A few observations on public transport in Bucharest

123

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).

124
That rarest of Bucharest beasts, the 124 bus. Photo: RATB

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.

  • Cristian Ioan

    I live in Calea Vitan, but it’s been many years since I’ve last seen a 124 bus. For 123, yes you have to WAIT, and when it finally gets there, of course it is overcrowded.
    I’m a Capitalist since birth, 56 years ago, but still I got fooled by the tram 1, which now … are TWO lines with the same number!
    Tram 41 in the morning (7:30-8:30) is fantastic, it comes at less than one minute intervals, if one happens to be overcrowded, you just take a deep breath and wait 100 seconds for the next one.

    The Metro also operates very good (usually) but does NOT cover all the city. The stops are quiet far apart, soemtimes as far as 1,5 Km away, but this contributes to a higher average speed – impossible to reach if the stations were as close as the bus stops.

    Tips and taxis: taxis are very useful, but you must check to avoid “pirates”!
    The charge for most taxi companies is artificially limited to 1,39 lei / Km, which is quite low, so you SHOULD add a healty tip, up to 20%.
    And yes, the cabbies do NOT carry any change, so when you only have 100-lei bills and the fare is 10 or 20, it may get a little akward.

  • Public transport is the glory of Bucharest but I have only ever heard you complain about it. Buses come along all the time, trams likewise, they are modern and comfortable – the buses anyway. You are coming to share the Romanian distaste for crowded buses but there is always room for me, I find. What you should do is to ask for cars to be discouraged form entering the centre of Bucharest by requiring a fee to do so. And ask for wheel clamps. What I have noticed in the last couple of years is many more cars shooting lights. I also admit I prefer to walk – thank goodness Bucharest is a walking city like Prague or Cambridge, not a car city like London or Istanbul.

    • I am very much pro public transport and pointing out that it can often be a bit crap does not change that. I agree that the city centre should be as car free as possible but I am also realistic enough to admit that cannot happen until there is a decent alternative to the car; right now there is not. More buses and more bus lanes would be a start.

      Parking is another issue.

      • Roger

        The metro is fantastic though is it not?

        I actually find Bucharest a rather ‘small’ capital City, to walk around, or at least it seems that way?

        Maybe it’s a theme that people become lazy and expect to have some form of transport to get them from A-B.

        Bus/taxi lanes are a great idea and reducing the many needless car journeys by people is no bad thing either.

        • The metro is OK if you happen to live near a metro station and are going somewhere which is also close to a metro station.

          • Roger

            Fair point regarding the metro, but this combined with buses, trams and the lesser known art of walking make Bucharest a fairly easy city to navigate?

            I left out the taxis on balance but due to the extremely cheap price of them, they could be added too as a feasible and realistic form of transport.

            I’m quite sure many cities in the world could improve transport links but I must say, I’d not noticed Bucharest as having a severe problem with this?

            But hey, I don’t live there so what do I know!

      • I cannot imagine how buses could possibly be better anywhere than here. As for the man who sees pretty girls on the metro, I have been astonished in fifteen years not once to have seen a hot girl there. Hot girls do not use public the metro. They used to walk but now go by car, it seems.

        • I cannot imagine how buses could possibly be better anywhere than here. As for the man who sees pretty girls on the metro, I have been astonished in fifteen years not once to have seen a hot girl there. Hot girls – hot in my judgment that is – do not use the metro. They used to walk but now go by car, it seems. Many or most have gone abroad. – See more at: http://www.bucharestlife.net/2013/11/08/a-few-observations-on-public-transport-in-bucharest/#comment-27310

        • Roger

          @Paul Wood

          I’m British so my perspective on ‘hot girls’ as you call them is probably at a slightly lower level that what you’re used too but seriously, some of the ladies who use the metro are absolutely stunning, beauty is often better in its simplistic form as opposed to a make -up clad girl on a night out.

          I’m not an out and out pervert by any means, I was merely stating that some of the most beautiful young ladies I have ever seen are Romanian, and many travel on the metro, that is the simple truth.

  • Prisomer of Your Eyes

    I use the tram 1 daily for both going to work and for returning home and I could not say that there are any reasons to complain. In the morning it is pretty fast- it takes me about 15-20 minutes to get from Piata Eroii Revolutiei to blvd. Iuliu Maniu ( the intersection of Iuliu Maniu blvd. with the Vasile Milea blvd. )- and from what I see it is obvious that RATB is in the process of changing the old trams with new, modern ones. Some time ago I even made a suggestion to them via e-mail about the tram 1 and they politely replied.

    Nevertheless I completely agree on the point that (especially around the rush hour- starting from 4 PM) the tram tracks are continuously blocked by cars. When the cars have to stop at the red light in the intersection the trams get “stuck” until the cars in front of it have green light. Because of the drivers who block the tracks the people have to wait for the tram a lot more than they should.
    But this is the drivers’ fault rather than RATB’s, isn’t it?

