Oct
13
2008

Public Transportation 101

Before we moved here, the only exposure I had to Hungarian culture came from Rick Steves and this great Hungarian film called Kontroll. It was about a group of ticket checkers in the Budapest subway system. It was kind of trippy, but introduced me to the somewhat “strained” relationship between the ticket checkers and the passengers. The movie made me feel really sorry for the guys having to deal with people who didn’t pay for their tickets. Those passengers were mean.

Now that I’m here, the system of subway ticketing doesn’t make a whole lot sense to me. You go to a ticket booth and buy a ticket, but then once you get on the train car, you have to go and stamp it at these little boxes attached to the center poles. So, you could actually have paid for a ticket but if you don’t stamp it, you could get a huge fine if a ticket checker catches you. Why, you might ask, couldn’t the ticket be stamped at the same time as buying the ticket, thus rendering the stamping machines in the cars unnecessary? This is one of the great mysteries here that I must get to the bottom of.

The tram ticket in question

The tram ticket in question

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the bottom of it before I got trapped in my own version of Kontroll. A group of us were on the street-level tram yesterday and the ticket stamper next to us in the tram car was not working. So, we just shrugged and stood there with ticket in hand. And of course, a plain-clothes ticket checker emerged from the unknown and escorted us out of the tram. There were four of us without stamped tickets and no knowledge of the Hungarian language. We tried to explain that the stamper wasn’t working and that we weren’t trying to cheat out of paying, but to no avail. But we somehow managed to gesture our way into paying only two fines instead of four. So we each paid a fine of roughly $15 USD for HAVING a ticket but not STAMPING a ticket. I’m still trying to understand how that works…

Our fine ticket, shiny and ominous at the same time

Our fine ticket, shiny and ominous at the same time

And I’m not sure what lesson I’ve learned either. Except that I now understand where the passengers in Kontroll are coming from.

Written by Laura in: Culture |

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