employees of a cab company which paid them approximately $4.00 a month, or about $77.00 in today's money, when he didn't own his own carriage. The driver also had to pay the company back $2.00 every day out of the fares he had earned. If he didn't pay the company $2.00 everyday the amount was deducted from his pay.
There were no fixed rates for cab transportation - it was a complete free-for-all. Foreigners were at a complete disadvantage and they might pay a third of the price for the same route the next time they took it. If the traveller took it in stride, as a game, they did best, with laughter and good-humour.
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