Make public transport in Bucharest free

Free me

Free me. You have to admire the tupeu of placing a disabled sticker on the front: whoever did so should try getting on in a wheelchair

RATB, the state-owned agency which operates surface-level public transport in Bucharest, last week published a report claiming that almost half of all passengers on its buses, trams and trolleybuses do not have valid tickets. Given that those who do pay for tickets are purchasing the cheapest public transport tickets in the European Union (one trip on a Bucharest bus costs just 1.30 lei: that’s around €0.29) it is no wonder that RATB runs at a loss and requires government subsidies to keep it going. Last year, RATB required 540 million lei in subsidies. A former director, Mihai Campureanu, has estimated that ticket sales account for just 30 per cent of RATB’s annual budget.

Given that the ticketing system requires keeping hundreds of kiosks around the city open seven days a week, as well as employing (generally useless) ticket inspectors, would it not simply be better to make buses, trams and trolleybuses free?

Such a system exists elsewhere in Europe (in Tallinn, for example) and appears to be successful, although not without issues.

There is also of course the moral aspect of making public transport free. It would send a clear message to residents of Bucharest: the age of the car is nearing its end. Add in a charge for all cars entering the city centre and the scheme could even be self-funding.

As should now be obvious to just about anyone, the good people of Bucharest are not going to get out of their cars and onto buses willingly: they will need to be nudged, and offering a free alternative is one way of doing so, especially if accompanied by other measures, which we would suggest include (but are not limited to):

A congestion charge for the city centre. The area which affected would be roughly defined by Magheru to the east, Buzesti to the west, Piata Victoriei to the north and Piata Unirii to the south. Residents and taxis exempt. There would also be a total ban on parking in the area, except in designated car parks.

Public transport solidarity tax paid by the owners of all cars domiciled in Bucharest: amount to be paid depends on value of car (the more expensive the car, the higher the tax). Alternatively, the tax could be added to the price of petrol and diesel.

More buses, trams and trolleybuses to improve services and ease crowding. There should be a vehicle on every route every couple of minutes at peak times.

Introduction of real, heavily-policed public transport lanes at peak times, with heavy fines and a ‘no tolerance’ approach to any breaches.

Bucharest Life: because a better Bucharest is possible.

In other RATB news, we hear that Activ cards will soon once again be valid on the metro (they have not been valid since April last year). RATB has apparently almost finished paying off its debts to the operator of the metro, Metrorex, which has agreed to accept RATB cards once the debt has been paid in full.

In even more RATB news, those of you who love nothing more than circling Bucharest on a tram can now once again indulge themselves: the No. 1 tram, which was split into two lines for much of the past two years, now once again does a full circuit of the city (although you might have to switch vehicles at Sura Mare/Eroii Revolutiei). More about that in this post from 2011.

Some parts of Bucharest are dog free

Woof!

We had to pay a visit to Bucurestii Noi yesterday morning, to Jiului to be precise, and as we emerged from the metro we were met by a pack of four rather unpleasant looking, and ferociously barking stray dogs. They appeared to have emerged from the courtyard of a factory whose gates had been left unlocked.

We were rather taken aback: it was the first time we had seen a pack of strays in Bucharest in quite a while. We still spot the odd stray here and there, but for many months now the number of strays terrorising the Romanian capital’s streets has clearly been decreasing; fast. It’s perhaps time to recognise that some areas of the capital (and our own, Vitan, is one of them) are now dog free.

The agency responsible for stray dogs, ASPA, last week published figures which would suggest the dog problem is indeed becoming a thing of the past: it estimates the number of strays in Bucharest to now be as low as 4,000: that’s a huge decrease since the last major dog census was carried out in 2013, when there were almost 65,000.

This of course begs the question: Where have all the dogs gone? To be perfectly honest, we don’t really care, but according to ASPA around 20,000 have been adopted, 2,000 remain in shelters and 26,000 have been put down. The boss of ASPA, Razvan Bancescu, made some rather bizarre claims about how dogs being sent abroad for adoption were being mistreated. The dog NGOs denied the claims, and for once we’re inclined to believe them.

What’s important of course is that the dogs are no longer on our streets, and that things stay that way: dog numbers have fallen in the past (although never as low as current levels) only to increase again very quickly. Keeping the streets safe is an ongoing task.

It is also a shame that a small boy had to die before something got done.

Loads more on the stray dog issue in Life passim.

Bucharest museum blues

A tale of three Bucharest museums.

The director of the Romanian National Art Museum (MNAR), Roxana Theodorescu, told various assembled officials on Wednesday that if they wanted to visit her museum they should do so ‘as quickly as possible,’ because at the rate the museum is having to hand back nationalised works of art to their former owners (from whom they were confiscated in the late 1940s) there will soon, in Theodorescu’s words, ‘not be much left to see.’ (Unlike the British Museum, another massive crime scene, the MNAR is actually handing stolen works of art back to their rightful owners).

