Moscow Never Sleeps – A personal story on sustainable mobility trends in Moscow

Moscow Never Sleeps – A personal story on sustainable mobility trends in Moscow

The spiderlike shape of Moscow, by NASA

Moscow is known to be a city that never sleeps. Many services are available 24/7. Clubbing, of course, the traffic and movement in the city never stops.

When I was working in Moscow and living in its suburbs from 2005-2008 I commuted to work mostly by car. I quickly realised that I had to commute at a different time of day than the majority of people, otherwise I would not have any time left to live. The 25 kilometres commute to work took at least 1.5 hours during rush-hour between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and at least 2 hours to commute back home between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. It felt like every month the Moscow traffic jams condensed gradually and the traffic hours spread out through the day. The solution was to stay in the city until the traffic reduced at 9 p.m. or even 10 p.m. After the rush-hour period past in the evening, the commute was a fast 30-minute drive home.

You would ask me why I insisted on driving a car instead of using public transportation sparing myself from the stress of driving and relaxing on my way. I have a good answer to that.

First, unreliable and intransparent bus schedules made it impossible to plan my commute. The unreliable buses could have resulted in long waiting times in freezing temperatures outside.

Second, buses in Moscow generally used to use a fixed route, but without a special bus lane separated from individual transport. So they always stick in impossible traffic jams which made walking the last kilometre or two even a faster option.

The third reason why I did not choose public transport was that I would have had to enter an overcrowded metro. This means I first would have had to join a crowd of hundreds of people outside the station and then, in a duck step pace, move into the station together with the crowd. Being lucky, I would have gotten into the first, second or third train. The only good thing is that the trains in the Moscow metro are frequent and come every 1.5-2 minutes.

Finally, my way to work by public transport would have taken the similar amount of time and money as by car, because the suburb buses are much more expensive than the Moscow city transport. I would have lost flexibility and freedom of decision. I would have had to adjust myself to the irregular schedules of the buses that did not work at a later time. Hence, using public transport in that period of time did not provide any visible benefits, but only a lot of disadvantages.

Now, almost ten years later, has anything changed in this mega city?

Indeed a lot of changes have occurred over the last years that you can already see from a distance. There was a visible re-orientation from a car-oriented city concept of the veteran Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov as he was replaced by Sergey Sobyanin in 2010. Some new visions of city development came up, including the “State Program for Development of Transport System of the City of Moscow for 2012-2016”.

The efforts of the city government have even been noticed worldwide. That the city of Moscow has received the 2016 Transport Achievement Award for its exemplary approach to improving traffic conditions in the Russian capital is a clear illustration for that. The prize is awarded by the International Transport Forum (ITF), a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation and policy think tank with 57 member countries.

The Award was given mainly due to some of the following points as to be found in the ITF Media Release of the 19th of May 2016. I have gone through the measures highly praised by the ITF jury to give my personal reflection on them.


Crowded Moscow Metro, © Christophe Meneboeuf, @wikimedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Do’s: Lessons learnt

Paid car parking: Paid parking was introduced in 2012 and since then has systematically expanded to areas with high car traffic. Within the framework of a policy designed to build civilized parking space, more than 67,000 paid parking spaces have been introduced, including 7,000 parking places for disabled people. Parking violations in Moscow fell by 65%. Paid parking has generated EUR 90 million in revenues over that period. Another positive feature is the possibility to pay for the parking with a help of a phone application. There are also parking meters at the streets.

System of intercept parking: Around Moscow, often at the final stations of metro lines, there were built intercept (free) parking to motivate people living in the suburbs and driving a car, to leave their car at the parking spots in the city outskirts and to continue their way by metro. Official data reports about around 20 parking lots for more than 6,000 cars. But actually it is known that even much more people use this combination for commuting, leaving their cars in backyards or streets at the nearest metro station.

