Friday, April 13, 2012

Using Public Transportation

You will get a lot more of a city's culture if you ride the public transportation and see the people.   I never drive a car outside the US/Canada, and rarely drive in the larger cities of North America.  I try to use public transport when I can.  First, it saves my company a little bit of money.  Second, it makes my trips much more interesting using public transit.  If you have a sense of adventure....give it a try.

Some folks are opposed to this option and are going to use a cab.  To each his or her own....but if you are a little more budget limited, then consider public transport.

Tips on public transport: 

Know Before You Go.  These days every public transport system has a website.  Once you have booked your trip, and know the location of your hotel and your destination, then form a plan.  Just Google it.  Get a general feel of the overall system. Most have a trip planner, where you can enter your point of origin and destination and it will display several public transit option, based on your departure time.  Most systems in the US are easy to understand.  The European models with Trams, Buses, Trains, and Subways (Munich, for example) can get a little confusing.  Find the stops closest to your destination on Google Maps.  Google Maps will often display bus, tram, and subway stops.  Often I use this in combination with the city transportation website.   Discover where (and how) to buy tickets.  See if you can use a credit card to purchase, or need cash to buy tickets.

The main stuff you should learn ahead of time:

  • Schedule, not exactly to the minute when your trains/buses depart, but just a general sense of how often they arrive and depart. 
  • Fares - is the cost flat, or does it change based on the distance traveled? 
  • Availability of Passes - Can I get a pass? How much? What frequencies are available?  Daily, 3 day, weekly, etc.
  • Route Names/Numbers - You definitely want to know the route you are going to take, For example, "I take the #66 bus to the Main St stop towards Middleton, then I switch to the #44 Bus in the direction of the Airport, then I exit at Cherry St stop, and walk 1/2 mile on Cherry Street towards destination.".  Note that I know the direction in which I must travel for each bus.  This is very important.  Most buses/trains/metros will have a sign on the vehicle which indicates the final stop.  You need to know which direction you should be travelling.  For the bus/train lines you will be using most frequently, you should write down the termination stops and indicate which direction you should be going.  My biggest goofs in public transport always involve heading in the wrong direction on a bus or subway. 
Get The App.  I was working at a location in Europe, and while working, one of the locals indicated that a local attraction was just a few minutes from the office.  I really wanted to go see it.  I was not going to do it, however, explaining that I was unfamiliar with the transport system.  This colleague helped me download the local app for public transport, and we figured out how to get there, and how to get to my hotel from there. If there is an app available, you should get it.  Many of these are free or have a 'light' version that is free.  But some will require a small payment.  Yeah, it is 99 cents, or even $1.99, for just a few days in a city.  And you might not ever use it again.  However, if you use the public transit as an alternative to cabs, you are still coming out way ahead in overall costs.  Plus, you never know what impromptu adventure you might want to go on.  Don't let the fact that you are unfamiliar with the system be an inhibitor, download the maps, schedules, etc, to your phone and free yourself!  

Ask Your Hotel Staff.  This is two fold.  First, you can email your hotel (or call) and find out the most convenient ways to get from the airport to your hotel.  Second, once you have arrived and checked in, you can ask about the transportation system in general.  The hotel staff lives there, and many of them use the system to get to work every day. Nothing can beat the experience of a local.  They can tell you how to buy tickets, about passes, everything you want to know.  

Write it down.  Yeah, it is old school.  But write it down anyway.  The battery never dies on a slip of paper tucked away in your pocket.   Also, if you are in a country where US is not the primary language, and you don't speak the language, then you should also carry the address of your hotel and your destination in the primary language of the locals.  This way you can always hail a cab as a last resort and get where you need to go.  

Go Early.  Once the website, app, or hotel staff has given you an estimate of the amount of time it will take you, add about 30 minutes for the first run.  You might get turned around and miss a connection.  It happens.   

Relax. No matter how much preparation you do, you are going to make mistakes and look like a tourist.  You are not a local, deal with it.  If you are going to the same location several the 3rd trip, you will feel like a pro.  

Oh, and Wear Comfortable Shoes...public transit always means a little more walking than door to door cab service.  

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