Bishkek's ubiquitous white minivans follow fixed routes around the city, ferrying passengers from place to place. Marshrutki (pl.) can be flagged down anywhere on the street and you can get out at any point, not just at bus stops. To get on, you simply stick out your arm, and to get out, you ask the driver to stop. There are usually somewhere around fifteen seats inside, but people also stand in the aisles in close quarters. (The term cattle car was never more accurately applied to a form of mass transport.) At rush hour you will find yourself pressed into intimate embraces with strangers as you attempt to hold on to the railings on the ceiling while exiting passengers squeeze by behind you. The drivers seem to enjoy accelerating rapidly and slamming on the brakes, so hold on tight to whatever is closest. Sometimes the marshrutki are so crowded that you will end up in a contorted position with your butt pressed up against the windshield. Even the non-devout may pray not to die in a fiery crash as the driver simultaneously counts passengers, collects fares, makes change, turns up the music, smokes, and talks on his cell phone.
The word marshrutka comes from the Russian marshrutnoye taksi, or routed taxicab, and they are common in countries of the former Soviet Union. Each marshrutka has its own style, as the drivers are free to decorate as they see fit and to play whatever music suits their mood. They are privately owned, and the drivers are under pressure to collect as many fares as possible, hence the overcrowding. Tourists are often recommended to avoid marshrutki and take taxis instead, which are generally safer and far more comfortable.