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Living in Saint-Petersburg: Public transport for starters

Category: Russia, St. Petersburg

In the previous section we covered a very crucial part of our lives: what to eat and where to buy it. Now we move on with the topic of transportation, as it is important to get from point A to B in Saint-Petersburg while having internship or just visiting, alone! In case you can not read cirillic, it might be a little frightening to take routes that differ from the direct home-school-home or home-work-home itinerary, but there is no need to feel intimidated. Public transport may seem chaotic for the first time (first month), but after you read this article, you should get used to it in a couple of days.

A city with five million habitants requires frequent daytime running, so the metro goes every minute and the price (31 rubles) includes any amount of change between the current five lines and 67 stations. The metro stations are modern, wagons are being modernized and the placed English signs are giving clear directions for foreign people. In peak time the main metro stations have loads of people standing in line, cordonod off by metal fences. Do not get claustrophobic nor scared: people are harmless, but they will push for the single reason that they want to move forward. I tried it once, I was waiting patiently for people to go in front of me and instead of getting ahead, I was slowly moving backwards due to the little side pushes. The best strategy was to take peaceful pinguin steps and in 3-4 minutes I got inside the metro safe and sound. You have to buy tokens (metal coins) at the cashier or automates, and after slipping the token into the gate, it will let you pass. When I was with a heavier luggage, either they stopped me and sent me to the control booth for scanning, or I went to a side, where they manually opened the gate. A luggage that you would need to check-in on airplane normally requires an additional 31 rubles fee, however they only charge it when they are in the mood, so you may try to pass with one token, but they can send you back to buy another one (still use the side gate, it is wider). At some stations it might take 10-15 minutes to buy a token, so a possible solution is to purchase a monthly pass (student: 850 rubles; adult: 2380 rubles) or several tokens at the same time. Automates give money back, but sometimes there is a paper stuck on them saying „out of order”, „no change” (in Russian), so spare change is the surest way to go. The metro was designed to serve as a bomb shelter in case of a nuclear war, so it runs 60-80 meters under the ground. It takes about 2-3 minutes down the escalator and you must stand ALWAYS on the right side, because people are running up and down from behind you. All in all, the metro is the fastest and safest way of transport in Saint-Petersburg, and after a while you will not even notice the crowd anymore.

Regular buses cost 28 rubles and they go every 5-10 minutes, but from time to time it happened to me (mostly in the winter) that I waited for an hour and then suddenly three buses came in a line, like they were leading a wedding convoy. The bus fleet has also been going under heavy modernization. In 2012 winter I was traveling on buses that literally had been missing a 40x40cm piece of metal from their back doors, drawing in fresh exhaust fumes mixed with icecold wind in my face. By 2015 the electric bus park grew enormously, trolleybuses run more frequently and the gas operated buses are renewed. There is two way of payment: you pay for the conductor when you get on the bus or you pay for the bus driver as you get off. When the bus is crowded, often people pass on their money through other people, so you can ask anyone next to you to give the money to the conductor by simply waving the sum towards the needed direction. I was curios and tested the limits of the conductors, so once I offered a 5000 banknote: she scornfully shaked her head and left without taking it. Then I tried a 1000 banknote, but that time the conductor took the money, and gave me back 975 rubles in 5 and 10 coins – I carried a bag of change for two weeks. The above examples show that giving a 50 or 100 rubel banknote (or the exact amount) is the most accepted way to go. Also, I always had to watch for my station, because when the bus was crowded, it was difficult the get off of it. When it was empty, the bus driver might not even stop at every station, so I had to stand up to the door in advance (signals were not always working well). Not paying is also an option, but if you get caught there is a 1000 rubels fine. Being a law-abiding citizen, after you bought the ticket, you can play a game with it: there are six numbers on it and if the sum of the first three digits equals to the sum of the last three digits, it is a lucky ticket – some even eat it to surely secure their luck.

There is a special way of transportation by so called marshrutkas (маршрутка): they have a letter „K” before the bus number and usually they are yellow or white, decorated with commercials. These mini-buses mostly follow the route of the regular buses, but they are much faster (cost 35 rubles). Drivers expect passengers to hop on, pay, sit down and hop off at their station. Upon request they may drop you off at any red light if you shout loud enough. It is considered more dangerous, nevertheless I never had any incident with them before. I especially favor them when I am coming from the airport or I take a tour to one of the precities of Saint-Petersburg.

Attila Mucsi (visit Attila's FaceBook page)

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