Many Russians have asked me with a smirk, “so, have you been on our buses? What do you think?,” expecting me to go on a tirade about how cramped and stuffy and dirty they are and how American transportation is king, yada-yada-yada. But actually, I don’t feel that way at all. Yes, getting on a minibus during rush hour can be an uncomfortable experience, and Russian buses definitely aren’t easy on the eyes. But whenever a Russian asks me what I think of the public transportation system, I can smile and confidently say, “you know, I really like it.”
I have never had a car in America. I managed to get through college bumming rides off friends to the grocery store, church, and the like; still, I felt a lack of independence. But summers were the worst. Since I didn’t have a car, the only time I could plan to get out of the house for sure was if both my parents were home from work and didn’t need to use it. It was easy to feel isolated and much more like a 12 year-old than a young adult.
Then I moved to Russia, and for the price of 13 rubles (about 50 cents), the world was at my fingertips! With a little knowledge of the route numbers, I could get wherever I needed to be in about 20 minutes. Whereas for Russians, the often dirty and crowded buses were a nuisance, for me, they signified freedom.
Another reason I love Russian transportation is that in the midst of a society where plans are constantly changing and you never know what is going to get thrown at you next, the buses faithfully run their routes from 6 am to 8 pm every day. There is something comforting in the simple knowledge that no matter what craziness happens over the course of the day, I can hop on that dingy number 6 bus and get dropped off right by the grocery store, my cellphone provider, or my favorite cafe. In a land of chaos, public transportation in one of the constants that helps me to stay sane.