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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Token Price Means Old-Style Hoarding

There was sugar hoarding during the anti-alcohol days of the Gorbachev era. Soap hoarding hit three years ago when shortages suddenly occurred. Matches, too, periodically become a collector's item.

But who could have imagined that Metro tokens would one day be hot property?

That day has come, with the threatened imminent introduction of a sharp hike in the cost of a ride. Moscow's mayor will decide Tuesday whether to triple the Metro fare to 3 rubles, his office said Monday.

Moscow City Council passed a resolution last week raising prices effective Friday, Nov. 20, but the decision was ignored and the Metro fare remained at 1 ruble.

Nonetheless, public anticipation of higher fares triggered widespread hoarding, and Metro officials say the new green tokens introduced earlier this month are already in short supply, creating long lines at many Moscow stations.

The tokens "are just going into the

pockets of passengers", said Alexander Tretsyak, the assistant director of electronic systems. "They expect prices to go up and they're collecting them".

The Park Kultury station, for example, is selling 40, 000 tokens a day, or more than twice as many as they receive from paying passengers, station officials said. By 2 P. M. Monday, the station was left with just 800 tokens to sell, according to Tatyana Matyukhina, head of the token desk.

Across Moscow, stations are selling only one token at a time to discourage hoarding. Many of those waiting in line are pensioners, who ride for free on the Metro.

"I bought these only so that my son would not have to stand in line in the morning when there are many people and he is in a hurry", said Nina Bogomolova, a retired woman, who waited for five tokens.

Twelve million new tokens have been distributed since their introduction Nov. 1, but that is far short of the 40 million that are expected to circulate by the end of the year, according to Tretsyak.

Last week's premature announcement of the fare increase was another indicator of the City Council's de facto junior status. By order of President Boris Yeltsin, Mayor Yury Luzhkov rules Moscow by decree, which often allows him to ignore the City Council when making policy.

A Luzhkov decree would firmly establish the new date and price of the fare, which has already increased several times since 1991 from the price of 5 kopeks that it had held for years.

A spokesman for the City Council accused the mayor's office of political trickery by pledging support for the 3-ruble fare and then removing it.

"The classical mechanism of intrigue was at work here", said the spokesman, Alexander Popov. "We made the decision, but at the very last moment, suddenly something scared city hall, they became scared about a political backlash, and they started saying that they had not adopted the decision".