Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Other Car Is A BUS/VAN/TRAM!!! How It Works

My Other Car Is A BUS/VAN/TRAM!!!
How It Works

I know I have talked about walking A LOT here in Bulgaria, and there have also been one or two blogs which mentioned that I miss my car (all the parts of it).  However, I have not really explained the transportation system here in Plovdiv.  Although it may look like the public transportation system in any other town, it is really much different.  Yes – it does have taxis, buses and trams, and vans, but that is where the similarities stop.  So… let me try to explain how city transportation works here in Plovdiv. (Oh – by the way the Sofia city system is much different than here.  Plovdiv is much better!) 

Before we even start talking about the buses, I need to explain a little bit about the system, because it is very different from what an American would expect.  There are NO BART (bay area rapid transits) or NYC transit systems.  Plovdiv has five different bus companies.  Each company has its own routes.  But most of the company’s routes overlap.  For example on the major roads near the city center, all of the companies will have bus routes there.  Every bus has a number on the front and side window.  (By the way, these numbers are NOT lit up at night, and can’t be seen in the dark.)   The most important implication of this spider web of five different companies is that you may not pay just one fare to get where you want.  THERE ARE NO TRANSFERS because; there is no way for the companies to get funds from their other competing companies.  The impact of this for the  riding consumer is that you will have to figure out the bus route which will get you to your destination without getting off, and getting on – and paying twice!.  That generally means you will take much longer routes to reach work.  Efficiency and timeliness are not considerations here.  Public service is not high on the priority list either. But, I have never heard any Bulgarians complain about the system.  In the US, there would be thousands of irate citizens converging on city hall to complain about the non-integrated public transit system.  But not here!
Oh – there is one other important thing to know about this system.  Yes – every bus and tram and van has a number.  And they all go different places, and their routes overlap.  But  - - there are duplicate numbers.  For example, there is a #3 tram, and a #3 van.  There is also a #4 Van, and a #4 bus.  And their routes overlap.  So… when you are struggling to figure all of this while looking at very small bus/tram/van numbers on a large city map, it is very easy to get screwed up.  When we first got here, that did happen a few times until we had memorized more of the system.  It was a little bit of an adventure to jump on the #3 Van expecting it is going one place, and end up in the other part of the city because you really wanted the #3 tram.  Thankfully, we got that figured out very quickly!

Another interesting part of the transit system is the ticket payment process.  This system works, but I am amazed at the simplicity of it.  Every bus or tram has a driver and a conductor.  The conductors collect money (it costs one Leva – like one dollar), and gives you a ticket.  Every conductor has his own system for holding each type of coin, and where to keep the bills. It appears to me that the conductors have to purchase their own bill/change purse because none of them are the same. Although they will give you change, it is best not to give them more than a 5 leva bill. But the most interesting part of the system is the ticket.  Each ticket has a number on it.  These tickets look almost like a “little league Lottery ticket”.  The conductor knows how much money he/she starts with, and the beginning number on the ticket pack.  Each number is a Leva.  At the end of the run (or day) the ticket numbers have to agree with the amount of cash he has taken in. 
If you take a intercity bus from the bus station to another city, often you pay the bus driver, and he will use a similar system.  However, then the tickets all have different leva amounts on them.  So, if I pay nine leva to go to city of  Smolyn (three hours south of us), I will get a 5Leva ticket,  and two 2Leva tickets.  It all seems “old world” to me, but I have to admit that it works. 
Trams are  longer than buses, and have fewer riders
Now that I have helped you figure out where you are going, and what bus to take, and you have gotten your ticket from the conductor; it is time to talk about the trams.  They are a story all by themselves.  Most of the buses and trams are second hand from Germany.  You can almost always find some German language label somewhere in the vehicle. 
The trams are the oldest vehicles in the system.  They are electric, and connected to wires above the road by long flexible rods which “ride along the wires”.   However, the trams are the slowest form of public transit, and the most prone to problems.  When the trams are going through an intersection, there will be multiple wires and wire connections they have to transverse.  The tram will have to carefully “crawl” through the intersection hoping to keep the poles on the correct wires, and to get safely through the “wire intersections” above the road.  Often this does not happen.  And when one of the rods “flys off and up”, the tram will stop - - in the middle of the busy intersection - stopping traffic in all directions.  Then the driver will put on heavy gloves, and go to the back of the tram to pull down the rope connected to the rod, and reconnect the rod to the wire.  Although this generally only takes a few minutes, it does mess up the traffic in that intersection.  All of the other car drivers in the city understand this problem with the trams.  They will do everything they can (including cutting off the tram) to get in front of the tram. I am always glad Trams are very big because those little cars will get hurt much more than we will if we hit them when they are cutting us off. 
So… that is where we will stop for this time.  My next  "transportation" blog will talk about the ‘Grand Prix” race car drivers of the Plovdiv City Transit System, and the joys of riding in non-air conditioned buses with all the windows closed when it is 95 degrees outside.  Till then - -

Thanks for reading

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am checking this blog using the phone and this appears to be kind of odd. Thought you'd wish to know. This is a great write-up nevertheless, did not mess that up.

- David