Friday, 2 May 2014

Budapest, Hungary

Buses, trolleybuses, trams, a metro, a funicular, even amphibious vehicles.  The Hungarian capital has them all.

Budapest is the third of four European capital cities on the River Danube.  By the time it reaches the Hungarian capital, the Danube has already flowed through the capitals of Austria and Slovakia.

In the centre of Budapest, tram line 2 runs on an embankment along the bank of the Danube.



Line 2 is one of a network of tram routes which operate in Budapest.

Although many of the trams I found in Budapest were relatively old, newer stock was being used on lines 4 and 6 which skirt the city centre, running at very high frequency along Nagykörút, Budapest's "Grand Boulevard".  At 54 metres long and with a carrying capacity of more than 400 passengers, these are reported to be the longest tramcars in the world.

In contrast to the yellow livery worn by the trams, Budapest's trolleybuses are red.  The rrolleybus system doesn't quite make it into the heart of Budapest.  Most trolleybus routes terminate in side streets a short distance from the city centre.

As with the trams, plenty of relatively elderly vehicles were still in use when I took these images.
The vehicles above date from the Communist era, and were still in front line service in 2013.  However, the trolleybus fleet contains a variety of vehicles, some quite new, some not so new.

Not all of the trolleybuses were delivered new to Budapest.  To help modernise the system, a small batch of used vehicles was acquired from the city of Eberswalde, home to one of just three surviving trolleybus systems in Germany.

Budapest's buses carry a blue livery.  The newest vehicles, which I noted in August 2013, carry this bright blue colour scheme.

The bright blue colour is only worn by the newest buses.  Older vehicles carried darker blue with grey.


In common with the tram and trolleybus fleets, buses dating from the Communist era were plentiful.

In fact, in 2011 the average age of the bus fleet had stood at 17 years.

Not all the buses were full-size single-deckers.  I found shorter buses operating....


... along with plenty of articluated vehicles.


The age of the vehicles was a recurring theme across the bus, trolleybus and tram fleets when I visited Budapest.  It is worth touching on recent history to understand why this was.

1989 was a momentous year in Eastern Europe.  This was the year that the "Iron Curtain" fell.  Hungary played a pivotal role in this, opening the first gap in the Iron Curtain 25 years ago, on 2nd May 1989.  This opening, on Hungary's border with Austria, precipitated the fall of communist regimes across Eastern Europe.

Political changes in the former Communist states also created economic upheaval.  This has resulted in longer-term lack of funding to invest in public transport systems.

This explains why plenty of vehicles dating from the Communist era were still at work on Budapest's streets when I visited, nearly a quarter of a century later. 

Budapest's transport system is overseen by Budapesti Közlekedési Központ (BKK).  BKK was established as recently as 2010, to oversee Budapest's transport system and facilitate modernisation.  It is modelled on Transport for London, with responsibility for roads as well as the public transport system.

A flat fare applies across Budapest's public transport system.  At the time of writing, the single fare costs 350 HUF if bought in advance, or 450 HUF on boarding.  This fare does not allow interchanges (except between lines on the metro system).  However, a ticket permitting interchange is available at the higher price of 530 HUF.  These tariffs equate to roughly 95p, £1.20 or £1.40 in UK sterling, or $1.60, $2.00 and $2.40 in American dollars.

Day tickets offering unlimited travel are also available.  These are valid for 24 hours from the time they are validated.  A group ticket, for up to 5 people travelling together, costs the same as two individual day tickets.

Much of Budapest's public transport system is currently operated by Budapest's transport company, BKV, although BKK is making a start on offering bus services for competitive tender.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned a funicular.  This ascends Castle Hill, on the opposite bank of the Danube from the city centre.

Special fares apply on the funicular, which is operated by BKV.


Sightseeing tour buses cater to tourists visiting Budapest.

Although some of the sightseeing buses were left-hand drive, appropriate for operation in a country which drives on the right, I did find this right-hand drive vehicle which had originally been used in the UK.


Finally, amphibious vehicles provide a tour including a trip on the Danube.

For further reading, I recommend a couple of unofficial websites which provide plenty more detail about Budapest's trams and trolleybuses.

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