On Tuesday afternoon I had to make a purchase.
I left my apartment with my passport in my pocket and headed south along the grand boulevard adjacent to my street. My destination was a Metro station. I got to the busy intersection under which the station lies and ducked down the stairs into the underground complex. Just outside the entrance of the old Soviet era metro station, is a small ticket booth. The ticket booth had a queue of about five or six people in front of me. I took my place at the back of the line.
I don’t particularly like standing in line or spending money (who does?). I usually try to schedule my shopping excursions for the quiet hours of the day, often late at night after 9pm. But I was willing to stand and wait to make this purchase. After about 10 minutes, it was my turn to proceed to the ticket window. I walked up, presented my passport and credit card.
“Egy Havi, I said, in my broken Hungarian.
“Jo, the woman inside responded, before switching to English. When the transaction was completed, I had this in my possession.
This is a monthly Budapest transit pass, good for buses, metros and trams. It costs 9,500 HUF or $44 Canadian. This piece of paper represents complete freedom and mobility throughout the city for 30 days. Strangely, I get a feeling of satisfaction when I purchase a fresh month’s pass. With this piece of paper, I can go anywhere, at anytime.
The system here is so extensive and so efficient that to not purchase a pass, would be depriving myself of one of Budapest’s best attributes. From where I live, I can be just about anywhere in the city in 20 minutes or less. There are 24 hour buses and trams, directly outside my apartment. Sometimes I take a bus, other days I take the tram and then the metro. It all depends where I have to go. There seem to be multiple ways to get to the same spot.
There’s also no stigma, for lack of a better term, around public transportation here. Everyone uses is it, because it’s so affordable and just too damn convenient. Metro stations and tram stops are common meeting points.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve had a car. I think back to how much a tank of gas cost to fill up my little Hyundai. It was about $45 and only lasted a couple of weeks. Then there was insurance ($1,000) and maintenance on top of that. A year’s worth of public transit here would cost me around $530.
After enjoying the affordable cost of living that an Eastern European city can provide and its excellent public transportation options, how do I go back? Living in a city with great public transportation system is something that greatly increases the quality of your day-to-day life. How do I reconcile paying over $100 per month for an inferior OCTranspo service? I don’t hate OCTranspo, which gets a lot of heat from the locals. Overall, I think it’s pretty good by North American standards, but the fares for what you get are far too high and the lack of 24 hour routes is frustrating.
But that’s halfway around the world in Ottawa and I’m here in Budapest. For now, I’m just enjoying the freedom that this little piece of paper affords me.