Muscovites and New Yorkers have quite a few things in common, and one of them is heavy reliance on public transportation, particularly the rapid underground transit.
In my 7 years in New York City I did everything I could to avoid taking the subway. This included, but was not limited to, skipping lunch to afford the morning cab to work and riding a bus that took 3 times as long to go the same distance. I love so, so many things about New York, but the subway – with its piles of litter, bizarre weekend schedule, tendency to crash after the first spring shower or winter snow, general aura of ‘unsafe’ on certain lines at certain hours, and hordes of fuzzy creatures frolicking in broad daylight – is not one of them.
You’d think that having been scarred by my New York experience I’d stay away from the local underground. On the contrary, in Moscow, the Metro is my favorite mode of transportation.
Now, the Metro is just as fast as every rail service should be, and very crowded, especially in rush hour, as all public transport is. But these two basic functionalities aside, the Moscow Metro could not be more different from its New York counterpart.
Here are some of the reasons why I think that the Moscow Metro is hands-down awesome and superior to most other underground transit I have had the pleasure or necessity of using over the years*:
- It is really clean. Not just the platforms, but the train tracks as well. Practically no garbage of any kind – and definitely no ROUS’s**;
- It’s prompt. The usual wait time for the train is between 1 and 3 minutes,and even minor service interruptions or delays are extremely rare;
- It’s safe. There are guards at nearly all the stations, and OMON (special security units) polices the platforms. I have taken the metro at all ungodly hours of day and night (it operates from 5:30 am to roughly 2 am***), downtown and on the outskirts of the city, and always felt secure;
- It runs rain or shine. With most stations and tunnels so deep underground (the ‘lowest’ station is some 90 yards below street level), there are no weather-related service disruptions;
- It’s cheap. A single ride costs less than $1, which is a bargain compared to New York and London, especially keeping in mind that everything else in Moscow is at least as expensive as in those two cities;
- The stations have great names. They are so much more than geographic coordinates! The names are laden with national history: Revolution Square. Pushkin Station (the writer). Mendeleev Station (the chemist). Partisan Station. Barricades, Red Guard, Komsomol, Proletariat. May Day Station. Automotive Plant and Electric Plant Stations. The zenith of the Soviet prowess is long in the past, yet millions of Muscovites brush past its legacy every day;
- It’s people-oriented. Moscow government has recently launched a campaign to make the underground commute into a more pleasant experience. During the off-peak hours the transit authority runs cars that have art reproductions instead of seats along one of the interior sides, and train exteriors are brightened up with landscapes and flowers. While riding the escalator, which can take up to 5 minutes, one can enjoy lively classical musical or upbeat tunes from old Soviet films. It never fails to put me in a good mood;
- It is just so gorgeous!
The beauty of the Moscow Metro – dubbed the People’s Palace – is renowned worldwide and is a particular source of pride for the Muscovites.
There are several distinct features of this grandeur: marble or granite walls and columns, ornate moldings, massive chandeliers, mosaics and murals paying tribute to Russian cultural heritage, and lots and lots of Soviet symbolics.
Moscow Metro construction began in the 1930’s and most of the stations were completed during the Soviet era, depicting its greatest achievements and marking historical milestones in the process.
Many stations highlight Russia’s diverse artistic, literary and architectural legacy.
Even though the themes repeat themselves, immense variety of mediums and stylistic approaches make sure that no two stations are the same.
So whether you’re visiting Moscow or living here, are in rush or want to kill some time, look for a large, glowing “M” sign, enter this majestic underground lair and hop on board. I promise you will enjoy the ride.
*Limited to North America and Europe.
**For the uninitiated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjuZiVrrJZ4
***Yeah, yeah, so the Moscow Metro does not run 24 hours a day like in New York. It’s the only NYC subway advantage I am willing to concede.