Development of public transport: Moscow’s city transport handles over 15 million passenger journeys per day. Since 2010, 34 kilometres of subway track were added, 18 new metro stations built and about 1,500 new subway cars purchased. Over the same period, the capital city’s fleet has been updated significantly. More than 5,000 new buses, 538 trolleybuses and 150 trams were added to service the routes. The route network has been optimised. Over 100 new routes have been created for surface transport, 230 kilometres of bus lanes built, over 5,000 stops renovated and 552 electronic information boards installed. Furthermore, the Moscow Metro has a free Wi-Fi along the whole network now. While it is officially reported 73% of the transit fleet servicing the routes is wheelchair-accessible, which is hard to believe. But the metro has its own ‘Centre of passenger mobility’ supporting people with limited mobility at 80 stations. Still overall Moscow city – its sidewalks, attractions – remains limited in its accessibility.Moscow Trolleybus © Pavel Kazachkov, @flickr, CC BY 2.0,

Innovative ticketing: More than 50% of trips in Moscow are done by people using the electronic travel card called “Troika”, introduced in 2013. This has reduced queues at ticket windows by one third, drastically cut the number of ticket purchases from surface transport drivers, and saved c. EUR 15 million on the production of paper tickets. To stimulate the use of long-term passes, prices have been lowered for unlimited ride passes. An intermodal 90-minute ticket makes transfers easier, cheaper and more popular.
Also there is a similar electronic card for traveling in the Moscow region called ”Strelka”. Recently a combination card “Troika plus Strelka” has been introduced for those commuting through Moscow region and the Moscow city, continuing the same idea of the paying with one card and giving a discount for the frequent commuters.

Development of cycling: In 2015, 880,000 bike trips were made using the city’s shared bicycle program called Velobike, an eightfold increase over the previous year. 2016 with 1.7 million bike trips recorded a twofold growth. 2,600 bicycles are available to city dwellers at 330 automatic bike stations during the biking comfortable “season”, lasting from April or May to the end of October.
From 2011 to 2015, the total length of bike paths increased nearly hundredfold, from 2.3 kilometres to 216 kilometres. Legislation was changed to allow cyclists to use bus lanes and to take bicycles on surface transport for free. In 2016, by way of experiment, a sharing system of electric bicycles was launched.

Car sharing and taxi reform: Moscow’s first short-term car sharing system started operations in 2015. Today, it has a pool of 550 cars and more than 70,000 registered users who have taken over 220,000 trips since its inception. Taxis account for 260,000 daily rides in Moscow. Problems with unregulated cab services, including the use of potentially unsafe cabs, have been addressed by granting more than 60,000 official permits to cab drivers. Online taxi booking services such as internationally known Uber or Gett as well as a Russian company Yandex.Taxi are also available in Moscow and experience increasing popularity.

Environmental requirements for cargo vehicles: To improve the environmental situation and to reduce polluting emissions, restrictions were imposed on truck transits through the city in 2013. Nowadays, only trucks conforming to the emission standard Euro-3 or higher are allowed to enter Moscow’s downtown. More than 900 road cameras monitor truck traffic on a daily basis. These controls and other regulatory measures had helped to reduce the air pollution level by 11% by 2015.

Accessibility of the airports by train (Aeroexpress): Finally you can reach all Moscow international and national airports by train starting from different railway stations that can be reached by metro. That makes it possible to calculate the travel time to get to the airport and to reach an airport in 35-45 minutes. That is almost impossible if you take a taxi. A one-way ticket costs around 6-7 euro. That is far cheaper than a taxi but more expensive than the combination of metro and a bus (50 rubles or less than 1 euro), meaning that a lot of people are excluded from using the train on regular basis because of the relatively high price. For the international guests Aeroexpress definitely remains an attractive option.

