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The subject of public transport was covered in a detailed post on this blog before. This time, I would like to concentrate on the practical aspects of ridership.
As a reminder, the main modes of public transport (общественный транспорт) are
автобус – bus
троллейбус – trolleybus
трамвай – tram/streetcar
метро – underground/subway
These are normally public or state-run, so I am leaving out the маршрутки (маршрутное такси) — private minivans going on fixed routes. They are everything people usually fear about Russian driving, so use at your own peril.
There are considerable differences in how various cities operate their public transport, so adjust your strategy accordingly. These regulations also tend to change over time, so some of this information may be outdated.
To spare yourself the stress of paying your fare (оплатить проезд) onboard the bus, you may want to buy a ticket (билет) or a multi-use pass (проездной) in advance. In some cities, like Moscow, you can buy a pass for several rides (проездной/билет на [insert number here] поездок/поездки) in kiosks (ларьки) at the bus stop (на остановке).
There may also be ticket machines in the lobby of subway stations (станции метро), along with the traditional ticket offices (кассы). Most likely, you will need cash (наличные) to buy a pass.
Some transit systems won’t let you buy tickets in advance, or maybe you were not able to because the point of sale has closed for the day. Then you need to pay once you board. When I was younger, you used to pay your fare to a кондуктор (conductor) — a person who would move around the bus with a roll of tickets, collect fare, and give you your ticket.
There is this silly idea that if the first three digits and the last three digits add up to the same number, this is a “lucky” ticket (счастливый билет) and you need to eat it to absorb the luck. I don’t think people actually do that often.
Other public transit systems may have you pay the driver, who will give you the ticket. Small change (мелочь) is handy as they may not always have change (сдача) for you.
Honor/trust systems (“на честного человека” — literally, “for an honest person”) tend not to be effective in Russia as many people see gaming “the man” as honorable in itself. As a result, fare payment is enforced quite strictly.
Some buses and most, or all, subway stations will have turnstiles (турникеты) blocking entry. You will need to feed your ticket/touch your magnetic fare card to the turnstile in order to go through.
The buses that have conductors often have them validate your ticket by punching holes (компостировать) in it. Other buses are self-service, and you validate your own ticket (компостировать билеты).
Have you used public transport in Russia or anywhere else in that region? Are there any arrangements I have not mentioned? Did you find the system easy to navigate? I remember UK soccer/football fans jumping over turnstiles in Moscow underground/subway — not to avoid paying but because they could not figure out how to pay.