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Disclaimer: Only the staunchest shall keep returning here.
Since I'm no longer in the main competition, Home Game entries will be different. Less twisting stories to suit prompts, more bending prompts to fit stories. Less independent, more blog-like stories, in format, attention paid to details and referencing past events. You have been warned.

When someone jokes about not having money, they often say "sorry, spent everything on tram rides". The saying goes back to the late Soviet years when metro and bus rides cost 5 kopeek, the trolleybus ones, 4, and tram rides, 3. Knowing that a loaf of plain white bread cost 18 kopeek then, a stay-at-home mother could make up to 75 roubles a month knitting and her engineer husband's "good" salary was 400 roubles, you can tell that spending "everything" on tram (or metro) rides would have been quite a feat.

It is the metro fares that I am going to talk about. I remember rides costing 5 kopeek when I was little. You used the coins themselves to pass through the "turn"-stiles that did not turn but sprouted "horns" that caught you in the sides if you tried to pass without paying. Since the horns were normally withdrawn, this caused a lot of fright for the city guests unfamiliar with the passage system. I was "caught" by the horns once myself, and I was wary of them for months afterward.

Image of somewhat modernized not-turn-stiles. A row of above-waist-tall 30-cm-wide not-quite parallelepipeds on four legs with 75-cm-gaps between them (numbers very approximate). Regular "free" gap on the left and gap covered by two "horns" (hollow metal parallelograms extending from the parallelepipeds to slightly below waist height, their side closest to the middle of the gap is vertical and covered in rubber or softish plastic) on the right.

Back then, every metro entrance had a row of coin exchange automats that accepted 10, 15 and 20 kopeek coins and gave back "fivers". Brother and I always fought over who was going to "break" money when we went somewhere by metro because the process, especially the falling of the "fivers" inside the automat, was very interesting.

Image of exchange automats: red, green and yellow boxes with coin slots in the upper right corner and a receptacle for "fivers" at the bottom. Each of the 10, 15 and 20 coins were put in the automat of a specific colour, but I forget which was which.

Set of Soviet coins from year 1978. 1, 2, 3, 5 kopeek in top row; 10, 15, 20, 50 kopeek in bottom row. The four lesser coins made from brownish alloy and increase in size from 1 to 5, the four more expensive ones made from silverish alloy and also increase in size 10 to 50, the latter all being slightly larger, respectively, than the former (10 being larger than 1, 15 than 2 and so on).

I do not remember exactly when the two next payment methods were introduced, the metal and semi-transparent green plastic "jetons". It was sometime during the 1990s when we had very strong inflation here and the "fivers" lost all their value. My mother stopped working at home then and became an accountant. At some point, she earned 2 000 000 roubles a month, but I couldn't tell you the relative value of that amount of money, because prices changed too rapidly, and soon afterward the money was devalued by a factor of 1000.

Anyway, both metal and plastic jetons were good for a single ride, like the fivers before them, had the same diameter and went into the same not-turn-stiles. The thing about them was, if you had a stash, you were temporarily safe from the annual (was it bi-annual?) fare price rise. To prevent people buying them by the handful in the days preceding the rises, only a certain number of jetons were sold "into the same hands". Therefore, everyone and their brother bought that number going to work and returning home, and some also did this at both exits from their metro stations.

I too was charged with this task, and one day I was returning home by a less familiar route: not from the metro station five minutes on foot from our house, but from a stop on another line, wherefrom I had to take a bus. There was also another single-exit station not far from the one I would arrive on, so I could purchase the jetons thrice instead of twice. I came to the station, exited, bought the jetons, went back in, traversed the station, exited on the other end, bought the jetons and went walking to the other station that was nearby. Imagine my surprise after walking around a patch of industrial land, when I arrived at the very exit of the very same station I had just left! I laughed in bewilderment at how challenging orientation always is for me and bought the jetons for the third time. Luckily, they had already forgotten that I was there not an hour earlier.

Jetons. Plastic one on the left, metal one on the right. Simple design: a sytlized "M" (metro) in the center and "Moscow metropoliten" around the edge, the same on both sides of both jetons.

These days, we don't have re-usable jetons anymore, but paper single-use metro passes and plastic reusable, or rather, rechargeable ones. The difference is that you can only have a limited number of rides (up to 60) recorded on the paper pass, and those 60 you have to use within 90 days (which is a large improvement over the previous 45 days). You can have any number of individual rides recorded on the plastic card, as well as a 1-, 3-, 6- and 12-month pass (or both at the same time: you will start using the single rides after your months run out). The downside of the plastic card is that it cannot be personalized, and so if it is lost or stolen, it cannot be blocked and reissued. Finders keepers. The metro authority keeps promising personalization will be done, but it has been 2 years with no end in sight.

The second downside of the plastic card is that it cannot be used by more than one person at once, even when charged with individual rides: there is a 7-minute delay between the allowed passages. The delay is understandable in case of an unlimited-ride monthly pass, but not at all for single rides, given that you can let as many people through at once as you like with the paper card.

