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!
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.
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!