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Was public transportation free in the Soviet Union? I'm interested in the metros and buses. If not, what did they cost?

I'm most interested in the period around the late 1950's, early 1960's, but it would be interesting to know if the situation changed at any time during the USSR's lifespan.

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They were not free. In 1961 there was a currency reform, so the answer is about post-1961 period.

A price of ride depended on the mode of transportation. For city public transport the price varied from 3 kopecks (tram) to 4 kopecks (trolleybus) to 5 kopecks (bus and metro). This was the country wide standard but in certain places the charge could vary. Intercity buses would cost 2.5 to 3 rubles per 100 km.

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One could buy a ticket for a month for various combinations of the modes of transportation inside a city, the ticket that included all modes would cost 6 rubles. For particular modes of transportation it would cost 2-2.5 rubles. Students could buy monthly tickets with discounts.

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Official exchange rate was about 60 kopecks for 1 dollar. Unofficial one could be several rubles for a dollar. An average salary was 120 to 220 rubles per month, an average pension was 60 rubles per month.

These prices were kept till late 1980s.

  • Thanks, is this for Moscow or Leningrad, or maybe both? I may need to ask about public transport in other cities too. – DrZ214 Sep 5 '16 at 0:19
  • @DrZ214 It seems, in all cities the price was the same, both in big and small ones. The price was the same in Moscow, Leningrad, Minsk, Kiev, Voronezh, Vladivostok and in smaller cities as well. – Anixx Sep 5 '16 at 0:29
  • @DrZ214, it varied. See my answer. – ach Sep 5 '16 at 6:18
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    @Anton great document, but it does not support that there was exemption for all pensuioners or eldery. Only for certain groups (personal pensioners etc) – Anixx Sep 5 '16 at 13:32
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    @reirab, 1 ruble is equal to 100 kopecks. That is implied; there are only very few currencies where the relation between base and fractional units is other than that. – ach Sep 6 '16 at 13:37
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During the Civil War, the national financial system was in chaos, and there was a drive towards 'revolutionary' and 'communist' practices in everyday life. The ideal economy was commonly understood as an economy running without money, on direct distribution and rationing of goods and services. In Russian historiography, this era in social and economic system of Russia is usually called the 'War Communism'.

Public transportation was the sphere where these new trends were most naturally applied by local governments. Many of them tried to run trams free of charge for riders belonging to the 'working classes' (i. e., workers and public servants). Factories were supposed to provide financial and material donations to tram depots to help them with delivering their workers to work. There is no surprise that this system failed. Everywhere tram circulation was reduced drastically; some cities had lost all tram traffic. Moscow only had passenger traffic in summers for a few years (there was cargo traffic that ran year round).

In February 1921, the Tram Conference was called in Moscow, where tram managers discussed the situation and proposed that trams should be financed through passenger revenues; and that tram workers should be paid by their output. This coincided with the nation-wide proclamation of the 'New Economic Policy'.

Ever since, the idea was such that tram (and later also bus, trolley-bus and metro) companies had to rely on their own revenues to finance operations. Government planning bodies planned the networks, assigned prices and allotted investments. Companies were created to run the services and generally they were expected to cover their expenses with revenues, though occasionally governments might intervene and provide financial help if there was a gap.

It has to be noted that in Soviet economy, a sufficiently large company (such as a bus company of a large city) had to maintain the so-called 'social sphere', i. e. clinics, kindergartens and country-side resorts; this was included in their expenses. A profitable company might invest into expanding these facilities in order to lure workforce.

Until 1950s, fares on trams and trolley-buses usually depended on distance traveled; buses and metros had flat fare. Since 1950s, flat fares became universal on all urban services. Fares were assigned for each city or locality individually per mode of transportation (bus/tram/trolley-bus/metro/minibus). Except between metro lines, you had to pay anew after every transfer.

There were also monthly passes for one or a combination of modes of transport. Although a combined pass, say, for tram and bus, would cost less than two separate passes, they were still considered pricey and were not bought unless necessary. Moreover, even one-mode passes were worth it only if you had to commute with transfers.

