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Easy, but not simple

The convolutions of transit ticketing in Budapest

sunny 10 °C


Public transportation in Budapest is fantastic. There are no less than three underground metro lines (and they're working on a fourth), there are buses and trams going pretty much anywhere and everywhere aboveground, and there are even two suburban commuter train lines (the HEV) that link up with the metro. Wherever you need to go in Budapest, it won't take long and it won't cost very much - that is, if you can figure out which station you need to get off at and which ticket you need to purchase. First of all, there's the "short section" metro ticket. This costs just under $1.50 in Canadian terms. If you read the back of the ticket carefully, it says that it is only valid for half an hour, or three stops on the metro. Three stops? There is no way anyone would ever be able to keep track of how many stops you'd gone, unless they followed you for the entire duration of your trip. The tickets are strips of paper that you stick in an automatic ticket validating machine before you get on the metro trains (or once you're on the HEV trains and buses). This machine bites a chunk out of the end of the ticket and stamps the date and time on it. So I suppose someone could catch you with a short section ticket that had been validated more than half an hour ago, but the three stops thing seems a bit ludicrous.

The next option is the regular ticket. This still costs less than $2, and is valid for as many metro stops as you want. I believe you can also switch metro lines on this ticket but I'm not certain about that. Anyway, if you want to get on the HEV or the bus you have to buy another one of these each time you switch forms of transport, unless you've bought a "transfer ticket." The transfer ticket costs a bit more - something like $3.50 or $4. In the small print on the back it says:

"Valid for one trip with one change on BKV Zrt. buses, trams, metro, underground, trolleybuses, cogwheel railway on the whole length of the lines but on HEV suburban railway lines only within the administrative boundaries of Budapest. It is valid on the night service network too. Besides change it does not entitle you for interruption of the trip or for return trip. The ticket has to be validated twice when you start your trip at one end and when you change at the other end, with the exception of changes between metro lines (metro lines 1, 2, 3). When validated with stamping machines it is valid for 90 minutes (on night services for 110 minutes), within this for 60 minutes after second validation. When the second validation takes place at the entrance of a metro station, it is valid for 60 minutes even if the whole trip exceeds 90 minutes. When the second validation takes place on the night service it is valid for additional 110 minutes."

And they fit all of that onto half of one side of a piece of orange paper about 2cm x 10cm. The other half of that side has the same thing in Hungarian, and the other side of the ticket tells you what type of ticket it is, and has space for validation. Luckily you can also buy a 24-hour ticket, and a 72-hour ticket, which give you free access to any and all trips within those hours, and we also saw a "family pass" option (don't know how that one works). In fact, when using the automatic ticket dispensers, I saw an option for a "pet ticket." If you need to bring your doggie or kittie somewhere, you can, as long as you hang onto it at all times and buy a pet ticket for it. We did, in fact, see some small pet dogs riding the metro in their owners' arms. There must be some kind of annual or at least monthly pass option if you know what to ask for, because I can't imagine everyone buying all those complicated tickets every day. Also, most people appeared not to be buying or validating anything, and they had to have had something to show the controllers at the entrance to the metro. I never once saw anyone checking tickets on an actual train or bus, though. We rode the HEV for free a couple of times before we bought our 72-hour passes, because the station we got on at didn't even have anywhere to buy tickets on our side of the tracks.

I'm sure all these complicated ticketing options make sense to Hungarians, just like getting into Szechenyi Bath makes sense to them (you pay a different amount depending on how long you'll stay, whether you want a locker or a cabin, what day of the week it is, etc.). Once you've read all the options twice, it's perfectly easy. I'm sure Hungarian is perfectly easy as well, once you understand it. But I don't think I'm going to be learning any Hungarian any time soon. Every second letter has some kind of accent or umlaut over it, which changes how you say it, and "S" is pronounced "sh," unless it has a "Z" after it, etc etc. I think "G" is silent except in certain combinations, but I'm not sure. Words like "ügyfélszolgálat" are just a bit much for me. In fact, even the Budapest Zoo is large and convoluted. At the entrance we thought it would just be a small place and weren't sure if it was worth the price of admission. It was huge, and kind of labyrinthine, in that you'd go into a building, walk around, and come out another door on another side where everything looked different. Turns out you do need the map they give you with the ticket! I have mixed feelings about zoos in general, but the bactrian camels were so big and furry and exciting that I lost all sense of morals and just stared at them with my mouth open. Even more incredible was the fact that visitors were allowed to feed them (or were feeding them, and there were no signs saying not to do so). Apples, carrots, dried leaves, all sucked out of eager hands by giant fuzzy lips. I saw a man throw a banana to a siamang, too, and that tailless black gibbon reached out one long arm, caught it in mid-air and gobbled it up.


We've been in Budapest for four days, and there's no way we've seen and done even half of what we could see and do. However, it turns out that there is a concert in Munich on Nov. 10th that needs to be attended, so it sounds like we're heading for Vienna now...

Posted by arwyn 22:50 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (2)

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