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.

  • Ethan

    I think you can be optimistic about getting people to give up their cars for public transit because you’re asking people to go back to a previous practice they already know well and know works.

    Where I live, we don’t have traffic or parking problems but we have horrendous air quality problems. At times in the winter our city is among the worst in the world for air quality.

    The problem we have is that we have never had a transit culture, only a car culture. Starting from scratch is very difficult.

    Bucharest has a leg up on this.

  • Jeff

    I agree. Whatever small amount that people save (even 5 or 10 lei per week) from free transportation will be spent almost 100% into the economy someplace else it will have better effect. As far as behavior change goes, charge double or triple for parking.

  • Maxilicaishere

    The 1 has only been split for one year.

  • Paul

    My one and only time using RATB’s services didn’t end well. I was going from Unirii to Otopeni, I asked at the kiosk for 3 single tickets to the airport. What I got was 8 trips on a disposable card with no information that this is what was on there. This then could only be checked in once per trip so 2 of the 3 travelling didn’t have tickets and they wanted to fine us for this. Despite being sold the wrong ticket. I am this was a recent change with disposable cards as before the ticket could be inserted into the machine for the required number of trips.

    All in all a pretty disappointing experience. It makes the Henri Coanda Express seem like a great service.

    Tipic românește as they say!

    • Mr Rearguard

      You should have told them to sugi your pula!

    • @Paul, it is a shame that what seems to be a miscommunication or a lack of communication between you and the person at the kiosk led to a disappointing experience for you.
      I could not tell from your narration: did you ask for instructions on how to use the card but you weren’t given any or you simply did not ask.

      It is a matter of personal preference but in my opinion the old ticketing system that was using paper tickets, was simpler (as it should be) and more practical than the current one.
      With the Activ cards, one has to always remember how many unused tickets are left on the card before getting on a bus/ trolleybus/tram. You do not want to get on a bus and realize that you do not have any unused tickets left.

      Not everything that is “modern” is necessarily practical.

  • Mr Rearguard

    I’ve never been on a RatBus. What are they like?

    • anon

      Come to think of it, I never used a bus or tram in Romania, only the metro.

      • Roger

        There is only one metro system in Romania, and it’s located in Bucharest. So you will find buses and trams in other towns and cities as the main forms of public transport. Having knowledge of only Bucharest, doesn’t really enable someone to have an informed opinion on Romania as a whole.

        • anon

          I’ve been all over Romania sunshine, but I’ve always chosen to drive instead of use public transport because
          a) I enjoy driving
          b) Public transport usually takes longer.

          • Expatescu

            This pissing contest needs to end. Gentlemen, Mr. Rearguard has by far the biggest dick. So your ongoing dialogue is pointless.

          • anon

            It may be big, but he’s old so unless he has the magic blue pill he’s going to have issues.

          • Roger

            @anon, don’t be so touchy, no need for childish sunshine – can’t you accept others views without resorting to the tactics of a child? You seemed ill informed on other areas of Romania, and I was merely trying to educate you. People will always moan about public transport and of course there is always room for improvement, but it’s not all that bad in Romania as a whole, and Bucharest is fantastic in reality, with the metro, buses and trams, not to mention the private but cheap taxi’s. All in all I’d argue Buc is not all that bad !

          • Roger

            @expatescu I’m pretty certain you’ll not agree with going off your past behavior but I always like to debate the article of Craigs or a related point ….. your mate anon likes to stalk me with his abuse and spelling and grammar rants – so whilst I take on board your opinion …. It’s your mate who’s got the problem, he just can’t behave like an educated adult and certainly doesn’t like the taste of his own medicine!

          • anon

            Roger, what the hell are you dribbling on about? No-one’s moaning about public transport in this thread except for Paul who sounds like he has a genuine grievance.

          • Roger

            @anon you can’t reply without abuse can you, do you have a disorder of some description (genuine question) Why do I make you so angry, I’m just a stranger on the internet, don’t let stuff anger you and make you resort to abuse, you can source help from your GP or relevant health professionals ….. I’d be happy to source some links for you?

          • Roger

            @anon stop making up childish lies, I made a general point that people will always moan about public transport, it’s almost every countries favourite thing to moan about ! If you’re well traveled or eductated you’d know ….. Some countries and cities do it better than others, I believe Japan is fantastic, but I would argue Bucharest isn’t all that bad ……. If you disagree no problem ……. Just do it without childish abuse or try and act like an adult, if you can calm yourself down sufficiently to reply in a sensible manner …….. Oh and have a nice evening, try not to abuse any random women on the internet tonight, as it’s all a bit creepy, perhaps you could move in with Davina? 🙂

  • anon

    Just fund the public transport by having more effective ticket inspectors. I presume the costs of the transport are subsidized by the tax payer already no?
    For a capital city traffic in Bucharest isn’t *too* bad…
    Parking is an issue, but as I pointed out years ago I don’t think this is totally due to a lack of space, but because of the cost of pay and display. Case in point, the new carpark by Lipscani was totally unnecessary when there is a perfectly good (and almost unused one) right next door at the Intercontinental. People park on the streets because they can, and it’s free.

  • Giuseppe

    “The age of the car is nearing its end.” I imagine by that you mean maybe, at some uncertain point in the probably still distant future and only in select parts of the world. 🙂 The Chinese, for example, are just learning to love their personal 4 wheel bangers.

    And in the meantime, car production worldwide has risen mare than 50% between 2000 and 2013, from around 41 million to over 65 million. And that is in spite of the late 2000s recession.

    This doesn’t include commercial vehicles, which have also seen increased production, but by a more modest margin: from just over 17 to nearly 22 million.

    • ‘The age of the car as a means of intra-urban transport’ is what I meant to say…

      • Giuseppe

        Yeah, I know that’s what you meant, but the “death of the car” debate is just too juicy to ignore 🙂

  • Fred

    Not so sure how well a parking ban would work in Bucharest

  • Casey

    As you mentioned one way to discourage driving is to make it harder and harder to park in the centre. I see they put up some steel posts along Buzesti recently –between the McDonalds and Victorie- which has allowed for at least a stretch of car-free pavement. Though most of the ridiculous yellow plastic posts meant to protect the bike lanes have been carried off or are lying in garbage heaps.

    • There does need to be carrot as well as stick, however: transport has to be made a viable option. In its current state it often isn’t.

      • Roger

        The metro is a viable option, although granted not all metro destinations cover the whole city, but most of the main parts are, in my experience as a foreigner ……. Taxi’s are cheap enough, so a plus point and very viable option ……. The buses are from a cheap point of view and not always bought ticket (as I have struggled to find a kiosk to pay) ……. The reduction in conjestion has worked in other busy cities and it’s all about the desire and will to make it happen – lets hope the people who can make it happen read Bucharest Life and agree with the majority 🙂

        • anon

          Other than parking, there’s little difference from a congestion point of view between driving yourself, and taking a taxi.
          Worth reminding you that although a taxi seems cheap to us, they feel much more expensive to someone earning the median salary.

          • Roger

            @anon yes fair point regarding taxi’s and I giving my opinion based on myself, but of course perhaps to some they may not be as cheap as I described them, but certainly the buses. metro and trams are, for median salary and above …… I am struggling to find a decent reason to have a pop at Romania for this, the public transport is decent, although any improvement is welcome.

          • anon

            Where exactly am I ‘having a pop at Romania’?
            Stop looking for things that don’t exist with the kind of zeal that would make McCarthy proud.

          • Roger

            @anon learn to read properly and stop being so paranoid ……. never said you were having a pop, although you have in the past.