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Russia, August 2, 1997

Don't Miss the trolleybus

The only way to cruze in Russia: the trolleybus!

It costs two rubles, and goes all over the city. It doesn't pollute and no one argues with it. What could it be? A trolleybus, that's what!

Moscow, and most Russian cities, are crisscrossed by trolleybus lines, buses that are powered by electric motors connected to parallel wires hung from poles/buildings, and anything else that is handy. You can see the tale-tail signs of a trolleybus stop. There might be a group of people just standing around, waiting, and only if you look closely, will you see the little yellow sign that denotes which trolleybus comes at what interval. Other stops have a real bus stop feel, with a little shed offering protection from rain and snow. Only in Moscow have I see, new Western bus stops, and then, only sporadically in the center.

You see the bus, but where is the stop?

The trolleybuses are quiet as they approach, but they do have a distinctive sound. A whine and an occasional clunk is the best way to describe it. The drivers open the doors at each stop, so there is no need for a buzzer or chime to alert him to your desire to depart, and he will sell you a ticket if you need one, albeit at a 50 kopeck markup.

I usually am wandering around on the weekends, so seats are plentiful, but that's not the case during the week. I've seen trolleybuses packed as to make me wonder how the doors can open, much less get another person in the thing. I remember doing a James Brown imitation on one bus when I was here in 1996. I was fully loaded with a big backpack, but the bus was so packed, I was able to levitate! Yes, I picked my feet off the floor, and the pure crush of humanity kept me from falling down.

If it would only speed up!The only problem with the buses, is their speed. Since they can't go that fast without overheating, you never get anywhere too fast. Oh, and in each direction from my house, there is a driver check-in, where the drivers get to jump out and stretch their legs as they have their log books stamped. If I'm taking the trolleybus, its usually because I have a bit of time on my hands and I want to think as I stare out the window, so I don't mind all that much.

Sometimes, if the driver is not careful, the long arms that stretch up to the electric wires will slip off, and the bus will come to a stop. Then, in an odd show of skill, the drives will use ropes to put the arms back into place. I always like the way they will put on thick gloves before they deal with the ropes, so they can keep their hands clean. Other than that, I don't envy their jobs. They don't check tickets, Russian transport operates on the honor system with anonymous fare checkers to keep us in line, eliminating the human contact that adds spice to the job. Also, I don't think they get to vary their routes much, I've seen the same driver do the same route for months at a time!

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