How to Ride a Bus

16 septembrie 2007

There are three kinds of buses in Romania, each with its own benefits and down sides.

The first is the longer-haul bus, usually either between very big cities in Romania or between big cities in Romania and continuing on to foreign destinations. If you are going to another country, it may now actually be cheaper or more cost-effective to actually fly.

The big buses or coaches (Greyhound style) are called an autocar in Romanian language. These are always operated by private companies and there’s absolutely no way to tell what their schedule is or where they pick up from without asking.

The easiest way to find out, if you don’t already know, is to duck into either a luxury hotel or else a travel agency, which usually are prevalent in most Romanian cities.

The next kind of Bus shuttles between cities, towns and even villages. Again these are (usually) privately owned so their schedules and pick-up points must be discovered either at the company’s office or else a travel agency.

Almost every small town or village can be reached by a shuttle bus from the nearest large town or city, usually for a very low price.

Most larger cities have what is known as the autogara, or "bus terminal" and you can check in there to see if there’s a bus going where you want to go (domestic routes only).

Usually the Romanian term for a large van, "maxitaxi" or shuttle bus is minibus.

You can sometimes purchase an advance ticket for both minibus and autocar trips but quite often you just pay the driver when you get on board.

I will note here that some of the international minibus routes are overnight , especially to the airports. These can be EXTREMELY dangerous due to road conditions, driver fatigue, etc. Travel on these at your own risk!

Last but not least is the city bus, operated by the local government, running closed loop routes to just about any destination within the city limits. The vehicle is known in Romanian as the autobus.

If you’re lucky, the bus will be modern enough to show the name of its route on the display, which will say something like "Cart. Zorilor" (Zorilor neighborhood) or "Str. Aurel Vlaicu" (Aurel Vlaicu Street) but that’s pretty useless information if you don’t already know where you’re going.
Similarly, throughout the city you will often see small little signs with the route numbers posted but this is absolutely useless information unless you know where you are going.

To ride a city bus, you must first purchase a ticket ahead of time and either punch it or insert it into a reader when you board the vehicle. The question is where to buy the ticket. In some cities you can buy them in a variety of kiosks and stores. In other cities you must specifically find the bus kiosk, which have varying hours of operation and are usually located near the bigger bus stops.

But how do you know where you are going? Well essentially you just have to ask. I’ve never once seen a bus route map posted.

If your Romanian is good enough, ask the bus ticket vendor but usually they are quite surly and grumpy. If you’re staying in the town long enough, just walk to where you’re going and you’ll soon figure out which bus goes there because most Romanian buses run quite frequently, starting at about 5:00am and going roughly until about midnight.

With a few exceptions, most city buses stop at EVERY posted stop automatically – you do not have to ring a bell. If you’re not familiar with the route, try to get a spot as close to the front as you can and orient yourself.

When you’re waiting for the bus, there is no line or "queue". If you want a seat, stake yourself out as close to the curb as you can and brace yourself. The bus will pull up and discharge passengers out of all of its doors even though some clearly are marked for you NOT to board or exit through. Forget that, board through any door you want to.

The secret is to sidle up to the door when the bus comes to the stop and stand right next to the bus to the side of the door. That’s my little tip to you ;)

As soon as you get on the bus, if there’s a seat then grab it. Wait until the scrum is over and THEN stand up and punch/validate your ticket. Usually the "rowdier" elements will be crowded more towards the back but watch out if you get a seat in the front – the seniors usually board there and you may have to give up your seat to an old lady.

Be prepared to sweat like crazy – Romanian city buses are usually jam-packed and almost never have air conditioning. Despite this, never open a window unless you see Romanians doing it first. Romanians have a deathly fear/strong dislike of moving air and you could anger a lot of people.

Although officially against the rules in some places, eating and drinking on the bus is usually tolerated and perfectly fine.

The price for a ride of any duration is the same and is now approximately 50 cents per ride. Bus "passes" are available for purchase if you decide you’re going to be a regular rider.

Enjoy your travels in Romania!


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