For many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a taxi driver in Russian was anyone who had a car and not enough money, which meant almost all drivers. For this reason, official taxis were few and far between, and tended to be expensive, making it difficult for travelers to safely catch a cab. The last few years have seen fares drop considerably, however, and more and more taxi companies now offer reasonably priced services.
If you wish to take a taxi, you will need to call a reputable cab company, a list of which you can find here. Most companies will now be able to get a car to you anywhere in the centre in 15-20 minutes. There is usually a minimum fare of around $10, which covers the first 5km of your journey. After that, you pay per kilometer, and the price will be calculated when you book. You will need to give the operator a phone number that you can be contacted on.
Although it is still possible, flagging a car in the street is not advisable unless you have good Russian and a reasonable knowledge of the city. Apart from the obvious safety risks of getting into a stranger's car, the majority of "gypsy cab" drivers are now recent immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus who do not necessarily know the topography of St. Petersburg and rarely have GPS. A yellow sign or light on the roof of a car does not mean that it is an official taxi, whatever the driver may tell you.
If you do decide to risk it, and it is still common practice among locals, then never get into a car with more than one person, always agree on a fare before you get in (if you don't have the language skills to haggle, just show the driver how much you are willing to pay and state your destination clearly), and do not feel compelled to get into any car that stops - if you don't like the look of the driver, just wave them on and wait for somebody else to stop.
|History of St. Petersburg Taxis
The first taxis appeared on St. Petersburg streets in 1906, and for about 30 years they coexisted with regular horse-drawn cabs - izvozchiki. The number of taxis grew quickly and by 1913 there were 328 cars serving as taxis. All such cars were equipped with meters and had yellow stripes and taxi signs on the sides.
During the 1917 Revolution all taxis were confiscated for the needs of the Red Army and the government. The taxi service in the city was reintroduced only in 1929. A year later the city had 83 taxis which people could use after 5 pm only (this regulation, however, was short-lived).
In 1990 the city had 4 500 taxis which served about 150 thousand people a day. The last several years have seen an emergence of private taxis and even private taxi companies, though the number of people who can afford to use taxis has sharply declined.