There was a transport revolution in Moscow
Mikhail Blinkin, Director of the Institute for Transport Economics and Transport Policy Studies at the Higher School of Economics, professor, and transportation expert, talked about transportation in Moscow and the future development of public transportation in an exclusive interview with Capital Ideas.
Mr. Blinkin, what can you say about transportation in Moscow today, and how has it changed over the past few years?
What has happened in the sphere of public transportation can be called a true revolution. My foreign colleagues refer to it as “Sobyanin’s transportation revolution.” let’s look at the facts. Over the past years, there has been a significant decline in the number of districts that don’t have direct access to the metro. Or in other words, new stations and metro lines are being constructed at breakneck speed. This hasn’t happened since the 1930’s, when the metro was first built in Moscow.
The project to integrate the city’s railway into the public transportation system – the Moscow Central Circle MCC) – has been implemented. According to preliminary estimates, we expected Muscovites to start making full use of this line in a few months. However, it actually happened within the first week. In other words, it was in high demand.
An information shell for transportation in Moscow has been created, from online displays on stops to the large number of mobile apps. The rolling stock has also been updated. In the past few years, the city has stopped purchasing everything that’s lower quality than Euro-5. The trams are high-quality by European standards, and they’re made in Tver.
Moscow has disposed of jitneys – so-called marshrutkas. The city has transferred to so-called gross cost contracts, the point of which is that the passenger doesn’t have to know who is transporting them. This is a west German invention from the 1960s. There can be both municipal and private providers in the city, but the same ticket must work for both. Private providers didn’t go anywhere, they’ve just accepted the new rules.
Were the changes limited to just public transportation?
Moscow has finally eliminated freeparking, and there are areas with paid parking. This was a political decision made by Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin, and is technologically advanced in terms of its implementation: people can pay through terminals, apps, or via sms. In the US, for example, which has had paid parking since 1934, people still have to drop quarters into parking meters on the street.
It’s also worth remembering that the city’s taxi system has been reconfigured with the help of IT – Uber, Gett, Yandex, and so on. The result is that taking a taxi in the city has become more convenient and cheaper than driving yourself. For example, if a couple goes to the theatre and a cafe together, it will take 3 hours. They’ll spend 800 rubles on parking in the center. You can get a taxi to and from just about any district in Moscow for the same price. So there is a price balance that means I don’t have to take my car into the city and park it somewhere. The taxi is easier and more affordable.
Over the past few years, we’ve cleared up the traffic flow stoppers on MKAD. Instead of old interchanges from the 1960s, there are now well-configured interchanges that don’t keep the traffic flows in the city.
But because of buildings left over from the Soviet era, it’s impossible to strike a balance between the number of cars and the area covered by asphalt.
The peculiarities of Soviet planning leave just 10% of the total area open for paved roads (this is the land allocated to streets ratio), which is not enough. And you can’t even fix it with major construction projects. Even if you build roads with total area equal to MKAD overnight, the ratio will only change by a few tenths of a percent. So even if we combine all the efforts of Moscow city planners and construction workers, we can smooth out the ravines but not the curvature of the earth. So we can’t make the city fully car-friendly. But we can make public transportation (not just mass transportation, but also taxis and car sharing) ideal, and this is what we’re working toward.
In Moscow, there is less than 30 square meters of streets & roads per one car, which is a record low by world standards. It’s about 150-200 square meters per car for US cities, and even in Europe, which has a lot less space, the ratio is higher. In Paris, for example, it’s over 100.
How is public transportation going to develop?
The railways will be built into the body of the city. Aside from the MCC, there will be a Moscow Central Diameters (IDC) network. This project has already been planned and is accounted for in the city’s budget for the upcoming years. Moscow will also become gradually more electrified in the sphere of public transportation. The city will be purchasing electric buses. This is a tough and costly project, and is in many ways a gesture in favor of environmentally friendly standards. These buses will gradually replace trolleys.
This will happen for several reasons, one of which is that there hasn’t been significant progress in the trolley bus segment of transport engineering anywhere in the world, as opposed to the bus and train car engineering segments, where reliability, maintainability, and vehicle comfort have all seriously improved. They also won’t be in demand, because the city can provide for good mobility without relying on overhead contact networks. For example, it’s easier to hand over a lane designated for public transport to a tram rather than a trolley, since the tram’s multi-car structure enables it to transport more passengers. If the passenger volumes are lower, the line can have one car per tram. For higher passenger volumes, trams can have two or three cars.
For the sake of comparison, even Germany and France, which were using trolleys in dozens of cities in the 1950s-1960s, have almost entirely eliminated them. Each of these countries has 3-4 cities left that are still using trolley bus lines.
How can car sharing services become more convenient for city residents?
Car sharing will develop at a very rapid pace over the next few years. According to business (not academic) forecasts, a new option will appear by the mid 2030s — a self-driving car will come to get the client at the pick-up location. Forecasts predict that this will be extremely popular, and people won’t even have to walk to get to the car they called. Car sharing has a lot of advantages over personal cars. For example, you don’t have to decide where to park the car overnight. Using cars like these will be just as easy as hauling a shopping cart around a store.
Is transportation between the capital and the region going to change? Will there be a unified transportation network with the same tickets?
As soon as we launch the Moscow Central Diameters (IDC) network, we will essentially have a setup in which regional trains cut directly through the city. And it will be tough to know exactly where regional transport ends and city transport begins. In terms of maintenance and use, this is a unified system. We will also have to adjust the pricing plans to account for these changes.
There is a trend spearheaded by Germany in which major railway companies are buying bus operators. I think it will be implemented successfully in Russia. Because when there are well-functioning railway connections between the capital and nearby towns, it makes financial sense for a company to provide services that transport people to the station.
How will the Moscow Central Diameters (IDC) network differ from the city’s regional trains?
Historically, our regional trains run along radii, that is, they connect the region with the city center. From there, passengers who have to travel further have to maneuver complicated transport interchanges. For city residents, the Moscow City Diameters will be much more convenient. I think that the people who live in the suburbs and have to take personal cars to work today will start taking suburban trains instead. In many areas, a lot of work will have to be done in order to install the IDC network: re-laying the rail tracks, electrification, the introduction of modern control systems.
Lanes designated for public transport have been in effect in Moscow for several years, and new lanes are added frequently. Have they impacted traffic in the capital and in what way?
The introduction of lanes designated for public transport in the city had a major effect. Public transport started moving faster. Here’s a personal example: bus No.144 from Teply Stan to Slavyanskaya Square is now a faster route to the center than the metro or a car. In order for the lanes to make sense, they have to meet a specific requirement – the buses in this lane must transport more people than neighboring cars. Typically, all designated lanes in the capital are in demand. Moscow is such a densely-populated city that coming up with a designated lane that wouldn’t be in high demand would be difficult.
Does it make sense to introduce designated paid lanes in the city?
For the city, this task doesn’t make any sense. Cities that have freeways use heavily occupied vehicle lanes, which cars with 2+ or 3+ passengers can use. We don’t have the option to introduce these changes yet. First, you have to build city freeways. Right now, about half of the Third Ring Road, along with parts of the Rublevsky and Kashirsky highways, can be considered freeways. Essentially, right now it looks like this: the road is wide, but doesn’t look like a freeway in which there are no pedestrians or even bus stops.