Getting behind the wheel in Moscow is not for the faint-of-heart. Muscovites drive fast and observe road rules only loosely until admonished by baton-wielding, whistle-blowing traffic police. There is a saying that Moscow is the only city in which you can be rear-ended while passing in the lane of on-coming traffic. On the eight-lane MKAD, a slow car will be passed on both sides. Drivers routinely create lanes where there aren’t any, including on sidewalks, especially on smaller roads. On busy holidays, drivers may spontaneously turn a two-way road into a one-way, leaving the few people who are trying to leave the location of the main event plain out of luck. Alternatively, three lanes of a four-lane road may become an impromptu parking lot.
It is commonplace for a line of cars to form behind an ambulance or even police vehicle, taking advantage of the space opening up for emergency services – until an angry fellow traveler cuts off the line. Large highways and the 8-lane MKAD can be a nightmare to navigate. There are no or only very short on- and off-ramps. Signage is poor and there is little warning of upcoming exits, which can be either to the left or the right. Most new drivers to Moscow and even seasoned residents and taxi drivers require a GPS system to navigate the city.
Many expats who want the use of a private vehicle hire a driver. Rates currently start at 40,000 RUR per month for a driver with his own economy sedan; you can hire a driver to drive your vehicle for 20,000 – 30,000 RUR per month. Expect to pay substantially more for a driver with a luxury vehicle, or a driver who speaks English. You can hire a permanent on-call driver, or hire one for evenings and/or weekends only at a lower rate, if your company provides you with a car and driver for the commute to and from work.
Drivers can be hired through the jobs-wanted section of the Russian-language Iz Ruk v Ruki newspaper, published Thursdays, or its online version at http://irr.ru, with the help of a Russian-speaking assistant.
Although many expats have cars in Moscow, you shouldn’t automatically assume that you need one – it is very easy and often faster to get around Moscow using the metro, buses, trams, and taxis. Even a professional driver will not be able to quickly navigate through Moscow’s notorious congestion – a quick 25-minute drive at 3 p.m. can easily turn into a three-hour ordeal at rush hour. The rush hour influx that is common to all major cities is further exacerbated in Moscow by two major problems: 1) traffic regulations that require no vehicles be moved after an accident, regardless of how many lanes they’re blocking, until after traffic police arrives; and 2) the common practice of blocking lanes or even entire highways to allow easy passage of VIPs and dignitaries with police escorts. Because even a police escort requires a long time to get a vehicle though the city, roads may begin to be blocked some time in advance. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be such a dignitary, it can be quite easy and comfortable to get around by car even in Moscow rush hour traffic.