Public Transport in Moscow and St Petersburg

Jennifer Butler


Kievskaya metro station in Moscow. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.


I consider myself to be fairly game, but when someone asks me if I drove in Russia, I’m unashamed to say no. Though I’m loathe to further a stereotype, the Russian attitude to driving seems casual, and I’ve had my share of near-death experiences at the hands of Russian drivers. Seatbelts are optional, and when I quizzed one driver about the speed limit between Moscow and the outer-Moscow town in which I lived, I received a blank look. Fortunately, despite occasional terrorist attacks and cranky babushka ticket sellers, the public transport in Russia’s two main cities, Moscow and St Petersburg, is world-beating. Here’s a guide.

Metro (mitro)

The metro system in the two capitals is renowned for its stunning, communist-era architecture. It’s also amazingly efficient, with trains coming around every two minutes, even at midnight. Buy a token at the counter, insert into the gate, and bustle your way down the escalators to the platform. One 20-rouble (US 65c) token allows you to ride the metro for as long and as far as you like.

Communal taxis (marshrutki)

Communal taxis are bus-taxi hybrids in the form of a mini-van or bus. They ply a set route, but call ‘as-stan-o-vit-tsye, po-zhal-is-ta’ at any time, and the driver will stop (whereupon you clamber over your co-passengers to exit and – this is important – slam the door just hard enough to close it, but not enough to incense the driver). Trips cost around 15 roubles; make sure you have the right change or thereabouts, or you’ll be chastised.

Trams, buses, and trolleybuses (tramveii, busi, trolleibusi)

The trams, buses and trolleybuses in Russia are much as you’d expect in any country, though most vehicles have seen better days. A ticket-seller will accost you and, in exchange for around 10-15 roubles, give you a delightfully retro ticket. Seats must be yielded to women and the elderly (who usually refuse).

Gypsy cabs (bombili)

When you’re off the beaten track, or don’t want to wait for a marshrutka, stick out your hand and a car will probably stop. Name your destination, negotiate a price, and hop in. This common form of transportation is usually only used by Russians and those who’ve been in the country for a while, though it’s said to be quite safe (apart from the dangerous driving). Avoid taking a gypsy cab alone, though, and even if travelling with a friend, wave on cars with more than one occupant or odd-looking drivers. They’ll understand. Taking gypsy cabs can be a great way to improve your Russian; unlike those doomed to public transport, driving Russians are often garrulous.


Despite the frequency of public transport, most peak-hour rides are packed, and you’ll probably be asked ‘vi vi-ho-dit-ye?’ ( ‘Are you getting out [at the next stop]?’) in metro carriages, buses, trams, and trolleybuses. If  yes, say ‘da’ and you won’t be bothered until just before the next stop; if no, say ‘nyet’ and swap places with your questioner. Make sure you’re quick to either move aside or exit – most citizens don’t take kindly to dithering.

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