Iran in detail

Local Transport

Bus & Minibus

Most Iranian towns and cities have local bus services. Because local buses are often crowded and can be difficult to use unless you know exactly where you’re going, most travellers use the Metro, where possible, or shared and private taxis instead.

Bus numbers and destinations are usually only marked in Farsi, so you need to do a lot of asking around – most people will be happy to help (even if you don’t entirely understand their reply). Except in Shiraz and (sometimes) in Tehran, tickets must be bought at little booths along main streets, or at local bus terminals, before you get on the bus. Tickets cost a few cents.

Small children of both genders and all women have to sit at the back of the bus. This segregation can be complicated if you are travelling as a mixed couple and need to discuss when to get off. You must give your ticket to the driver either when you get on or off, depending on the local system. Women must pass their tickets to the driver while leaning through the front door of the bus and then board the bus using the back door.

Minibuses service local suburban routes and are quite often so crammed with passengers that you can’t see out to tell where you’re going. You normally pay in cash when you get on. Men and women get a seat anywhere they can; there is no room for segregation. Minibuses stop at normal bus stops or wherever you ask them.

Metro

Metros are the great hope for Iranian cities slowly being strangled by traffic. The Tehran Metro is growing and Mashhad’s smaller metro is operating. The first phases of underground railways in Shiraz and Esfahan are scheduled, insh’Allah (God willing), to be operational shortly but, be warned – they've been saying that for years and were originally slated to begin services in 2013... Other cities with metros in the pipeline include Tabriz, Kermanshah and Ahvaz.

City Taxi

City taxis come in three main incarnations in Iran.

Dar Bast Na!

If you hail an empty taxi the driver will probably think you want to hire it privately. He might ask you: ‘Dar baste?’, which literally means ‘Closed door?’, or perhaps ‘agence?’ If you want to share, then make your intentions clear by leaning in and telling him simply ‘Nah dar baste’, or ‘No closed door’. He’ll soon let you know if he’s interested or not.

Shuttle (shared) Taxi

In most towns and cities, shared or shuttle taxis duplicate or even replace local bus services. They usually take up to five passengers: two in the front passenger seat and three in the back. Kia Prides and Samand make up the bulk of shuttle taxis. Note that shuttle taxis operate in cities, while savaris offer a similar service between towns.

Shuttle taxis travel between major meydans (squares) and along main roads, so the key to using them is to learn the names of the meydans along your intended route. There is a certain art to finding a shuttle taxi going your way. Start by stepping onto the road far enough for the driver to hear you shout your destination, but close enough to the kerb to dash back in the face of hurtling traffic. If the driver has a spare seat, he will slow down for a nanosecond while you shout your one-word destination – usually the name of a meydan. If he’s going your way he’ll stop.

When you want to get out simply say 'kheili mamnun' (thank you very much) or make any other obvious noise. Pay during the trip or when you get out; drivers appreciate exact change.

The government-regulated fares range from a few cents for short trips to a couple of dollars, depending on the distance, the city (Tehran is the most expensive) and the traffic. Try and see what other passengers are paying before handing over your money.

If you get into an empty shuttle taxi, particularly in Esfahan and Tehran, it might be assumed you want to charter it privately. Similarly, if everyone else gets out the driver might decide you are now a private fare. Clarify what you want by saying 'dar baste' (closed door) or 'nah dar baste'.

When trying to hail a shuttle taxi, don’t bother with anything along the lines of ‘Iran Hotel, on the corner of…’: the driver will have lost interest after the word ‘hotel’, picked up someone else and be halfway there before you know it. Use a major landmark or a town square as a destination, even if you are getting off before then. Shout it quickly and loudly: ‘FeDOSe!’ will do for Ferdosi St or Sq; similarly, ‘eHESHTe!’ for Beheshti St or Sq; and so on. The driver will either ignore you, or give you a quick beep on the horn and pull over for half a second while you leap in.

Private Taxi

Any taxi without passengers, whether obviously a shared taxi or a more expensive private taxi (usually yellow), can be chartered to go anywhere in town; an act usually called ‘service’ or ‘agence’. Unless it’s a complicated deal, including waiting time, simply hail the vehicle, tell the driver where you want to go, and ask ‘chand toman?’. Immediately offer about 60% of what he suggests but expect to end up paying about 75% or 80% of the originally quoted price.

If your destination has no known street address, tell the driver the name of the place and the nearest square, main road or other landmark.

Agency Taxis

Agency taxis, or ‘telephone’ taxis, are ordered by phone. Any hotel can arrange an agency taxi (often with the manager’s brother behind the wheel). These are the most expensive taxis but you get a better car, the comfort of knowing there will be someone to complain to if anything goes wrong and, possibly, a driver who speaks English. One reader wrote to say that lone women are advised to get someone to call them a taxi if they’re travelling after dark, thus avoiding being hooted at or ignored by dozens of drivers as they try to hail one. Demand is such that Tehran and other cities (Yazd among them) have women-only taxis – female drivers, female passengers, no groping.