A trip on Kyiv public transport

So I decided to take a relatively small trip today, in an unconventional way – using Kyiv’s fairly extensive public transport system. I had things to do and places to scout, anyway, and while my home is advantageously located in terms of accessibility (so much that I usually go on foot, if at all), what it kind of lacks is a direct way to Podil, Kyiv’s Brooklyn – right where I needed to go. Usually I take the metro – the roundabout way to travel – or the marshrutka and then the metro, a similarly roundabout way, too; but today I decided to travel differently.

I started by taking the Light Rail – or ‘Fast Tram’, as it is better known:

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Kyiv’s light rail is a side effect of its once-extensive tram network, but it’s nothing if not convenient: it was largely renovated in the runup to the Euro-2012, and its Right Bank line connects the outlying neighborhoods with the city center, terminating near the Central Railway station. The Left Bank line services the infamous Troyeschina borough, which suffers without adequate transportation. While the stations are a tad bit rundown (but still better than how they were before) and the rolling stock used doesn’t differ much from Kyiv’s ordinary trams, I got lucky: my ride was a relatively new K-1M tramset:

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I hopped onto it and enjoyed the ride towards Ivana Lepse station, near the eponymous boulevard, where I climbed a flight of rather dilapidated stairs and was presented with this:

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You guessed it: that’s a tram stop. Before I knew it, my tram arrived, an old Tatra T3 number, and it proceeded to carry me all the way to Podil. Here you can see it at the line’s terminus, on Podil’s Kontraktova Square (that’s near the infamous Kyiv-Mohyla Academy):

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Kyiv’s trams have a long and distinguished history: Kyiv was one of the first cities in the Russian Empire to get an electric tram, required by Kyiv’s hilly terrain. The tram network flourished until the 90s came and the network was cut down to its current size. Basically it’s two unconnected networks now, less extensive on the Right Bank and quite extensive on the Left. Right Bank lines mostly terminate in Podil, from where they go towards Obolon’, Vynohradar and Puscha-Voditsa in the north and through Shevchenko District and Borschagivka in the south: one line terminates at the Central Station, and one is connected to the Light Rail – that’s the one I took.

The ride was largely pleasant. On Lepse Blvd and up until Lukyanivka the trams run on a largely separate track by the main road, and despite the frequent stops they go quite fast – faster than marshrutkas and public buses, at any rate. Past Lukyanivka, though, the tram goes on the street and runs downhill to Podil, which is not as fast and not as comfortable since the tram has to share with the traffic. The ride took 46 minutes, which is… about the same as if I took the usual way with the metro, actually. The metro would have been slightly comfortable.

The tracks need work. I know in some places the city replaced old tracks with newer, low-noise rubber tracks, but I wasn’t as lucky to see those. Along Lepse Blvd and Dehtyarivska St., where the trams run on a separate track, it is supposed to be a green track.. or was supposed to be, once: now it’s like trams run on a piece of the Sahara desert. Tracks should be replaced if the city’s thinking about renovating its tram network, seriously: making new low-floor trams run along shoddy tracks is a disgrace. The stone tracks also make the ride rather bumpy, and road-running tracks should be completely level with the road. The rolling stock, while not rundown and actually quite clean (compared to the Light Rail, which sometimes uses horribly dilapidated Tatras alongside the newer and shinier trams), also needs replacement: it is quite old, anyway, not to mention the high and uncomfortable floors. Thankfully, the city’s ordering 50 new PESA Twist trams, so this is a start, but in Kyiv’s 300-strong tramcar fleet these fifty would be a drop in the ocean at best.

Here’s a tram in Podil, crowded by several cars near the Ministry of Finance:

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I decided to walk back to Poshtova Square and look what I stumbled upon. Goddamn Privat Group: first you steal the Ukrop shoulder patch, but then you just have to rub it in our faces, too?!

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Brace yourselves: LOCAL ELECTIONS ARE COMING. Gah.