Moscow Central Circle (MCC): In September 2016 a renewed 54-kilometre-long orbital urban railway line that encircles historical Moscow was opened. Working similar to the idea of the German S-Bahn the line connects 31 stations and has 5 direct transfers to Moscow metro lines and 9 more transfers available within walking distance from MCC stations. The daily ridership on the MCC is expected to be 400,000 and by 2025, the ring railway is expected to carry up to 300 million passengers annually.
The advantage of the new train circle is that passengers heading from one orbital station to another, do not need to pass through the centre of the city any more, but can transit by the MCC lane.

Example of a transport hub on the MCC, © Government of Moscow Press centre

Reconstruction of streets, system of interchange and tunnels: In the last years a lot of Moscow streets were redesigned, new (sometimes better, sometimes not) interchanges and tunnels were built, the pedestrian crossings were painted in yellow colour to increase visibility and thus make crossing the street safer, some of the streets were given more space for the sidewalk (for example Tverskaya Street).


Don’ts: Work ahead

I saw some of the positive changes when I returned to Moscow in 2016. Nevertheless, the Moscow traffic and transportation situation is still very far from efficient. The changes that have been made just reveal the typical Russian governance illnesses. These problems are known and being continually reported to be worked on.

The International Transport Forum (ITF) cites the Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin saying “For many years, Muscovites believed that traffic jams were simply the price to pay for living in a big city. This has changed.” But while some of the positive changes are visible, there is still a long way to go for a sustainable and mobile city. The traffic jams did not disappear from Moscow streets. They still can be found at the same road junctions where they have been before. Some problems were simply relocated to the Moscow’s outer rings and are even worse now, because of unwise pretentious planning or the lack of integrating transport planning and city planning. In Tomtom Traffic Index measuring congestion worldwide Moscow still occupies the 5th rank – after Mexico City, Bangkok, Istanbul and Rio – among 295 cities worldwide and Muscovites lose 44% more time for commuting than they would do in better traffic conditions.

Moscow winter traffic © Sergey RodovnichenkoWith construction of the new stations, the metro network has a better accessibility for close suburbs, but the capacity of the metro does not match the number of the passengers it has to transport. Therefore, the problem of the overcrowded metro trains persists. One of the solutions that are being applied is to deliver empty trains to the stations of the high demand.

There is an opinion that building and reconstructing streets just prevented the Moscow streets from a collapse, but it did not really solve the traffic and mentality problem. Driving a private car in the Moscow Region is still one of the most preferable transport means. That is often understandable for people living in Moscow suburbs. The times are over when cars represented an object of luxury. Now, it is a means of transport. There are families with each member owning a car. Cars took over public space – in the backyards or in streets – in most of Russian cities.

With a steadily growing population in the Russian capital, there is corresponding growth in the number of private cars. New and better roads do not catch up with the growth of the car fleet. With almost 4 million cars in Moscow and 2.5 million cars in Moscow Region, the Russian Capital Region makes around 16% of the whole Russian car fleet. And Moscow is not even the most motorized Russian city. With 311 cars for 1.000 inhabitants in 2014 it occupied just the 10th place (in comparison – almost a double index of 572 cars can be found in Primorsky Krai in the Far East).

As the number of cars continues growing, Moscow remains standing still despite of the heavy investments that appear to go into a bottomless pit. The paid parking system unloads the traffic from the city centre, but does not solve the real problem of urban mobility and interconnectedness all over the capital. Smog because of the car congestion remains one of the serious issues in Moscow.

Thus, even though Moscow never sleeps and it’s always on the move, one day it might just stop as its traffic system collapses.


Photo credit:

The spiderlike shape of Moscow © Expedition 38, International Space Station (ISS), NASA, @flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0,

Crowded Moscow Metro © Christophe Meneboeuf, @wikimedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Moscow Trolleybus © Pavel Kazachkov, @flickr, CC BY 2.0,

Example of a transport hub on the Moscow Central Circle © Government of Moscow Press centre, @wikimedia, CC BY 3.0

Moscow winter traffic © Sergey Rodovnichenko, @flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Compiled by: Yana Tumakova,

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