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Comparing Metro Systems

We read about collapsed bridges and train derailments, but I don’t think the practical effects of our nation’s lack of investment in infrastructure dawned on me until one evening last year.  It was about 8pm on a Thursday.  I stood on the metro platform in downtown Washingon, DC, staring at the number ’27’ that told me how long I could expect to wait for the next train and thought, ‘this never happened in Moscow.’ But, I rationalized, the DC metro is an anomaly – the District can’t afford to fund it and its other three stakeholders, the federal government and states of Virginia and Maryland, view it more as a political punching bag than a factor in the economy of the region or prestige of the country.

Shortly thereafter I read the NYT’s exhaustive analysis of the dilapidated condition of the New York City metro and was surprised to find that the situation is no better in our thriving powerhouse of the U.S. economy.

During 20 years of living in Moscow working in real estate I often used the metro to avoid downtown traffic jams by diving into the underground system to be sure I got to key meetings on time. With average weekday headway of two minutes and a 99.9% on time rate, I could plan my movements down to the minute.

So I wondered, is Moscow’s metro really that different from New York’s and DC’s? Piecing together the facts presented the picture contained in this table:


Moscow Washington, DC New York
population served 15.5 million 5.3 million 8.1 million
km of track 408 188 380
# of stations 244 91 424
daily ridership:  2017 > 7 million 612,000 4.8 million
daily ridership:  2008 7.03 million 750,000 4.4 million
cost of one ride 55 rubles (about $1) $2.25 to $6 $3.00
annual operating budget 2017 $2.75 billion

(overall transportation)

$2.63 billion $8.19 billion


headway – peak 1.5 to 4 min 4 to 8 min 2 to 10 min
headway – off peak 4 to 8 min 8 to 20 min 4 to 15 min
% of trains on time 99.9% almost 90% 62.9%
amount invested in capital repair and construction

(including cars)

$37.8 billion

2012 – 2017

$8.64 billion

2007 – 2017

$28.9 billion


# of new stations since 2007 67 1 5
# of new cars since


2,219 out of

3,557 in service

622 out of

1,194 in service

1,598 out of

6,418 in service


There are several factors behind Moscow’s success in modernizing and expanding its metro. First is a clear purpose and political unity and backing. Putin personally selected Mayor Sobyanin to replace the old mayor in 2010 with one mandate:  make Moscow a global city that will compete with London and New York. Compete for what? For the loyalty of the most talented Russians, who come to Moscow from all over Russia to ‘make it’, but tend to then seek advanced degrees in the West and settle there. If Russia is to become a great power again, Moscow cannot be a way station for talented Russians enroute to the great cities of New York and London.

Thus most of Sobyanin’s performance KPI’s have been international ratings for cities, a number of which are prominently posted on the city’s official website in the section, “Achievements of Moscow: International Awards and Ratings:  The ratings section lists Moscow’s performance in 32 international comparisons of cities. Those cited are not window dressing.  The rating tracked most closely by the Russian government is the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, in which Moscow started out at #182 in 2010 and still ranks an unimpressive 115th.

Political will and Moscow’s position as Russia’s economic powerhouse have ensured ample funding has been available – over $37 billion since 2012, while keeping metro ticket prices minimal and continuing subsidies for a wide range of the population. Implementation has again demonstrated the Russian talent for organizing and driving to completion big projects. Russians have a well deserved reputation for laziness, but are also capable of extreme, sustained effort when they want to.

And politically such huge investments are widely supported by Russians, who believe it’s the government’s responsibility to provide modern infrastructure. They also love to travel to the world’s great cities, especially New York. And undoubtedly are proud to return home and tell their fellow Muscovites how unreliable and worn out the New York subway is.

Foreigners who visit Moscow for the first time for the World Cup are finding a city whose infrastructure is as modern as any European capital. And if any New Yorkers or Washingtonians come to root for their favorite foreign team, don’t be surprised to hear them standing on their hometown subway platform asking themselves why our trains can’t run on time if Moscow’s metro can run every two minutes for most of the day.

Darrell Stanaford

4 July 2018