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The Podil Bridge looms in the distance. A motorway/metro bridge, it is eleven (!) years in the making, and they didn’t even start on the metro. Someday, however, when it is finished, Kyiv will get its fourth metro line, one running to Troyeschina. Exactly when it will happen is unknown, but at least they got the arch in place.

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The Poshtova Square interchange is mostly finished, but not yet. Cars already run underneath and over it, though.

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I decided to climb Borychiv Tik, a street famous for nothing except the fact that the Kyiv funicular used to terminate here in Tsarist times. I think the station was right here: the upper funicular terminus has a scale model I used to look at when I was a kid, but I don’t have a picture. Incidentally, here’s a funicular car:

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I didn’t take the funicular, though. It is again a product of Kyiv’s terrain: Kyivans needed a way to get from the Upper City to Podil, which is downhill, quickly, and so they came up with a funicular railway. With the advent of motor transport and the metro it has largely fallen by the wayside, though, and is mostly a public attraction; yet the transit authority still charges the same fare (3 UAH, that’s about 0.13 USD) for it as they do for buses, trolleys and trams. Virtually no one except tourists and non-Kyivans uses it; the city should make them pay handsomely for that (and possibly Kyivans, too), but there you have it.

The lower terminus is much prettier today, though, trees and all:

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I decided to take the metro. Russians love to laugh at their former brother peoples for not having proper metro systems as Moscow or St. Petersburg do, but that’s Russians for you. Kyiv Metro has three lines, which is nowhere near enough, but on the other hand, it doesn’t have the money. New stations were largely built as voter bribes on a grand scale, and were extensions of the existing lines – not entirely useless (although one is literally built in a fucking forest), but that money could be better spent at building that damned fourth line to Troyeschina. Goddamn, Bucharest has more lines than Kyiv, Bucharest! Now I’m jealous.

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You’re not actually supposed to take pictures of the metro, since it is a civil defense installation and thus has security to worry about, but no one seemed to mind, so I took some pictures. Poshtova Ploscha is rather uninspiring, built during the height of the Brezhnev ‘no-decorations-allowed’ era, a simple column design: most Kyiv metro stations are built like that:

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They renovated the walls, though:

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Wall murals showing scenes from Ancient Rus’:

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I hopped off the train at Ploscha Lva Tolstoho station…

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…and transferred to the Palats Sportu station, green (Syretsko-Pecherska) line:

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It had old “Dvorets Sporta” Russian letters replaced with new Ukrainian ones, in the same distinctive font:

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A network map. Three lines – Svyatoshinsko-Brovarska (M1, the red line), Kurenivsko-Chervonoarmiyska (M2, the blue line) and Syretsko-Pecherska (M3, the green line). The grey Urban Rail circuit is also shown:

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A new metro train: a couple of these run on the green line, made in Kreminchuk:

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…And that’s the Pecherska station, literally in midtown Kyiv.

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Here I went into the nearest fast food restaurant to grab a bite, and then decided to take the trolley.

Trolleys!

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Trolleys are cool. Their heavy presence in Kyiv is justified not only by the Soviet heritage (the USSR was on a trolleybus binge for most of its existence, in some cases replacing trams with trolleys: this is why most trolley lines are concentrated in the former Soviet Union countries nowadays), but also by Kyiv’s epic hills, which trolleys manage better than buses. Here, in the center, they’re small guys, but my street has brawny articulated trolleys running to and fro, day or night.

First, however, I stumbled upon this strangely new bus stop:

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…and then had to wait until my trolley arrived:

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Note that these are relatively new Bogdan trolleys, while my neighborhood gets older ElectroLAZ, MAZ and Yuzhmash trolleys from time to time. They’re still pretty clean, though, unlike the unkempt and decrepit marshrutkas, and are decently fast, too (although that may have been the side effect of a Saturday afternoon):

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But they’ve got comfortable seats and voice announcements in Ukrainian and (surprisingly decent) English, so whatever.

