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From: Sandy Lubkin
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997 22:21:00 +0000
Subject: Moscow Transport (part 1 of 2)

I've been promising for months to tell you all about the Moscow Metro (Underground, Subway) System. I'm actually going to talk about public transportation in general, although the Metro remains my favorite.

Moscow is a huge city, covering about 386 square miles or 878.7 square kilometers, and having a population of about 8.8 million people. It's certainly the largest city I've ever lived in. It also has the best public transportation system I've ever seen.

There are four main ways of getting around on the Moscow public transport: Metro, avtobus (regular bus), trolleybus (tethered bus), and tramvay (trams, light-rail trains). These four methods manage to cover most of the area of the city. It's possible to travel all over the city in only a few minutes time. We lived in an apartment in the southwest section of Moscow, about 20 minutes walk from our local Metro station. It usually took us longer to walk to the station than to get to our destination once we were there.

The Moscow Metro system was begun during the 1930s, and has been constantly added to since then, even during the Second World War. The first line opened (probably the Red line, numbered 1 on the Metro maps, but I'm not sure) with 12 stations. When we were there, the current count was 114 stations on 11 lines, with another 12 stations marked as planned. (I may have miscounted, but the numbers should be pretty close.) The general layout of the most of the lines is straight lines going from one side of the city to the other (for example, the Red line goes roughly from the extreme northeast section of Moscow to the extreme southwest). The lines are criss-crossed in such a way as to give good coverage to the city center, which is surrounded by the Circle line. On and within the boundary of the Circle line, most stations allow easy access to at least one other line, and at most three others (four connected stations near the Kremlin and Red Square, a very popular tourist destination area).

The entrances to Metro stations vary greatly in architectural styles. Some are stand-alone buildings, and some are built into other buildings such as hotels. All are fairly well marked. Simply look for the large "M" in front. Another clue is the market stalls which surround many of them, but that's less consistent.

(Picture) Exterior of Krasnoprenenskaya Metro Station
(Picture) Exterior of Komsomolskaya Metro Station: Red "M" in front; market a bit sparse on a rainy day.

Many of the stations, particularly the older ones, are quite elaborate and beautiful. Even the most utilitarian of the stations have something to make it special - an attractive, though basic, pattern of tiling on the walls, or interesting columns. The most elaborate have decorations which would not be out of place in an art museum. Detailed mosaics are quite common. Some of them are so intricate and exquisite that Bela had to literally drag me away from them. I remember the ceiling panels in one particular station (whose name I couldn't remember so I never found them again)! Since most of the stations were built during the Soviet years, a lot of the mosaics have Soviet themes: the Revolution, communal harvests, Soviet achievements in various areas (aviation and sports come to mind right away).

(Picture) Tiled mural inside Komsomolskaya Metro Station

The lobbies tend to be pretty standard. They differ in details, but the general principles are constant. Generally there are some market stalls just inside the station. Standard ones are flower sellers, newspaper and magazine stands, and drug stores (cough syrup, personal hygiene products, vitamins and the like).

There is also the Metro cashier ("kassa") who sells Metro tokens, bus/trolley/tram tickets, monthly passes and other related items. We always found it easiest to use tokens and single-use bus/trolley/tram tickets (Moscow uses the same ticket for those three forms of transportation, so I'm going to be lazy and just call them bus tickets from now on, even if I'm talking about the tram).

Metro tokens cost 1500 roubles when we arrived (about US$0.25) and the price went up to 2000 roubles (about US$0.35) midway through our visit. One token gets you into the Metro system, and you can stay as long as you want, take as many trains as you want, and even change your mind about where you are going, as long as you do not actually exit from any station.

There is a series of (hmmm, I really don't know what to call them. I suppose "gates" is closest, although the gate was open *unless* you tried to go through without inserting a token.) gates where you insert a token or a multi-ride ticket and then walk through. I saw someone try to go through once without putting in a token. The gate slammed shut in front of her and made a huge racket (noise) which attracted everyone's attention, especially the babushka ("grandmother") in charge of the gates, who was giving her a vigorous scolding when the press of the other passengers swept me onto the escalator and out of sight. I don't know what else happens to fare evaders.

The train platforms are usually underground, although some of them are above ground - usually the less central ones. The platforms are reached by stairs or by escalator, perhaps depending on how far underground the tracks are at that point. There are some extremely long escalators in the Moscow Metro system, maybe as much as 150 meters/yards long, leading to platforms about 60 meters/yards underground. The escalators also run faster than the usual American ones. I did a bit of stumbling at first when I would misjudge how to step off it.

The stations follow a basic design, but vary greatly in the details. All of the stations have a platform about the length of the trains running on that track (trains on different lines are different lengths - from 5 to 8 cars), usually with the platform being between two tracks. Usually the tracks are for trains on the same line going opposite directions, but in several stations, the opposite track was a different line, and in order to go the opposite direction, you'd have to walk to a different platform. In all cases, the tracks are dedicated to only one line: one track, one possible set of destinations, no possibility of getting on the wrong train (unless you are at the wrong platform). It's easy to change lines. Either it's the track opposite yours or it's a platform (sometimes at a different station; sometimes at the same one) which can be reached by connecting tunnels.

Trains are very frequent. Usually there is a train every 2-3 minutes, but they run more frequently during peak ("rush hour") times. During peak times, we saw trains arriving every 45 seconds on the same track like clockwork. And once we saw a train arrive after 15 seconds - the end of the first train had just cleared the station when the next train was pulling in!

Buses, trolleys and trams provide a good net for filling in between the Metro stations, particularly outside of the Circle line, where the distances between stations become very much larger. I never took any of these for very great distances. Usually I would take the Metro because it was so convenient for crossing town, and then hop on a trolley for the few stops to my destination.

Above-ground transportation isn't as frequent as the Metro trains, but we never had to wait very long - maybe 10 or 15 minutes on a bad day. Bus tickets were 1500 roubles (US$0.25) (purchased ahead of time, or 2000 roubles (US$0.35) from the driver). They are only good for one ride. Get on the bus (generally through the back or center doors) and punch a ticket. It's mostly done by the honor system, but every once in a while a ticket inspector will come on the bus. Once Bela and I got on the bus (trolley- bus #4) with a lot of groceries. I tried to punch our tickets, but couldn't get the punch to work. That was, of course, the day the inspector wanted to see our tickets. He made us get off the trolley (only one stop from our house, so not too bad) and fined us 10,000 roubles each (a total of about US$3.50). Our Russian friends tell us that many people play the odds - not having a ticket, and risking a fine. If you aren't caught very often (I don't know how often an inspector checks each bus) it works out cheaper to pay a fine or two.

Russian public transportation moves an amazing number of people every day. I always tried to travel outside of the peak periods, but that wasn't always possible. Sometimes the buses or trains are so packed that it's nearly impossible to move. And even outside of peak times, the buses, trams and trolleys are usually full, though not packed. I've seen people passing tickets along person to person in order to get it to the punch. I've also seen people passing money along to buy a ticket from the driver. It's hard for me to imagine trying that in America.

Sandy (Cannady) Lubkin
Currently in Watford, England

All text and pictures copyright 1997 Sandy and Bela Lubkin, all rights reserved.