All great …. except for the hares

Once upon a time a student shocked me by bustling into class, wheezing, and saying apologetically: “Sorry I’m late, control catched two rabbits on the bus.” {sic} My mind turned to wondering how two fluffy bunnies had managed to hitch a ride (was the door open as the bus passed a forest and they decided they’d have better chances of carrots in the central market?) Mostly I was surprised though because the idea of any public transport delay in Riga is a shocker.

In general Riga has a really good public transport system, buses, trolleybuses, trams, trains and marshrutkas cover the whole city and its suburbs. Buses are clean, frequent, cheap by western European standards and do something that always shocks people from the UK or Ireland: they actually depart and arrive when the timetable says they should. In the UK timetables are a guide only, ironic for such a punctual country. After years of suffering delays in London underground and Belfast’s citybus, it’s a nice change to have reliable public transport.

The “rabbits” (or more accurately hares) in my student’s explanation were not real rabbits, “zaķis” is also Latvian slang for fare dodgers (Russian has similar slang.) This is one of the only problems with Riga’s public transport system: it’s too easy for people to dodge the fare. Jump on a bus, e-ticket in pocket and sit down near the window and just watch out for the fare inspectors. They helpfully wear bright luminous yellow uniforms, so you’d have to be Stevie Wonder to miss them. If they appear (which happens less than one journey in ten) you just cancel your ticket before they get on. Valencia operates similar systems and the end result is to push up the prices for those of us who do cancel our tickets.

The best system I’ve seen is in the Berlin U-Bahn. Plain clothes inspectors board like normal passengers and start checking as soon as the door is closed. Variations of this would work a lot better in Riga.

Speaking of public transport fares, my student today pointed out that the 50% discount which kicks in in January comes accompanied by a 20% fares increase so the actual saving will be around 0.05 euros. My joy was nice while it lasted.

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6 thoughts on “All great …. except for the hares

  1. But hey, the more often you travel, the more you end up saving next year… 😉 (and I actually believed in the real hares, as city hares in Helsinki are a huge problem and, well, to make a blog post about them, they’d have to do something amazing – like jump on a bus… jeez, I am easily fooled. Always have been.)

  2. It was definitely a lost in translation situation! I’m thinking of putting all the 5 cents saved into a pot so that I can afford the bus fare to Helsinki when I retire.

  3. Bus drivers tend to block all e-talons machines/scanners to stop people from scanning their e-talons just before they see an inspector approaching/standing outside. Just saying.

  4. I wondered if they did that. That would make sense but there are still situations when they don’t/can’t. For example I’ve often got on the bus in the centre and less than a hundred metres later, they stop the bus. Though it’s never happened to me yet when inspectors have got on, there have been times when I’ve been standing fumbling around in my bag trying to find the ticket for longer than it takes to reach the next stop before being able to cancel it. People could legitimately claim in circumstances like that they weren’t given sufficient time to cancel. Plain clothes inspectors could at least catch those genuinely not trying to cancel.

  5. Yeah, they really did. Also, I have never experienced them stopping the bus between two stops, that makes very little sense! Maybe they used to do that and then stopped due to receiving many complaints, God knows. Oh, and we used to have ”plain clothes inspectors” as well! I guess that strategy didn’t work either. At least there are more young male ticket inspectors than there used to be! About 10 years ago most of them were ladies in their seventies, trying to earn some extra money.

    • They used to stand on the corner of Gogola/Dzirnavu quite a lot, mob handed, with a police car in tow. That is right between the stop at the corner of Lacplesa/Gogola and the one behind the station facing the central market. Come to think of it though I haven’t seen that since I returned. When I first came here they still had conductors, usually a poor old woman trying to top up her pension. Think it was around 2007 when they phased out the conductors.

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