Sunday, March 25, 2007
BKV: Transportation for a Lifetime
By Meredith Degyansky
I roll over in bed shoving the overheated down comforter into the crack by the wall. My left eye peers open and the glint of the sun comes through the blinds giving me a sense that it is later than usual. I look at my clock beside the bed; 8:06 AM! How am I going to get to class by 8:30?
Quickly, I hop out of bed, slipping into the first pair of trousers I find on the floor. I grab my coat, backpack, banana, and rush out the door. As I am running down Raday Utca, I am repeatedly stuck behind incredibly slow women in babushkas. Finally, I descend into the underground; looking at my watch it is 8:15 am. Perfect. I still have time. I tromp down the escalator impatiently pushing the lazy bystanders to the left. There is a man ahead, wearing headphones and smooching on his girlfriend. I hear the train arrive from below, a rush of people come up the opposite escalator, and the lovers will not budge. I get off just in time to watch the wheels of the metro roll by. Leaning against the wall with lost hope, I wait for the next train. Suddenly, a warm, smelly wind cuts across my face. The smell is a blend of old metal and body odor. I hear a rumble in the distance. Ahah! It is the next train. I hop on immediately, ride it two stops, and rush up the escalator taking it two at a time. Again, a wind blows through my hair from above but this time is the smell of flaky croissants. As I get to the top, I see the control officers guarding all exits. Instead of devising a dodge plan, I search frantically in the bottom of my bag for my pass. I find it and flash it at the man. “Koszonom sepan.” Having defeated all obstacles I use my track skills to sprint to class. I sit down puffing and sweating. The time is 8:33. Not too bad. Gotta love the BKV.
The history of the BKV (Budapesti Kozlekedesi Vallalat) in Budapest, Hungary traces back to the second half of the 19th century. In 1832, the first omnibus came to Budapest, which was one of the earliest renditions of a present day bus. As the years progressed, so did the public transportation network. In 1866, the first horse and carriage tramway began, but the speeds of the horse were not up to par with the hectic lives of the population. Knowing that they needed further improvements the BKV administration took the initiative to update their methods of transport. According to BKV documents, it took 21 months of construction to complete the very first underground system in all of Europe, christened on May 2, 1896. In 1900, the Budapest metro won the gold medal in the Paris World Exposition. The exposition was a world fair to celebrate the latest achievements and gain ideas to continue into the next century. After maintaining such great success, BKV decided in 1995 to revamp their network in honor of their 100-year anniversary. They were looking to enhance the speed, efficiency, and cleanliness of the system. In 1998, the BKV transportation system took it another notch by becoming what they are today.
Several statistics boast and support the quality of the transportation system in Budapest. The five branches or methods of transport include bus, tram, trolleybus, underground, and suburban railways. The company serves 1.4 billion passengers nearly everyday. The percentages of branches utilized are as follows; 41% use the bus, 26% use the tram, 22% use the underground, 5% suburban railway, and 6% use the trolleybus. The length of the entire network is 2,626.8 km. The routes travel to all areas of Buda, Pest, and Obuda, with the suburban railway reaching as far as Szentendre and Csepel. There are 224 bus routes, 35 tram routes, 14 trolleybus routes, 3 metro lines, and 5 suburban railway routes.
The BKV transportation system has outdone all other metro systems from which I have experienced. Never have I had to wait more than three minutes for the underground. It always comes right on time and the countdown clock is quite accurate. The maps are extremely efficient in describing where a certain branch is located whether it is a bus, trolley, metro, or tram stop. Thus making it easy to find access to the fastest, most efficient method to ones final destination. While riding on the vehicles, the commentator clearly annunciates each stop and street, providing an easy departure at the correct stop. It is possible to take public transportation anywhere in the city providing a safe atmosphere for the elderly or those who have difficulty walking.
The BKV symbol holds true to its values and objectives. Obtained from their worldwide website, the logo symbolizes their desire to “schedule compliant transport, extensive passenger information both at stops and in vehicles, modern electronic ticket punchers, and to clean vehicles daily and stops once a week”. I have already praised most of the above “missions” of the network with the exception of the latter. The trams and buses are clean and newly refurbished. On the contrary, the metro underground could use some work. Graffiti covers the old, rickety blue metro cars. Inside the vehicles, gum is stuck all over the gray, musky floor. The air is dank and dirty and the seats leave nothing to be desired. In fact, I suggest standing up because who knows what is in the fifty-year-old upholstery covering the benches. One time I saw a puddle of liquid floating on top of a black pleather seat. Also, be sure to wear gloves in order to protect yourself from the germ-infested handrails. Although the underground is unappealing, the speed and efficiency outweighs the negatives and on a personal account, I use the metros every single day.
The control officers are often spoken of in a negative light. People who do not like to purchase transportation tickets often feel the ticket controllers are too strict and insist on ticket verifications too frequently. I get stopped multiple times a week by the ticket controllers who are asking to see my pass. It is a very serious matter to purchase a ticket so I suggest not trying to bypass this. You will get caught. Besides, one ticket is only 230 HUF, a one-month pass is only 7350 HUF, and students get the best deal with a monthly pass for a mere 2950 HUF. But if you get caught you will get fined which can cost up to 7500 HUF. It is the least we can do as daily users of the systems to pay the fees. Imagine how much a gallon of gas would cost as well as the stress of traffic and trying to find parking. Do your part, pay, and be smart.
A movie came out in 2003 by the name of Kontroll. The film is poking fun at the control officers mimicking their uniforms with the armband and making them seem like a group of gangsters catching ticket violators left and right. The head of BKV comes on at the very beginning of the film to establish the fact that the movie is completely false. One of the main themes of the story is the search for a notorious attacker who has been pushing people into the underground tracks so that their bodies are splattered by the next metro train that arrives. After speaking with the producer ,Tamas Hutlassa, apparently the gruesome nature of the film made it challenging for the filmmakers to get permission to use the BKV facilities. The head of the actual BKV did not want consumers to think that the metro system was really like this. After much persuasion they succumbed to director Nimrod Antal’s proposal, but only provided the facilities during the off hours when the metro was not open to the public “We had to work in the middle of the night when no one was using the metro system. It was a long process because instead of 12 hour days, our days were only five and a half hours long,” states Hutlassa. Although silly and full of extreme exaggerations, the film Kontroll is entertaining and a video to watch if you are an avid user of the subway system and have a few hours to kill.
Coming from San Francisco in California, I often have to wait twenty minutes or more for a subway and have walked miles along the bus route to my destination before a bus even passed me. With that in mind, I am thankful for the public transportation system of Budapest. The easy access, speed of the trains, frequency, and efficiency are nearly perfect. I feel, therefore, that everyone who uses the network should hold no apprehension in purchasing the appropriate ticket to ride. I also feel it is unnecessary to bash the ticket controllers; they are just doing their job and they always say “Koszonom”. All of the positive factors outweigh the negative and so I will put on my germ protectant gloves and head down the croissant-infused air tunnel to hop on the next train pulling into Kalvin Ter.