In cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev, trips to the center or to a different section of town are most easily accomplished by metro (subway, tube). Other surface transport can be used for short trips between the "lines" of the metro or to get you to a location between stations or beyond where the metro currently services.
Other cities in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia have less developed systems and are generally more reliant on a generally more crowded system of busses and marshrutki (public minivans, pictured right).
The following information is meant as a general introduction to the transport systems of various Russian cities. For specific information on your host city, see our city guides.
A Note on "Comfort" Most Russian cities where SRAS programs are hosted are larger than the US cities most of our students hail from. A greater portion of the population of these cities also regularly uses public transportation. Thus, Russian transportation can feel quite crowded, especially to an American. Moscow is comparable only to New York in population, and St. Petersburg is roughly comparable to Los Angeles. Even "smaller" cities such as Irkutsk and Vladivostok are comparable in population to Washington, DC.
Costs, Discounts and Fines All fare is still quite inexpensive, but if you will use a certain form of transport regularly, get a monthly pass. As a student, you are entitled to discounted monthly passes, though applying for them can be complicated. Check with the folks at your sponsoring faculty on campus for more info. If you are on an SRAS program, your guide should have some additional information on this as well.
If you do not have a valid ticket you are subject to a shtraf (fine) if the ticket controllers catch you. Ticket controllers enter bus, trolleys, and trams randomly at different stops. The fine can range from about $3 to $30, depending on what city you are in, but it is sufficiently embarrassing and inconvenient, since they take you off the bus and make you wait for another, perhaps in really cold weather. Many students are tempted especially on buses that run short distances between, say, the metro and the university, or the dorm and the university, to not pay the fare. The controllers know this. Don’t get "shtrafed."
Metro Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev offer very efficient subway systems that also display some striking art and architecture to boot. If you have a spare day, take some time to ride around and visit the stations. Other cities in Russia sometimes have metros but they are much less developed and usually have been built to service mainly the industrial centers of town.
Metros are usually open in the early morning and close at midnight or shortly thereafter. Monthly pases offer the best deal if you'll be using the subway every day. You should check to make sure what date they will expire on, but generally, they will be good for thirty days after the date of payment. Note, as well that even "monthly" passes sometimes have restrictions on how many rides you can actually take with them (often cut off at 70).
If you won't be using the metro nearly every day, a card for a limited number of rides will probably suit you. A single ride will cost less than a dollar and the more rides you buy at once, the cheaper they become. Tickets may be purchased from kiosks or from automated machines at the entrances of each station. You may also be approached by someone offering to sell you tickets from a stack. Buy these at your own risk - they may be counterfeit.
What to do with the ticket will be fairly clear, but make sure you use the ticket/token slots to the right of the turnstile and be sure that the light has turned from red to green before you walk through. If it hasn’t, the turnstile will likely give you a nasty bruise and play a loud, silly song to call attention to you while you are in pain.
The metro has certain rules of etiquette! First, there is no smoking and we strongly advise against littering, which is a finable offense (there are no trash cans in the metro - what you carry in, you will have to carry out). Second, when on the escalators, stand to the right and walk on the left. People will get understandably upset if you are standing in the "fast lane." Lastly, if your train is full, the people behind you may ask you "Vy Vyhodite?" which means "Will you will get off (at the next stop?). If you are, answer “Da.” If not, let them get closer to the door.
In cities that have them, the metro is usually the most common place to arrange to meet someone. Usually this means meeting INSIDE THE STATION where the trains go by. Most stations have multiple exits and meeting in the station reduces the chance for confusion. You might agree to meet “near the last wagon of the train going from the center on the red line” or “on the center of the platform.”