  • Ayceman

    You did have a bit of a bad luck streak but in the words of a metrouusor forum member: „RATB lungește semicursa ca elasticul de la chiloți” – so excessive crowding is to be expected on any decently circulated line.

    BTW what am I doing awake at this hour?

  • Lived in Bucharest from 06-07, and just visited in July 2013.

    -Metro
    Just fine I thought. Compared to 06-07, more security and less beggars on Blue and especially the Yellow line. Agree with Roger, fun people watching!

    -Tram
    Was on a somewhat crowded tram (#41) near Crangasi on Sunday (for 1 stop) and didn’t push through folks to swipe my card – and got nailed by the inspector. Cost 50 Lei a person for 3 of us. Don’t try to ride free! Bummer, because I had the card in hand!

    Historical note: Back in 06-07, the #5 Tram was awful for folks, with several getting stacked up on Barbu Vacarescu. I had a car back then and routinely gave friends rides to help them avoid this part of their commute. Didn’t ride it this summer, so don’t know if that’s still a problem.

    Buses:
    Rode a few buses this summer and did notice a long interval wait in Titan (330 I think).

    Cheers!
    Steve

  • Roger

    Having just got back I have the odd view or ten 🙂

    ALL my views are sweeping generalizations and firstly can I make it clear I love Romania, its culture and people!

    Tram:

    Never traveled on one although one of my taxi drivers had a head on, who blinks first, with a tram, when taking me to Lipscani ……. The tram won as we diverted at the last possible second!

    Bus:

    Does anyone EVER pay to travel on these, and I mean ever 🙂
    Even I followed suit and didn’t pay, only due to the language barrier at the kiosk may I add!

    Metro:

    I defy ANYONE to find a better place to spend time for a single guy of a certain age 🙂 My God have you ever been forcefully squashed up against so many beautiful young ladies in your life!

    On a serious note how intolerable must it be in the heat of the summer!

    Although refreshing that the ‘rush’ and dog eat dog attitude of the underground (london) is not apparent ……. I mean keep the left side clear on escalators and stairs as people make a mad dash, everyone seems a lot more chilled!

    The guards are a plus point to keep the average tourist more comfortable although in a city as safe as Bucharest you’d be hard pressed to find trouble even if you went looking for it!

    Overall a great/the best way to get around Bucharest, albeit crowded at peak times and closes too early BUT taxi guys have to make a living so fairs, fair perhaps!

    Taxi: 🙂

    Where do you start!

    Well maybe the Dacia has the worlds harshest brakes, most unreliable steering, loudest horn and severe shortage of rear window handles!

    Or maybe it’s just down to the owner/drivers!!

    I guess it’s all down to luck of the draw, you could get a smoke/coffee breath free cab with an English speaking driver who actually has change for 50 lei and takes you a direct route from A-B

    OR

    You could get an obnoxious smoking abrupt individual who when you ask on entering his taxi Buna sera … la gara de nord va rog …… multumesc ……. He looks at you like you’re something he just stepped in on the pavement (more about the lack of dogs later) and will almost certainly carry no change whatsoever, and woe be tied if you expect some change from a 12 lei journey if you give him 20 lei (i’d say call it 15 and expect 5 in return) is that SO bad ???

    Any advice on expected tipping rates appreciated and NOT just foreigner ones 🙂

    I mean, I try, I really do ……… engage with most Romanians and they appreciate it, makes them smile and then they say the inevitable ….. ”it’s OK, I speak English” whilst laughing nicely at your attempts to communicate!

    But I guess we are all different and to be honest my comments are NOT a criticism, as I love the quirky side to Romania and which country is perfect?

    I could go on and on and on ……… but I’m sure they’ll be time later in the thread and to finish ……….

    I’d defy ANYONE with the slightest hint of travel sickness to spend a 5 minute journey in a Bucharest taxi without spewing up 🙂

    God, I love Romania, I really do!

  • Phil

    So what’s wrong with trams?

    • Certainly not as much as with the buses. Mainly the long intervals between them.

  • CF

    Why not use a bike?

    Also, the buses look really good compared to the old pre-2007 ones, which looked and felt horrible. I live in the UK at the moment and the buses here are much worse design-wise, except the iconic London ones.

    I agree about all the rest of your points otherwise.

  • Mr Rearguard

    I live over at Herastrau park way and later this afternoon I’m going out on the tap somewhere in Unirii area. I’m walking down. It’s not that far and it’s a nice day. Fack driving, fack taking a smelly taxi in me best gear, fack any filthy public transport. Walk it, because it’s aggro free and you know it makes sense!!!

    • Best gear? No doubt a dab of Blue Stratos as well.

    • Giuseppe

      If I had to walk to work (or to anywhere else downtown), it would probably take me three hours to get there.