Moscow vs DC metro: a comparison

So, despite having lived in Russia for over half a decade now, something has been weighing on my mind recently. With me having to introduce myself to new students, it’s been a constant stream of explaining where I’m from and what do I do. What better time then to thus write about a I’ve been constantly, and that’s the difference between the Washington, D.C. metro, aka WMATA, and the Moscow Metropolitan.

First of all, here are the maps of both systems so you can get a feel for each:

And it’s still expanding!

One thing you do notice is how efficient the Moscow Metro is, and it’s absolutely glorious. To put things in perspective, if I have to wait two minutes for a wagon, that’s considered a long time; in rush hour, the average wait time is roughly 45 seconds up to a minute. Compare that to last summer when WMATA had posters up boasting how they reduced the rush hour wait time by five minutes…so that you now wait 15 minutes between stations. I’ve talked about reverse culture shock before when I go home, but nothing really stacks up in terms of how mind boggling an adjustment that is. Like, for a city that claims it wants to alleviate the traffic issue, how can they consciously claim that this a good thing? Granted, there’s an issue with the jurisdictions running though the District, Virginia, and Maryland, but you’d think that at some point, things would be fixed. Literally, last summer when I had to use it coming back from a baseball game, I thought I missed my train. Nope, that fifteen minute wait caused me to lose sense of time and therefore kind of panic before being jolted back to reality of waiting on the platform. It took a while, but a few days later when I took the metro from the nearest Aeroexpress (i.e. the train service from select metro stations that go specifically to a designated airport), I felt like I sufficiently cleansed myself of that disappointment.

The next point is the design of the stations, which admittedly is a bit of an unfair comparison. During Soviet times, Stalin wanted to have an opulent system of stations, and needless to say, the architects delivered. One of the pleasures of using the Moscow Metropolitan is seeing how unique and ornate some can be, and there rightfully are a lot of tourists gasping in awe of the design. Honestly, can you blame them?

Komsomolskaya station, on the circle line.
Prospekt Mira
Slavyansky Bulvar, on the dark blue line.
Mayakovskaya, smack dab in the center of the city on the green line.
Hello darkness my old friend.
This is what the old wagons looked like from the outside, and the station is an example of the underground design of the WMATA. Fun, right?

Meanwhile, WMATA is okay and relatively modern, but it lacks that charm. Sure, it’s nice having relatively new buildings in this day and age, but part of me wishes there’s more character. I will say that it was neat seeing how they replaced their severely outdated fleet of wagons with something more contemporary, especially since it means we don’t have to see that beige upholstery. Still, their wagons feel a bit weird in terms of configuration despite being so new. In Moscow, you have two rows of seats that are parallel to each other, with enough room at the end of each wagon for a few people to perch themselves in the nooks. Most people are happily content with the free Wi-Fi on top of the TVs announcing the news and other interesting event that can be found in every single wagon. About less than a year ago, newer wagons were unveiled, and these are nicer than before! The same configuration exists, but now there are LED signs that signal each stop in both Russian and English. They’ve also come with USB sockets and an interactive metro map, which is something I don’t take for granted now. On the flip side with WMATA, they opted to have new ones that have a few people sit on the wall facing the door and a few benches in each wagon, and that’s pretty much it. Nothing wrong there, since we ultimately are using this service as a form of transport, so simple and clean is the way to go. Though, I get it’s nice to have some semblance of privacy, but it feels like the designers didn’t 100 percent know what they wanted to make. Is this trivial? Yeah, it is. Have I embraced the Moscow Metropolitan a bit too much? Hell yeah. Either way, I just think the metro done goofed when it came to maximizing the capacity of each and every wagon, which obviously would make life easier on transport.

However, to even get on either of them, you have to buy tickets. This is a system that Moscow has gotten down to a T and my hometown sorely lags behind. This isn’t a case of “going native”, but the transport here is amazing. You can’t hop on until you get a ticket, and to this day I’m surprised at how much of a gap there is between my current abode and my place of birth. In Moscow, every single station not only has a reception to talk to somebody to buy a ticket and/or refill the amount of rides you have on your card, but there are plenty of kiosks to buy electronically. Because we’re living in the future, you can pay by card in order to facilitate a smoother process. Compare this to a few machines in every WMATA station and it’s like night and day. Additionally, the prices are also in stark contrast. Here, despite the ever-present increase in prices, a single ride (and it can take you throughout the entire metro if you don’t physically leave) costs the rough equivalent of 75 cents. On the flip side, the fare not only depends on how many stops but is a minimum of three times more expensive during peak hours back in my neck of the woods. What also grinds my gears is that the rates aren’t consistent- theses prices decrease from anywhere between $1.85 to $3.85. That’s just silly, even if you account for the need to make money. I admittedly don’t know if they’ve changed it, but in the past, I’d put $5 onto the card only to find out that I’d have to top it up again just to leave; having to make sure I had loose change on me was an extra hassle. With Moscow, you have none of this, much to my relief.

If there’s one thing that they both share, it’s the opening time. Moscow opens at 5:30 in the morning whereas the WMATA actually precedes it by half an hour. However, despite having the possibility to get an earlier start, it closes disappointingly early on weekdays through Thursdays at 11:30. The fact that I had to double check the closing times indicates how bizarre it is to me, but here we go: Friday and Saturday is when the metro closes at 1AM, whereas Sundays see it shut at 11. Of course, this is assuming there isn’t a sports game on, when times might be extended til midnight. Oh, and did I mention it opens at 7 and 8 on both days of the weekend respectively? Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. Now, give me the simplicity of Moscow where day in and day out you can show up at 5:30 and catch the last train by 1AM. Easy to figure out, right? Exactly, and you don’t have to bring a calculator with you when deciding to drive or shell out for a ticket.

Finally, I’ve gotta say that when it comes to maintenance, Moscow wins, hands down. Zero contest. You see, every night, crews clean every single station and it shows-you hardly ever see dirt or the stray empty bottle lying around inside. From time to time, sections of certain lines are closed off for a day on weekends for needed repairs; this is announced in advance plus there are free buses made available to passengers to shuttle them around these lines. Whereas, *snorts* the WMATA fails miserably. If you think this is hyperbole, it’s not-it catches on fire enough that there’s a Twitter account dedicated to letting people know. That, on top of over half a million results in Google if you happen to pose that question. Maintenance has turned into such a novelty that it got to the point where last summer, the bottom half of my line was closed off. No worries, I thought, I’m used to the odd station being shut in the Russian capital. Well, normally the authorities wouldn’t close off six stations AND not really account for the congestion on the roads, right? That precisely describes what I saw this past summer. According to what I read, 17,000 commuters had to find alternative methods for getting to work, which in Moscow terms would be the rough equivalent of 190, 094 people (out of a total daily ridership of ~7 million). Big yikes all around. Adding a further notch on the sin count, but as some people might have heard due to it going viral, the WMATA flooded last summer. Yes, flooded. As in, the water was pouring in onto the tracks from the ceiling. I’ll let the attached pictures speak for themselves, cause, man, what a world.

For now, I think all this will suffice, so this is hopefully a comprehensive enough look at my hometown’s form of metro compared to the place I’ve called home since 2014. If anything, it’ll serve as a reference for people when I giggle upon being asked to describe transportation in and around D.C. Why wouldn’t I when talking about a metro system that people would rather drive than to take it? Moscow Metro for life, ya’ll!


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