Most cities have good public transport systems combining bus, trolleybus and tram; the biggest cities also have metro systems. Public transport is very cheap and easy to use, but you’ll need to be able to decipher some Cyrillic. Taxis are plentiful.
In St Petersburg, Moscow and several other cities located on rivers, coasts, lakes or reservoirs, public ferries and water excursions give a different perspective.
Services are frequent in city centres but more erratic as you move out towards the edges. They can get jam-packed in the late afternoon or on poorly served routes.
A stop is usually marked by a roadside ‘А' sign for buses, ‘Т' for trolleybuses, and ТРАМВАЙ or a ‘Т' hanging over the road for trams. The fare (R10 to R20) is usually paid to the conductor; if there is no conductor, pass the money to the driver. You will be charged extra if you have a large bag that takes up space.
Within most cities, marshrutky double up official bus routes but are more frequent. They will also stop between official bus stops, which can save quite a walk.
The metro systems of Moscow and St Petersburg are excellent. There are smaller ones in Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara, Vologda and Yekaterinburg.
There are two main types of taxi in Russia: the official ones you order by phone and ‘private’ taxis (ie any other vehicle on the road).
Check with locals to determine the average taxi fare in that city at the time of your visit; taxi prices around the country vary widely. Practice saying your destination and the amount you want to pay so that it comes out properly. The better your Russian, the lower the fare (generally). If possible, let a Russian friend negotiate for you: they’ll do better than you will.
Official taxis have a meter that they sometimes use, though you can always negotiate an off-the-meter price. There’s a flag fall, and the number on the meter must be multiplied by the multiplier listed on a sign that should be on the dashboard or somewhere visible. Extra charges are incurred for radio calls and some night-time calls. Taxis outside of luxury hotels often demand usurious rates although, on the whole, official taxis are around 25% more expensive than private taxis.
To hail a private taxi, stand at the side of the road, extend your arm and wait until something stops. When someone stops for you, state your destination and be prepared to negotiate the fare – fix this before getting in. If the driver’s game, they’ll ask you to get in (sadites). Consider your safety before doing this.
Long-distance buses tend to complement rather than compete with the rail network. They generally serve areas with no railway or routes on which trains are slow, infrequent or overloaded.
Most cities have an intercity bus station (автовокзал, avtovokzal). Tickets are sold at the station or on the bus. Fares are normally listed on the timetable and posted on a wall. As often as not you’ll get a ticket with a seat assignment, either printed or scribbled on a till receipt. If you have luggage that needs to be stored in the bus baggage compartment then you’ll have to pay an extra fare, typically around 10% of the bus fare. Some bus stations may also apply a small fee for security measures.
Marshrutky (a Russian diminutive form of marshrutnoye taksi, meaning a fixed-route taxi) are minibuses that are sometimes quicker than larger buses and rarely cost much more. Where roads are good and villages frequent, marshrutky can be twice as fast as buses and are well worth paying extra for.