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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Vetos Metro Price Hike

The documents were prepared, the public was bracing itself, but Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Friday refused to approve a 50 percent hike in metro fares.

On the day that prices were slated to increase from 400 to 600 rubles (from 10 to 15 cents), Luzhkov postponed the increase indefinitely and publicly stated that "it was not necessary to raise the price," said mayoral spokesman Igor Zverev.

By blocking the action, Luzhkov overruled recommendations from the city department of transportation and the Moscow Metropolitan. The cash-strapped metro system recently threatened partial closure if the Russian government does not increase funding and has come to rely more and more on the mayor's support.

But uproar over the decision was not limited to City Hall. News of the proposed increase hit city newsstands in the middle of last week, so consumers crammed outside metro ticket windows Thursday to stock up on 400-ruble tokens. Panicking commuters bought 3,680,000 tokens; normal sales never go above 3 million, said engineer Andrei Sergeyev, who supervises the sales.

As a result, the metro was forced to curtail its business Friday, limiting purchases to two tokens per customer. Metro officials have no idea when the price rise will take place, and the strain on token production and sales will end up costing the metro 5 million rubles, said deputy director Dmitry Gayev.

Mayoral and metro officials alike laid the blame on the press, charging that premature coverage was in no one's interest. Traditionally, city officials have kept mum on rate changes until after they were in force. As late as Friday morning, mayoral spokesman Igor Zagrebnoi would not confirm that the plan ever existed, and commented only that "Interfax was hasty."

For its part, Interfax insisted that its reports had been accurate. "Our feeling is that the decree was deflected at the last minute," said Renat Obtulin, director of the information service. "The document existed, it just wasn't signed."

Whoever was responsible for the panic, it left metro riders and officials equally in the dark. Customers took the turnaround philosophically. Over the last two years, metro rates have risen from one ruble to 400, and monthly passes for all four forms of transportation now cost more than minimum wage.

Larisa, a housewife who would not give her last name, stood in line at Savyolovskaya station. "I have no idea" when the price will go up, she said. "But there is one thing I do know: It will go up."