Monday, November 29, 2010

Riding the Tram


After living in Sofia for close to two years, Ellis and I decided that it was time to try riding the tram. Ellis had already purchased 10 tickets at 1 leva each over 6 months ago, but somehow, we never seemed to actually have the chance to use them.

So, on Sunday, we took the plunge and caught the tram near our house, in order to go to another mall to see a movie.

The Number 6 arrived, and we got on the tram, and looked around for where we were supposed to punch our tickets, since we knew that this was not done by the driver. We saw one box that looked promising, but there was no place to put the ticket. Another, different looking box was also a false lead. Finally, one woman pointed out a small, old looking metal box which was attached to the space between two windows. Ellis put in his ticket, and pressed, but nothing really happened except for some round indentations that appeared on the ticket. He then did the same with my ticket, and we went to sit down further along in the carriage.

As we were riding, Ellis noticed that another woman put her ticket into a different box near where we were sitting, and she actually had a hole punched in hers. So, he took out our tickets and repunched them, and felt very pleased. And then the inspector arrived...

The inspector looked at our tickets, and was very confused, as there were "many marks". We tried to explain to her in English that we had first punched the tickets in one box, and then in another - and she kept looking at them and saying "many marks". Ellis then managed to explain in rudimentary Bulgarian that this was the first time that we were riding the tram, and we didn't really know what to do. Someone else also explained to the inspector, and she finally agreed to accept our tickets this time. Apparently, each box has a different pattern of dots and punch, and by punching our tickets in 2 different boxes, we confused the system... From what we've heard, the fine for not paying, or using an invalid ticket is 10 leva - or 10 times the price of a normal ticket.

We were expecting an electronic punch for our tickets, but instead had a very simple hole punch. I have heard that there are newer trams with electronic punches, but obviously not on all of them. There are also trams that you can purchase the ticket when you get on, and not have to buy them in advance.

Some people have magnetic cards which are prepaid for a certain number of trips, or for a certain period. We saw a couple people who swiped these cards in front of one of the other boxes.
But, a lot of people don't pay at all - until they see the inspector coming, in which case there is a mad scramble to punch your ticket before the inspector reaches you!

Coming back, we were impressed with the electronic sign that let you know when the next tram for each of the different lines was due. This was at a busy stop, where a lot of different trams passed. One of the things that we noticed at this stop, was how difficult it was for older, infirm people to climb up the very high steps to get on the tram.

The tram is obviously the cheapest means of transportation, but there is a lot that needs to be done to also make it a more modern and comfortable ride. Still, we're glad we finally tried it, and hope that we'll be able to use up our tickets while we're still here.

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