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Local transport

Local Transport

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.

Boat

In St Petersburg, Moscow and several other cities located on rivers, coasts, lakes or reservoirs, public ferries and water excursions give a different perspective.

Bus, Marshrutky, Trolleybus & Tram

Services are frequent in city centres but more erratic as you move out toward 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 (R15 to R30) 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 on official bus routes but are more frequent. They will also stop between official bus stops, which can save quite a walk.

Metro

The metro systems of Moscow and St Petersburg are excellent. There are smaller ones in Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara and Yekaterinburg.

Taxi

Normal yellow taxis, which could be hailed in the street and used meters, disappeared after the fall of Communism. The taxi situation was a pain until a few years ago, when phone apps, such as Gett and Yandex Taxi, made cabs much more affordable and easy to use. Download the various apps to your phone before or while in Russia.

Elsewhere, taxis are ordered by phone. If you need one, watch out for a taxi that has its phone number written on it. English-speaking operators are rare.

It's less common these days, but it's still possible to flag down a taxi, or just a random driver whose owner needs some extra cash, in the street. 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. Practise saying your destination and the amount you want to pay so that it comes out properly. Generally, the better your Russian, the lower the fare. If possible, let a Russian friend negotiate for you: they’ll do better than you will.

To hail a 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 will ask you to get in (sadites). Consider your safety before doing this.

Risks & Precautions

  • Avoid taxis lurking outside foreign-run establishments, luxury hotels, railway stations and airports – they often charge far too much.
  • Know your route: be familiar with how to get there and how long it should take.
  • Never get into a taxi that has more than one person already in it, especially after dark.
  • Keep your fare money in a separate pocket to avoid flashing large wads of cash.
  • If you’re staying at a private residence, have the taxi stop at the corner nearest your destination, not the exact address.
  • Trust your instincts – if a driver looks creepy, take the next car.

Bus & Marshrutky

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, you may 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 often 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.