Society 24 April 2020

Moscow’s digital permit rollout is a shambles

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been accruing political capital. He introduced lockdown earlier than the federal authorities (here we explain why) and repeatedly urged people to take the epidemic seriously. But his heroic image crumbled this week when the introduction of a new system of digital permits for Muscovites created more confusion than clarity. 

  • A permit system in the Russian capital was rolled out Wednesday. It means that anyone wanting to travel by public transport, or in a car, requires a permit, which is obtained via an online form, SMS, or telephone call. 
  • What particularly infuriated Muscovites about the new system were the long lines that formed at the entrances to the subway. It turned out that permits were being checked by police officers at subway entrances and, as a result, many queues of 50 meters or more formed — with no sign of social distancing. Sobyanin blamed the police, and the next day the lines disappeared. But they will not be forgotten. Russia reported Saturday 4,785 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, a new daily record that takes total cases to 36,793. Officially, 313 people have died. We will never know how many new cases were the result of the subway queues. 
  • The first day of digital permits was also marked by huge traffic jams on roads into Moscow, where passes were being checked manually. And there was confusion on the taxi market. As you can’t ride a taxi without a pass, City Hall said taxi drivers should do the checking — but taxi companies were given just a few hours warning and managers at several taxi firms complained to The Bell that they have now idea how to implement such a system. 
  • Checks by law enforcement officers are likely to be reduced next week, in favor of digital control. City Hall announced (Rus) Saturday that thousands of traffic cameras in Moscow will be used to automatically issue fines to vehicles without permits. And from Wednesday, public transport will only be accessible to those using tap-in tap-out cards, which must be linked to your permit. 

Why the world should care Enforcement of Moscow’s lockdown is being ramped up. The authorities said (Rus) Thursday that 13,000 police officers are currently patrolling the streets, and $670,000 worth of fines for violating the lockdown have been issued in just one week.