A Ticket to Ride

Life in Kyiv is often remarkably normal for a country at war with a superpower. Restaurants of every type abound and the grocery store shelves are full. Don’t get me wrong, wartime is not without its risks and inconveniences, but Kyiv is still bustling.

Air raid sirens sound several times a day causing many to shelter in basements or the metro transit system. Occasionally a missile pierces Ukrainian air defences, hitting random targets like parks, hotels and energy facilities. We’ve come to realize that Russians are not known for their compassion nor ballistic accuracy.

Fare or no fair

The Kyiv metro is pretty good although it doesn’t service the entire city and is especially limited in reaching the left bank of the Dnipro where many live. In fact, getting home after a night out has become quite a challenge for many Kyivans.

Since the illegal Russian invasion, the city’s been under a nightly wartime curfew. Everyone is required to be at home by 11pm, and anyone caught walking after curfew risks being fined by the police, or forced to do 200 push-ups as penance.

Uber to the rescue

Thankfully, Ukrainians are resourceful and very technologically savvy. If you miss the last metro train at 10 pm, you have three options: Uber, Bolt and Uklon. Nearly every citizen has a smartphone loaded with Uber and its Estonian and Ukrainian counterpart ridesharing apps. In fact, I’ve noticed a fascinating ritual every night.

To enable staff to get home before curfew, restaurants and bars announce last call between 9:00 and 9:30 with doors closing and lights out at 10 pm sharp. Tardy patrons become stranded on the street and this is when the ridesharing ritual begins.

All over Kyiv revellers crowd the sidewalks outside of restaurants and speakeasys with eyes glued to their smartphones as they play rideshare bingo. Everyone opens all three apps to compare prices for a ride home. With such demand, Uklon even has a feature to increase the price you’re willing to pay for a ride.

Late night Taxi Tango

People swipe back and forth between the apps hoping to get lucky. If you hit the jackpot, you must quickly cancel your other two requests so someone else a chance to yell bingo too.

Since it’s so busy, driving people home is a way for regular car owners to make some money in a pseudo transportation black market. A few weeks ago I had a late dinner in a funky Kyiv neighbourhood called Arsenal’na, an old factory complex transformed into restaurants, bars and hookah lounges.

After dinner we played rideshare bingo for 30 minutes with no luck but we had another option, the black market. The rideshare pick up zone in front of Arsenal’na was a continuous line of private vehicles inching forward just waiting for someone to knock on the window to negotiate a price for a ride.

Like most black market transactions however, the price was exorbitant. But for a Canadian in Kyiv the typical $5 fare increased to $25 for a 30-minute ride. No issue for me, but for many young Ukrainians, $25 is a full day’s wages. That’s why winning the rideshare bingo is a significant jackpot!