x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Moscow's gridlock worsens

It is only 30km from Vladimir Minin's home in the town of Odintsovo to the centre of the Russian capital.

The average driver in Moscow spends 12.5 hours each month stuck in traffic.
The average driver in Moscow spends 12.5 hours each month stuck in traffic.

It is only 30km from Vladimir Minin's home in the town of Odintsovo, south-west of Moscow, to the centre of the Russian capital. But travelling there by car can take up to 2 1/2 hours, with much of that spent sitting in traffic. A motorbike, Mr Minin said, is the only reasonable means for navigating Moscow's suffocating traffic, zipping between gridlocked automobiles to the cacophony of blaring car horns. "On my motorbike it's a 20- to 25-minute ride," Mr Minin said. "It's the only way to arrive on time." Gridlock is a crushing feature of daily life in the Russian capital, one that dictates how millions of residents work, live and socialise. On the back of an unprecedented economic and consumer boom, there are now some 3.7 million cars registered in Moscow ? more than 12 times the amount registered 15 years ago ? 400,000 of which clog the city's arteries daily, according to Moscow City Hall figures. Moscow authorities have vowed to tackle the problem. Yury Roslyak, Moscow's first deputy mayor, announced this week that the city planned to spend 1.2 trillion rubles (Dh172.5bn) through 2015 on solving the city's transport woes. In the meantime, the situation on Moscow's roads is only getting worse. The average driver in Moscow spends 12.5 hours each month stuck in traffic, up from 12 hours per month last year, according to a report released last month by Yandex, a leading Russian internet search portal that provides daily, real-time updates on Moscow gridlock. There are around 800 traffic jams each day in Moscow, up from 750 last year, according to the report, which Yandex produced together with its subsidiary, SMIlink, which analyses traffic data. The phrase desyat ballov, or "10 points", typically mumbled in disbelief or exasperation, has become a stock phrase in Muscovites' conversation, a reference to Yandex's traffic rating system, which is based on a 10-point scale, with 10 marking paralysed traffic and one meaning generally open roads. The situation on Moscow's roads regularly produces bizarre and often comical tales that appear in the Russian blogosphere, such as people stuck in traffic for nine hours and drivers getting out of their cars to mill about on the motorway while stuck in gridlock. Twice in the past two years professional sport teams, including the storied Russian football club, Spartak Moscow, have been forced to abandon their team busses on the way to a game and hop on the metro in order to make it to the stadium on time. The well of anecdotes about Moscow traffic is endless. Jeffrey Johnson, a US businessman working in Moscow, said he foreswore driving in the capital between the hours of 7am and 9pm after a nightmarish three-hour drive ? covering 25km ? to his suburban, gated community several years ago. One of his neighbours, Mr Johnson said, once took a car to Moscow's Domodedovo airport only to find out her flight had been cancelled because of heavy snow. "It took her nine hours to get back," Mr Johnson said. The natural solution, it would seem, is to use Moscow's outstanding public transport system. The rush-hour crowds on the metro, however, are often as daunting as the road traffic, with tightly pressed crowds attempting to squeeze through turnstiles and comparably packed trains. Above-ground public transportation, such as busses, trolleys and trams, are often ensnared in the sea of cars on the roads. There is also a certain stigma in Russia about riding public transportation, that it is unbecoming of a successful, well-off person who can afford to drive or be chauffeured about. Nonetheless, some businessmen are finding the Moscow metro the only way to work effectively. One businessman based in the Middle East who comes to Moscow regularly on business said he began taking the metro last winter after it became impossible to make it to his meetings by car. "I have back-to-back meetings, and managing my time is very critical for a successful week," said the businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "After spending most of my days in traffic jams, and without the ability to manage my agenda, I decided to start taking the metro and abandon the luxury of a driver and a car." Last December, Vladimir Kuzmin, Moscow's chief architect, told a Moscow City Hall meeting that if 40 per cent of Muscovites would merely work close to their homes, the city's traffic woes would largely disappear. Mikhail Blinkin, director of research programmes at the Scientific Research Institute of Transport and Road Engineering in Moscow, joked in a lecture at Moscow cafe following Mr Kuzmin's announcement that he had a solution that would ensure 100 per cent of Muscovites would work close to home. "It's called a concentration camp," Mr Blinkin said. cshreck@thenational.ae