As our regular reader (a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales) will know, we are frequent users of Bucharest’s various forms of public transport: buses, trams and, of course, the metro.
In the past we have always tried to be relatively upbeat about the general state of the service offered by RATB (which runs surface-level transport) and Metrorex (which runs the metro), and for some time now the text we publish in Bucharest In Your Pocket about public transport in this city has been rather positive.
Over the past month or so (a period in which we have been using public transport more or less daily) we have sadly had to revise this opinion, an opinion which it turns out was rather Panglossian. The text will be revised for the next issue of the guide (December-January).
Here are five reasons why:
1. Public transport in Bucharest is unreliable
We use trams 1, 23 and 27, as well as the 123 bus at least a couple of times per week. In theory these (like all) routes have timetables (or at least a published maximum interval between services), which is made available on RATB’s website. This is the schedule for the 123, for example, which comically states that between 6am and 9am the bus runs at three minute intervals.
In practice these are entirely useless. Gaps between services are often far longer than stipulated, and with no indicator boards at stops to tell you how long until the next bus or tram arrives, waiting can be a highly frustrating experience. The 123 bus is particularly bad, with waits of 20+ minutes not uncommon.
2. The crowds are often unbearable
The most visible consequence of these long waits are the crowds forced to pack on to the few buses which do run. The 123 bus serves a key route, from Vitan to the Gara de Nord, via the Bucuresti Mall, Bulevardul Unrii, Piata Unirii, the opera and the Municipal Hospital. With only five or six buses an hour, however, the number of people forced to cram on to each vehicle makes even getting on one a challenge. (The lesser-spotted 124 also serves much the same route, but it runs once every hour).
3. Most of Bucharest’s buses are appallingly designed
Crowded buses which run infrequently might be a little more bearable if they were fit for purpose: the standard Bucharest bus is not. The rear seats (of which there aren’t even that many) take up far too much space and block access to the standing areas in the middle of the vehicle. Add in the dreaded ‘early doors syndrome‘ and you have a recipe for disaster.
4. Tram tracks are frequently blocked by cars
One of the (few) advantages of trams is that they run on rails, and should in theory be free of interference from drivers. Alas, this is not the case in practice: trams are frequently blocked by inconsiderate drivers. We have said before that were we to be elected mayor of Bucharest we would hand tram drivers carte blanche to ram into cars which block tramlines. We would even fit sharp, snowplough-style devices to the front of all trams to make ramming miscreant cars easier. Controversial? Yep, but you wait and see how quickly those tramlines would be clear of traffic, terrified of messing with the Vatmeni.
5. Routes can change overnight
Often with little more than a few hours’ notice (keep your eyes on the RATB website), routes will change (usually to reflect roadworks). A couple of weeks ago the number and route of the tram which serves Calea Vitan (our closest tram and bus stop) was changed three times in a week.
Maybe we are just unlucky.