In late Soviet Union, bus and trolley-bus fares varied from 3 to 6 kopecks, tram fares from 3 to 5 kopecks. Metro fare was 5 kopecks in all cities (with automatic gates operating on 5-kopeck coins). By the end of 1980s, most companies brought losses, typically measured by fractions of kopecks per ticket.

Suburban services were paid per kilometer; sometimes, you might use an urban stretch of a suburban service and be lucky to pay less than normal urban fare.

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    In what cities trolleybus fares were 6 kopecks and tram 5 kopecks before Perestroyka started? – Anixx Sep 5 '16 at 7:55
  • As of information I have, trolleybuses in Irkutsk were at 6 kopecks. As of tram fares of 5 kopecks, I only know about Moscow, but that was started to be so during the Perestroika. – ach Sep 5 '16 at 8:54
  • 6 kopecks in Irkutsk before Perestroika? – Anixx Sep 5 '16 at 9:24
  • Well, that's as much as I heard. I won't be assertive about that, that's a minor thing. – ach Sep 5 '16 at 9:30
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    @DrZ214 the "low" price comes from something, as the involved resources were pretty cheap (electricity, labour) and some of the transportation systems were intended to carry a lot of people per day. – kagali-san Sep 5 '16 at 16:35
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From my (limited) experience in Moscow in 1978, the 3,4,5 kopecks values are correct. The fare would allow travel from any source to any destination. The Metro had no timetable, just a digital clock at the departure end of the platform. It displayed the time since the last train had departed. The driver's job was to keep it to as close to 3 minutes as possible. During peak-period, the metro would move 4 million passengers, so I guess it worked.

  • there's still no "official" timetable in Metro on older part of it. Newer parts, such as line to International Business Center, do have countdown timers (and one station serves different routes/destinations). same applies to Kyiv's Metro. By late night, both of the metros are also experiencing delays up to 10-15 minutes, that is not listed anywhere, the best you can get from personnel is the time of last train on that direction. – kagali-san Sep 5 '16 at 16:41
  • @Steve Bird Hey, I like footnotes :) – Experienced n00b Sep 7 '16 at 3:10
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In period from 1950-60, and later, public transportation was never free. But the price was low and did not change for many years. During this period metro and bus were 5 kopeks, trolley bus 4, and tram 3. However, you have to take into account that the average salary in the late 50s and in the 60s was less than 100 roubles per month. (This does not count peasants).

1 rouble is 100 kopeks. Kilogram of bread was between 15 and 22 kopeks, for comparison. And bread was perhaps the cheapest and most widely available food. The prices on the basic things, like bread and transportation, did not change for many decades: officially there was no inflation.

  • Thanks for the extra economic info. There's 1 more item needed for real comparisons, however. Did wages stay the same through many decades too, or did they go down? – DrZ214 Sep 9 '16 at 5:25
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    Wages did not go down. I do not know the exact statistics, but I suppose that the average wage slowly increased. Because more people obtained better payed jobs. But the wage for a specific job was essentially fixed in 1960s. In fact inflation existed but the government made efforts to keep the prices of very basic commodities fixed. – Alex Sep 9 '16 at 19:00
  • Where did they sell bread by kilograms? – Anixx Oct 28 '17 at 18:55
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    In groceries/bakeries. A standard loaf of bread in 1960th was 1 kg. Later it became a little smaller. – Alex Oct 29 '17 at 0:48
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It was everywhere the same cost. It was dealing for every product, not only transport, food, clothes, furniture - everywhere was the same cost.

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    Actually, no. There were zones for other products. – Anixx Sep 5 '16 at 2:11
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    Sources would improve this answer. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 5 '16 at 2:47
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    useless answer. – Quora Feans Sep 5 '16 at 4:14
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    @QuoraFeans, furthermore, it is an incorrect answer. Prices slightly varied across the country. – ach Sep 5 '16 at 4:21

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