Perm, Russian Federation
The Russian rail network, in fact the public transport network as a whole, is something to behold. It seems the imperatives of socialism towards ensuring basic needs for all has meant that the public transport system, while at times a little ‘tied up with wire’, caters well for all able-bodied persons, almost door to door. Now it’s not like I haven’t experienced public transport systems that cover all needs before. In Latin America where I’ve spent a great deal of time, it was always only just a matter of standing on the road and you could pick from a number of passing options. The difference in Russia is that the forms are varied and in relation to the train network, the single biggest national terrestrial transport system in the world in terms of geographic coverage – I dare say China may lead in terms of volume of passengers moved – they appear to be well scheduled and always on time. The LP reports that an incentive commission paid to train managers and drivers for being on time means that they are so. In terms of their varied forms I’ve seen metro lines emerge from long long escalators (70m down) to link directly with tram lines or monorail lines or electric trolley buses or normal combustion engine buses (official) and the informal marshrutkas. Then there would be water-buses (in SPb) and chauffeured pedal powered passenger bikes as well. Last night wandering about Perm I took the rickety old tram that came in on a special tram turning circle right in front of Perm II station. At 12 roubles a ride anywhere it seems inexpensive. All short distance transport seems quite cheap and straight forward, whether it’s 25 roubles to ride anywhere in the metro system of SPb or Moscow or half that for of the regional city buses, trams and electric buses to ride any distance on the line in question. Another notable difference to Australia is the prevalence of public transport staff throughout the system. Whether it be the metro guards and attendants scattered throughout the laberintine tunnel systems of the SPb and Moscow metros to the ever present conductors on all short distance buses, trams and metros to the hardest working provodnitsas on the long-distance dormitory trains. I’ve stared down many a bottom-of-escalator guard siting in their lonely glass covered cabin as you spend the better part of three minutes descending the long incline in the company of many. I say ‘lonely’ because despite being surrounded by an endless parade of ever changing people they don’t interact with anyone. I suppose they’re there for security in the advent that the escalators break down and mass panic sets in. As a I recall a friend in Perth saying once, “a good city public transport system is one where you never need to consult timetables, you just rock up and wait for the next one, which ideally shouldn’t be more than a few minutes away”. Well this is the Russia I’ve experienced so far for sure. In the SPb and Moscow metros I don’t think I ever waited more than 45 seconds for a train heading in my direction. And usually it was less than 20 seconds. And I changed lines a number of times over a number of days. Anyway, maybe these are the musings of a man told to head west but chose east instead.