The number of travellers on Moscow's famed metro has plunged by 200,000 in the past three months, its chief said on Tuesday, as the global financial crisis drives passengers out of the capital.
"Apparently, this is a manifestation of the crisis," Moscow metro head Dmitry Gayev told the Izvestiya newspaper. "People are leaving the city."
Thousands of so-called "guest workers" -- many from the poorer ex-Soviet states in Central Asia -- flocked to Moscow as a result of the recent economic boom.
But now, with the price of oil bottoming out and construction here at a standstill, many are leaving Moscow in search of work elsewhere.
The metro system -- built under Communist rule and famed for its elaborate stations boasting chandeliers and marble reliefs -- has over the last years become notorious for over-congestion.
The drop comes in the midst of an expansion of the aging Soviet underground system into the sprawling Moscow suburbs.
Five new stations are set to open by the end of 2009 and 60 kilometers (37 miles) of new track are to be laid by 2015.
Gayev defended a steep rise in the fare for riders earlier this year, and denied that it had been a factor in the decline.
"Do you have to pay your bills?" he asked. "Well, we have to pay ours too."
The transit authority is considering several options to fund the expansion in the face of declining revenues, he said, and does not plan to abandon the project.
Options on the table include splitting the costs between the city and federal governments, he said.
Moscow's metro is among the busiest in the world, with some 9.5 million passengers per day.