Millions of drivers who daily spend hours trapped in traffic on Moscow’s notoriously gridlocked roads are finally to get some respite as the brake goes on the motorcades of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev and they are left “parked at home”.
Normally as the president and his prime minister travel each day from their suburban homes to work at the Kremlin and White House, police empty the roads of traffic, forcing drivers to wait as the men’s glamorous motorcades drift by.
For years, drivers took the daily event in stride. About a year ago, they felt they could take no more.
Moscow is generally noisy with the sounds of thousands of drivers honking horns as they wait for the passing of these motorcades, which often involve a dozen cars with blue sirens wailing.
Videos of the honkfests have gone viral on YouTube. Now, Putin and Medvedev seem to have taken notice.
According to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, the president has decided to work from home as much as possible, keeping off the streets entirely except when official functions require his presence in the Kremlin.
“The president is minimising his meetings in the Kremlin and is preferring to hold them in Ogaryovo to avoid disturbing Muscovites,” Peskov told the Interfax new agency. “There is no substantive difference – if the meeting does not require any kind of ceremony, it is held in the suburban residence. He really has cut the use of motorcades to the minimum in Moscow.”
Medvedev has gone a step further and has begun taking to the skies in a helicopter, according to his spokeswoman, Natalia Timakova.
A secure flight scheme has been developed by Russia‘s security services, Timakova said, and Medvedev had already taken his first heli-commute in Moscow, visiting an electricity station in the capital.
Pyotr Shkumatov, head of Blue Buckets, a drivers’ rights group, said: “The situation on Moscow’s roads is truly horrible, and when the heads of government travel in the style to which they’ve become accustomed it turns into total transport collapse. God forbid anyone gets sick – not even ambulances can get through.”
He added: “Maybe they have finally understood.”
Medvedev’s decision to give up his motorcade for a helicopter came several days after the prime minister’s cortege was subjected to sustained honking during a visit to his hometown of St Petersburg.
Georgy Poltavchenko, the city’s governor, publicly criticised drivers. “When we were driving with our country’s prime minister down the streets of our glorious city, only the lazy didn’t honk,” he said. “People stood by, raising all sorts of fingers. As a St Petersburger, I was ashamed. I’ve never seen such open boorishness.”