It is no surprise then that the museum has for a couple of years now been trying (very successfully) to attract visitors to the amazing former royal palace (in which the museum resides) itself, opening up the former royal living quarters and throne room to guided tours on occasional weekends. These tours (which cost 20 lei per person) have been immensely popular and more are planned for 2015 (although there are no firm dates just yet). The museum’s website usually publishes details of any upcoming tours a couple of weeks in advance of their taking place. You need to reserve a place on a tour: you can call (+4) 021 314 81 19 for more information.

Further along Calea Victoriei at the Romanian National History Museum (MNIR), things are in an even worse state.

Theoretically home to an amazing number of exhibits spread over more than 60 rooms, only a handful are currently on public display. A couple of these (the copy of Trajan’s Column in the lapidarium, and the Romanian crown jewels in the basement) still, just about, make a visit here worthwhile, but the vast bulk of the museum is disappointingly closed, has been for some time (since 2002) and looks like remaining closed until at least 2020 while much-needed renovation and repairs are carried out on the building (a glorious neoclassical palace built in the 1890s). This report (also published on Wednesday) suggests that the museum will close entirely later this year, with the main attractions being moved elsewhere until work (for which funds are now allegedly available) is complete. The prospect of Romania’s National History Museum being closed for almost five years (and that’s if work is completed as scheduled) is not a particularly joyful one.

Still, at least you will be able to carry on taking photos of the utterly bizarre statue of Trajan on the building’s steps.

Trajan_Statue

There is some good news on the museum front, however, in the shape of the Theodor Aman Museum on C.A. Rosetti, between Calea Victoriei and Bulevardul Magheru.

Closed for almost 10 years years it reopened last summer after much restoration and the interior looks better than ever. We were there on Wednesday.

Click for source.

Click for source.

The building which plays host to the museum is one of the finest remaining old residences in Bucharest, although blink and you will miss it, hemmed in as it is by tall blocks. Built in 1868 as a home and studio by painter Theodor Aman it includes a vast amount of the artist’s work: the many murals and frescoes are not the least of these. Look out too for the exterior decorations, the work of sculptor Karl Storck. One of Bucharest’s oldest museums, this place has been welcoming visitors since 1908. A charming treat, and really something of a must.

The museum is open 10am-6pm Wednesday – Sunday. Admission costs 5 lei for adults, while children, students and pensioners pay 2 lei. There is a photography fee of 15 lei (which we refused, on principle, to pay).

How to earn yourself a tip

Vitan – the district of Bucharest in which we live – joined the modern world in October when Telekom (the telecommunications provider formerly known as Romtelecom) finally got round to bringing fibre-optic cables to the area. We have been clients of Telekom/Romtelecom for years (both for internet and television) but the speed of our old connection (which came through a 1970s telephone line that was barely hanging together in places) was a rather modest 27-28Mb, while the satelite dish which supplied the television signal was rusty and most unreliable during high winds, snow and any inclement weather.

We were therefore delighted when a couple of Telekom lads came round at the weekend to fit us out with the latest technology. We now have both high-speed, 1Gb internet and IPTV. No telephone line or satelite dish required. And we are paying less.

It’s not quite 1Gb, by the way, but that’s probably due more to our laptop’s less than impressive capabilities than the internet connection which, even so, is impressive:

Anyway, this is not an advert for Telekom. No, it’s an advert for the two fellas who came to do the job. You see, the cables from the satelite dish came in to the apartment directly through the windowpanes in the two rooms where we have televisions. Given that IPTV works differently (the cables run off the modem), we were looking at an awful lot of drilling and miles of ugly cables running through the house in order to get a signal on the TV in our bedroom.

Without us asking them to do so, they got another colleague round with a ladder who did something to the old satelite cables which meant that they could be used for the new receivers. No new cables (except the fibre-optic to the modem) and no drilling necessary. A two-hour job became a one-hour job.

Of course, the lads took this approach because – in the first place – it saved them a load of drilling. But at the same time they saved us a ton of cleaning up and a load of ugly cables. What’s more, they showed initiative. That’s always a plus in our book.

They left with a tip.

In case you were wondering

In case you were wondering what had become of the incomplete ‘fountain’ which sprang up quite some time ago now on the corner of Piata Unirii and Bulevardul Unirii, here is how it looked this morning:

piata-unirii-new-fountain

As far as we can tell, beyond it having been covered in a white tarpaulin, it remains the same neglected eyesore we last wrote about at the beginning of December.