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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreigners Lose Cheap Tickets

The Railways Ministry has moved to close loopholes that allowed certain categories of "accredited" foreign citizens to buy train tickets at the reduced prices available to Russians. Until recently, diplomats, foreign correspondents, students and many business people were eligible for discounts, which often more than halved train ticket prices.

A new instruction letter issued by the Railways Ministry two weeks ago aims to do away with these discounts.

"By the order of our leadership, tickets will be charged at their full price until the end of the month at least," said Natalya Kovalyova, administrator of the official railway ticketing agency, "We got a reminder from the ministry that we were selling tickets incorrectly, and were ordered to change."

She said that her agency sent a clarification request to the ministry after being flooded with complaints from diplomats and other foreigners, and that the order might be rescinded by the end of May.

Under Russian law, foreigners cannot be charged more for goods and services than Russian citizens. However the law is widely flouted by train ticketing agencies, museums, and hotels, which still use the two-tiered pricing system that took root during the Soviet era.

The Railways Ministry denied that any new orders regarding ticket prices for foreigners had been issued.

"We've heard that there is something being discussed, but we have not seen anything yet," said Yelena Ivanova, deputy head of the ministry's department of passenger tariffs.

However, UPDK, the agency that assists foreign diplomats and journalists with living and travel arrangements, said that it had received the Railway Ministry instructions two weeks ago.

"We got instructions from the Railway Ministry saying that there will now be identical price tariffs for foreign tourists and diplomats alike," said Nina Ivanova, an UPDK official, "I don't know how they can deny it when we have the instructions right in front of us."

Alan Steel, an agent with First Travel who handles travel arrangements for the Canadian Embassy, said that he began hearing complaints roughly two weeks ago about accredited foreigners being denied discounts.

However, he said enforcement was extremely spotty." It depends who you ask and where you go to get your tickets," he said, "It's best not to go to the train stations, or even better to have a Russian-sounding last name. Otherwise they'll rip you off."

Indeed, different rules and prices were cited at each of the ticketing agencies contacted for this story.

Intourtrans, once part of the official state tourism company, said that it had received no new instructions, and all accreditations were still being accepted. The private ticketing agency at Belorussky Station also said that it was accepting all accreditations.

But recent experiences of foreign travelers suggest that the new instruction doing away with all discounts is being enforced at the central ticketing agency at Moscow's Leningradsky Station, albeit inconsistently.

An Australian journalist was told he would need to pay 800 rubles for a ticket to St. Petersburg that costs Russians only 300 rubles. But later he learned that the fare restriction did not apply to the Number 5 "Intourist" train. The ticket clerk did not offer an explanation.

Even before the new instructions, the agency has for several months demanded that accredited foreign travelers show a "business travel certificate" with their accreditation cards before allowing them to purchase discounted tickets.