Theoretically, the transportation rules state that every passenger have a ticket the entire duration of the ride. Practically, nobody has ever checked if I had a ticket during or after my metro rides (and I have been going to and from school and work almost every working day for the last 17 years). On the ground transport, your tickets only get checked during the ride sometimes, and never after. Practically also, special used ticket bins are placed right behind the not-turn-stiles in the metro to prevent uncouth passengers from dropping their tickets everywhere.

In Moscow, the plastic cards are declared property of the metro authority, and there is a 50-rouble (bit less than a buck) safety deposit that is returned to you when you give back the card.

A similar deposit is required in Saint Petersburg, or at least it was 5 years ago when I was there last, and it is taken for both single-rides and monthly pass cards. And there my friends and I ran afoul of the delay rule. We were on holiday for a long weekend and only needed a certain number of rides between us, yet it was not practical to use the same card for everyone, because the 7-minute delay was imposed on every available card.

We were so disgusted by the restriction that we decided not to keep the card for later visits, but return it on our last day and demand the deposit back, no matter how small the sum. And there was so much poetry and prose and haikus in what should have been a simple action! You need only pay the rides + deposit to get the card. To give it back, however, you need to fill in a paper form, in two copies, and present you passport. The ticket-seller we addressed was not even sure how the returns were made, and they had to consult their colleagues!

A nice little bonus for the metro for services not rendered, if card returns really happen so infrequently.

Plastic card brand-named "Trio" on the left, paper one named "Uniform" on the right. Plastic card blue with a trio of horses depicted on it (which implies that in addition to passes and single rides there is a third option for tickets recorded on it, but I am not sure which). Paper card red with stylized images of metro train, bus, trolleybus and tram on it. Its name means you can now use it on all these means of transportation which is a huge improvement since not 5 years ago, metro and the ground transport were always paid for separately.

Note: the ways you can pay for transportation are not limited to the above described cards, they are several more I did not mention.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2016 03:31 am (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome, as almost always.
Jan. 30th, 2016 12:48 pm (UTC)
Happy to see you home gaming it away! I have never done the home game. Usually I'm too burnt out by the competition to want to home game it (and I usually last till around week 10!). I might reconsider it this season, we'll see.

Anyway I thought this entry was quite fascinating. Can you explain the need to hoard jetons? The whole part about needing to hoard them to be better off for the yearly price increase is confusing to me.

When I went to NYC with two friends, there were some restrictions on using a metrocard between us. Nothing as bad as a seven min restriction though. We had some problems with the card too... I think one of them didn't work, but it had a low enough amount on it that no one wanted to deal with the hassle of filing the forms out.

You use some very Intersting terms here! "parallelepipeds" and "jeton". The former is quite a tongue-twister! I had to practice saying it a few times. I had to look it up, it seems to be a geometric shape.

I think "paper" is the proper choice for the metro card. Cardboard is very thick paper, usually used for packaging. Paper metro cards are a bit thicker than standard paper, but never as thick as cardboard.

Feb. 4th, 2016 10:50 pm (UTC)
Can you explain the need to hoard jetons?
It's because, like I said, they did not expire.

Imagine one jeton costs $1, and the rise is extreme, 25%, to $1.25. Assume you need 50 rides a month. They would have cost you $50 before the rise and $62.5 after. If you had bought those 50 jetons beforehand, you would have saved 12.5 bucks.

Not that much, but if the inflation is 25%, every little bit helps.

I used "jetons" deliberately (and did not check if the word actually existed), it's a sort of transliteration of the Russian word "жетон", and an educated guess: it comes from the French jeter, to throw). As for parallelepipeds, yes, it's a mouthful, but how would you describe those machines?

(It's an honest question: I describe pictures for the visually impaired contestants, and this one really stumped me, so I went for mathematical terms. We learn those in high school, by the way. Dirty little secret: I had to look up "parallelogram" myself, I forgot what that shape was called. A parallelogram is basically any 3D box.)

A-ha. I've thought about using 'paper', but I was not completely sure it applied to the type of material the cards are made from. Thank you, I will correct this.

Edited at 2016-02-04 10:54 pm (UTC)
Jan. 31st, 2016 06:01 am (UTC)

This was quite informative...I enjoyed the jeton hoarding incident..that's what people in mumbai did when there was to be a supposed rise in local train fare recently..A good read! Pics helped.:)

Feb. 4th, 2016 10:34 pm (UTC)
How do your fares work?

Hoarding does not really work in Moscow anymore, because you only have 90 days from the day you buy the ticket to use all the rides, not from the day you use it for the first time. So I was able to buy ~one extra ticket last year, hoping to save some money (and then it was stolen, haha, before I even started using it).
Feb. 5th, 2016 01:45 pm (UTC)
Our fares are decided in the annual budget. Though this time around they were increased twice in a year. Since people knew the next budget date it helped..but again only quarterly passes were handed out.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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