This is a Marshrutka:
It may look like an ordinary van, but appearances can lie. What you are actually viewing is the ultimate in public transportation. LO! THE MARSHRUTKA.
If you insist on translation, a Marshrutka is either a maxitaxi or a minibus. Cynnical people would called them a shared taxi or a jittney. But either way, it's fucking awesome. Here's how it works. Every Marshrutka has a specific route it follows. You can tell what route the Marshrutka is following by the number on the front of it, or sometimes the route itself is even posted. Anywhere along the Marshrutka's route, you can hail it like you would a cab. And then whenever you want to get off, you just tell the driver to stop and he stops.
When you get on one you have to pay, but often you are nowhere near the driver. In that case, you just pass your money to the front, and the change gets passed back to you. People don't steal. It's quite adorable.
So why is it so much better than a bus? Well, you can get on and off anywhere on the route, not just at stops. But more importantly, these dudes are fast. Basically as fast as a car, and sometimes even faster since they drive like suicide bombers and people get out of the way or they get run off the road. Generally, they are at least twice as fast as buses, and often even faster.
They are used for both city and intercity transport. They also run more frequently and cover more routes that buses. And they're everywhere all over the former Soviet Union and then some. These fuckers rule, and I'd love to see them in America. They're privately run, and there's no reason they couldn't be privately run here too.
Of course, they do have some charming downsides. They're more expensive than regular transportation, usually costing twice what a normal fare does. Also, they are quite small and often overcrowded. Way more than NYC subway crowded. I've been on Marshrutkas half the size of the one in the picture with something like 25 people on them. That's in the space that could maybe seat 8 people. And then some dude at the back wants to get out, and next thing you know your face is in someones crotch. For a long ride, that can get quite uncomfortable. Often you can't see out the windows, either because they're steamed up from all the people inside, or because your head is jammed into a corner since there's nowhere else for it to go. And rarely ever do drivers pass up a fare if the Marshrutka is overcrowded. You can always fit one more.
But I miss them. If I was enterprising I'd start a company. They probably wouldn't work too well in NYC, with the already decent public transportation. But in Chicago--I'd pay 3$ for one of these dudes to get me from Howard to Belmont in the 15 minutes it takes a car instead of the 30 it takes on the El. One of these puppies could follow the red line and make a killing, plenty of people would pay the extra $1.25 to cut their trip time in half. And a 3 dollars a ride, you could make a killing. If you pick up 30 fares in an hour, that's $90. Even if half of that goes to vehicle payments and gas, you're still making $45 an hour. Too bad the Daley cartel would never let that happen. Maybe a city with a large number of people too poor to afford cars, but willing to pay the extra to avoid the shitty public transportation. LA? Houston? Baltimore? Anybody want to start a business?
Marshrutkas waiting for passengers in Bucharest: