War on Wheels

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | August 1, 2003, Friday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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War on Wheels Photo by www.sega.bg

By Petya Bondokova

If you ask any resident of Bulgarian capital Sofia what they hate most about the city, it's quite likely that you get "public transportation" as an answer.

Buses, trams, trolley cars - they are the cheapest way to move around the city. Most of Sofia's people need them and hate them just the same. Those vehicles are an arena for real all-against-all battles almost every day.

Most of the time -- especially in the mornings and late afternoons -- buses are crowded with people who are often late, nervous, jumpy. There aren't enough vehicles to take Sofia's residents to their working places and then back home, so people often have to wait at the stations for up to half an hour, even more.

Once they finally succeed in getting on the bus, trolley car or tram, people travel literally smashed against each other during rush hours. If getting on the vehicle is success, making it to a seat is triumph. Many people are ready to get rude or even aggressive in a way to conquer a little more space during their journey.

Rows have become routine and it is not unusual to even escalate to a melee when a gentleman is no longer a gentleman and a lady abandons her good manners.

Passengers are angry at one another, at the dirt and heat (none of Sofia's public vehicles are air-conditioned) and at the driver as well. The driver himself often grows mad with other drivers and is never too shy to loudly express his discontent.

However, a nervous bus-driver is far not the most feared figure for passengers. A ticket inspector - that's the sight that makes most people frown. He or she is a person that Sofia's residents associate with conspiracy, disrespect and fines. When inspectors get on a bus, trolley car or tram, they wear plain clothes and then suddenly put their uniform-jackets on. That leaves no time for people without tickets to try to get off the vehicle without being spotted.

Usually a loud row follows the encounter of infringers with ticket inspectors. A ticket costs BGN 0.5, which is at least five times less than the cost of a taxi-ride from any suburban district to the center of the city. Still, for many Bulgarians the ticket's price is too high.

The thought of paying the fine of BGN 5 is even more terrifying and often leads to desperate fights with inspectors. Some find themselves helpless before passengers' outrage and finally give up the fight.

However, inspectors usually have back-up colleges on the same vehicle. Together they feel much more confident to insist that the infringer pays the ticket, and sometimes even act aggressively to achieve this.

After all, a public ride in Sofia may turn out to be a lot less ordinary than expected. You can bet that by the time you reach your destination some curious -- disturbing yet funny - action scene would come your way.
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