There are certain phrases that you will frequently encounter on signs in the metro in Russia. These include: ÂÕÎÄ Â ÌÅÒÐÎ (ENTRENCE TO METRO) – ÍÅÒ ÂÕÎÄÀ (NO ENTRANCE) - ÏÅÐÅÕÎÄ ÍÀ ÊÎËÜÖÅÂÓÞ ËÈÈÍÈÞ (TRANSFER TO CIRCULAR LINE) – ÂÛÕÎÄ Â ÃÎÐÎÄ (EXIT TO CITY) ÏÅÐÅÕÎÄ ÏÐÅÊÐÀÙÀÅÒÑß Â 1 ×ÀÑ ÍÎ×È (PASSAGE CLOSES AT 1 AM) – Ê ÏÎÅÇÄÀÌ ÄÎ ÑÒÀÍÖÈÉ (BOARDING TO THESE STATIONS) – ÏÎÑÀÄÊÈ ÍÅÒ (NO BOARDING).
Bus, Trolley, Tram While generally logical systems, surface transport in Russia can be overloaded and not in the greatest condition. If you do not have a monthly pass, you must purchase a ticket from the driver or, sometimes, the attendant (identifiable by their orange smocks). Tickets are also available at the metro and now at any street kiosk that says “proezdnye bilety” somewhere thereon. Tickets cost about $1.00 in Moscow, $.75 in St. Petersburg, and slightly cheaper everywhere else.
Larger cities are now using "electronic conductors," transport with a turnstile at the front where you must insert your ticket, then retrieve it when if pops back out. You should always get on at the front of the bus.
Especially in smaller Russian towns, you will be given a very small slip of paper, torn from a roll or expected to use a special "puncher" on the inside wall of the transport to put holes in your ticket to validate it. If you are uncertain what to do, just watch everyone else and follow suit. You should also feel free to ask anyone - it is normal and Russian etiquette means that questions asked about public services are usually answered quickly and politely. Always keep your ticket and make sure its validated - not having a valid ticket will mean that you could be fined and kicked off (see above).
Note: If there are different numbers on the front of the transport, the one that has been put (temporarily) in the lower right front window is the correct one.
Scenes from Moscow's Metro!
Scheduled Taxi A scheduled taxi (microbus) is called a marshrutnoetaxi. They service the outlying areas, suburbs, airports, as well as supplement the public bus system (they are numbered the same as the buses they duplicate). The cost ranges from about $1.00 to $6.00, depending on route length and what city you are in. Pay the driver when you get in. The route is posted on the front and/or side window. Find out more about the vocabulary you'll need to use these here.
Regular Taxi Most larger Russian cities have official private cab companies. However, even in Moscow you usually won't find an official cab available on the street - it is customary to call the cab company and then wait for its arrival. This can take a few minutes or an hour or more depending on the company and the traffic. You can also call in advance at most companies and request a cab at a certain time. Prices can differ widely based on the company and the type of car that you order. Always ask the cost when you call.
Private Cars While we cannot officially recommend it for reasons you can imagine, most of Russia (Russians and foreigners alike) rides in private "gypsy" cars. Especially in more remote areas, it is a waste of time to expect an official taxi to wander by. If you do travel this way, please go in groups, do not sit in the front seat alone, and never get in a car that already has a passenger. Have a good sense of where you are going so that a) you stand on the correct side of the street (cheaper fare if the car is going that way anyway) and b) you are not taken for a "ride." Negotiate the price before you get in and don’t be afraid to wait for the next if the price is too high or if you feel in any way uncomfortable with the driver. Beware of cars that wait outside clubs - go to the nearest major street out of thier vision and hail a passing car.
Elektrichki Elektrichki or commuter rails run from most major cities to locations as far as 3-4 hours away. We strongly recommend getting out of the city this way, if only for a weekend day. It gives an interesting perspective on Russian life. We have included a number of possible trips, both long and short, under the "Regions and Cities" section of our site. At the station, look for signs saying "Prigorodnie" to find the correct "kassa" and timetable. Always keep your ticket, as you need to produce it again to leave the station (this is to control freeloaders who try to make a return trip without paying). Find out more about elekrichki and Russian vocabulary concering them here.
Water Transport Many cities also have boats as part of their public transportation. This is usually a slow but delightfully scenic way to get around town. Canal tours can be found along several of St. Petersburg's canals, near Nevsky Prospekt. In Moscow, it is possible to see nearly the whole city (there are some 10 stops in all) via the Moskva River. Cities along the Volga all have at least a boat tour that you can signup for.