The enormous Gulliver mall/business center. Incidentally, it’s built in the same place where an old tram track terminated once, before they dug it up in 1999:

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Gulliver, Palace of Sports and the slightly more enormous Parus skyscraper in the background:

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The trolley arrived at the Central Railway Station, which was simply Shanghai. You didn’t see the worst of it, but believe me, it was horrible. Here’s a picture of the terminal building:

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It got worse when I failed to find the transfer to the Light Rail line (which runs more or less straight to my home), but stumbled on the Urban Rail station, instead:

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Urban Rail is Kyiv’s S-Bahn, only more run-down and with very irregular intervals; I was lucky to catch one, so I didn’t go back and take the (overcrowded) metro. The trains are your standard Ukrzaliznitsya elektrichkas, and they run around the city, making a run in about an hour and a half, pretty quick. Three Urban Rail stations are also close to metro stations, and one – Troyeschina-2 – is entirely intermodal with the Left Bank Light Rail line. I didn’t go there, though: I just went, paid my 4 UAH (that’s about 0.17 USD), and hopped on the train:

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Which was largely empty:

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Kyiv’s public transport is actually quite clean: this is probably its main perk compared to the marshrutkas. This applies even to this mostly unremarkable Urban Rail train. The ride was smooth, too, and the seats were comfortable – and, boy, does it cover a lot of ground, even if I was getting off at literally the next stop.

Here’s a Light Rail tram passing in front of the Infrastructure Ministry building (background):

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The Infrastructure Ministry and another highrise under construction:

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…and I get off the train at Karavayevi Dachi station. The Urban Rail is no S-Bahn (or Szybka Kolej Miejska), but it’s probably got potential, if they get some better rolling stock. I mean, Belarus has Stadler FLIRTs, why can’t we? Although more rolling stock would be a bigger priority, since Urban Rail trains can run infrequently, thus not making it a very convenient form of public transport. It’s more like a commuter rail running inside the city than anything else now: certainly not the European brand of urban rail.

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They say Troyeschina is ecstatic, though.

Karavayevi Dachi, in all their tubular glory:

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The staircases were too narrow and I had to share them with a ton of Ukrainian rednecks and their cargo. Then I had trouble finding the exit and had to ask station personnel as to how do I get out. Not a very good end of a ride:

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And then I decided to go rest of the way on foot, but not before catching this antique Yuzhmash trolley for you:

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All in all, I’m tired. But at the same time this was an enlightening ride, since I do not get out of my neighborhood that often (why should I, I’ve got two shopping malls in ten minutes’ walking distance!). I hope it was as enlightening for you, but let me add something.

Public transport in Ukraine is cheap. In fact, it would probably be the cheapest in Europe if not for those pesky Estonians, who went and made public transport free for all citizens. Still, it doesn’t come close to how much public transport costs in Moscow or St. Petersburg, even with all the price increases Ukrainian public decries. Keep that in mind next time you’re going to accuse the Ukrainian government of not being socialist enough (going on anti-socialism crusades, having hard-ons for austerity, etc), but the point still stands: low prices mean public transport in Ukraine – in Kyiv in particular – will remain heavy subsidized just to make ends meet. No wonder no one fixes tram tracks or builds new metro lines, and with Ukrzaliznitsya being what it is, no wonder Urban Rail doesn’t run on time.

I’m not saying we should pay more. I don’t fancy paying 12 UAH for a metro token (this is about 50 rubles, the price in Moscow Metro) any more than your average Ukrainian does. But I want decent, comfortable and modern public transport, too. We probably have to express our thanks to Kyivpastrans, the city’s transit authority, for all the good work they do maintaining their vehicle fleet while being short on cash, but we can’t go on like that if we want new tram lines, new metro stations, new Urban Rail trains, whatever else a modern European capital requires.

What should we do, then? The answer is probably self-evident. Yet it strangely escapes the minds of most people living in Ukraine.

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A trip on Kyiv public transport

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