Survival Guide: Riding the Trolleybus

Survival Guide for Tourists – Riding the Trolleybus

This is the first article in the series: Moldova Survival Guide for Tourists.  These articles are designed to give foreign tourists the tips they need to have a fun and stress free visit to Moldova.

Chișinău can be easy to get around using the trolleybus system.  While the system has a few rough spots,

Newer Trolley Buses

it’s generally reliable and a great way for tourists to travel around the city.  It can also be a source of stress for tourists who aren’t sure what is happening on the trolley bus but with a little preparation, it can a fun way to explore the city.  The city currently has a mixture of new trolley buses that are assembled in Chișinău along with some very old buses that are kept in working condition, all powered by overhead electric lines.

How to Ride

Before entering the trolley bus, have the 2 lei fee ready and in your hand.  One person can pay for multiple people if you choose.  A conductor, usually wearing a red vest, will be passing through the trolley bus and will exchange your fee for a small paper ticket. If you have a large bag with you, you may also be charged a 4 lei bag fee and will be give 2 additional tickets for your bag.  If you have a backpack you should remove it and hold it below you as it is considered rude to wear it on the bus and take up extra space.  Important:  Hold onto these tickets for the entire ride.  Conductors sometimes forget who has paid and will look for your ticket in your hand.  Also, control inspectors may enter the bus and ask to see your ticket.  If you do not have a ticket you will be required to pay a large penalty.  For fun, look at your ticket and see if it’s considered a “lucky ticket.”  If you add the first 3 digits of your ticket number and they have the same total as when you add the last 3 digits, congratulations, you have a lucky ticket.

3+8+7 = 8+6+4 Lucky Ticket!!!!

If the bus is crowded, seats are reserved for the elderly, people with injuries or disabilities, pregnant woman, and small children.  If you are not in one of these categories, it is expected that you give your seat up for these people and you might be asked to give up your seat.  If you are standing in the buses, it’s recommended that you hold on to one of the metal rails or hand straps at all times.  Because of heavy traffic, the trolley bus may make a sudden stop.  Occasionally, the trolley bus can also become disconnected from the overhead power lines which will result in a very sudden stop.  For your safety, make sure you are holding on until you arrive at your stop.

As a trolley bus approaches a stop, people who want to exit will move toward the door so they can quickly exit as soon as the door opens.  You will hear people ask in Romanian “coborîți?” (co – bor – uhts ) which translates to “are you getting off?”  If you are asked you can simply respond “da” or “nu” (yes or no) and move out of their way if you are not planning to exit the trolley bus.

Finding Your Route

Many places will tell you which trolley buses pass by their place of business but knowing where to get off can be difficult.  To make this easier you have a couple of options.

First, the trolley bus administration has a simple map of the route network published on their website.  You can view it here:  This map lists names of the stops along the way.  Most of the newer trolley buses will have a led board announcing the next stop along with a spoken warning of what stop is coming next.

Second, the website and smartphone app Easyway maintains up to date routes for all public transport in the city.  You can compile a route between 2 addresses and find a list of possible options including gas powered buses and the white vans that are called marshrutka (Russian) or rutiera (unique local word).  With the app, you can download the map off-line and use your GPS enabled smart phone to check your location on the map and watch when you are approaching your destination.

Culture Clash

Riding the public transportation is one of the first places visitors encounter some aspects of Moldovan culture that may be different than they are used to in their home city.  People behave in a way that is normal and expected in Moldova but may be unusual for some visitors.  Learning about them in advance can help make your trip less surprising.

Personal Space

Compared with some cultures, generally Moldovan people have a lower need for personal space.  Someone may sit next to you because they like that seat, even if there are many other empty seats on the bus.  During busy periods, people may be pressed up against you or need to squeeze past you to get to the door.  Also, because many people don’t feel a need for large personal space, they often don’t notice when another person is near by.  It’s normal to gently push past someone who may be in your way.  Don’t be surprised if you occasionally make physical contact with fellow riders while traveling by public transportation.  Note:  While it’s accepted that people might touch or make contact in crowded spaces, it’s still considered rude or aggressive to get very close to someone or touch them unnecessarily when you are not in a crowded situation.

Priority and Time

For many Moldovans, how time is viewed may be different from your view of the concept.  Many Moldovans put the highest priority to whatever is happening at the current moment.  The prioritization of things happening now can show up in many different ways.  For example, if you are having a conversation with a person in Moldova and their mobile phone rings, they will usually interrupt your conversation to answer it.  This may happen in shops or business meetings.  Inversely, if your phone rings and you don’t answer it, you might make a Moldovan you are talking to nervous because you might be missing an important call.  This phone call is something happening now and it must be addressed.

While traveling by public transport, this cultural aspect is often on display when the door to the bus opens.  Concepts of time combined with low need for personal space may mean that when you are trying to exit you encounter several people standing in front of the door or trying to push past you to enter the bus.  It’s normal to just gently push through any crowds blocking your exit.  Also, don’t be surprised if someone steps in front of you and enters the bus if you hesitate a little to long when you are wanting to enter.  Tip:  During busy times, there are often many buses on a route spaced out by as little as 3-5 minutes.  If you encounter a very crowded bus that a lot of people have just pushed there way on to, you can often wait just 5 minutes and board a much less crowded bus.

Air Movement and Temperature

Public transport can be very hot during the summer months.  The city has promised to begin installing air conditioning units in newer trolley buses but it’s not likely it will be widely deployed for many years.  It can be very hot during the peak of summer and if there is a rain storm your transportation options may all feel like a sauna.

In addition to the temperature, some Moldovans believe in an old health Moldovan and Romanian superstition related to moving indoor air.  If two windows are open in a vehicle or building, some people feel that this “curent”, as it’s called, can bring many different health problems.  Even people who personally don’t have a problem with moving indoor air might still get nervous if a baby is present with them on the bus.  Don’t be surprised if people are trying to shut windows on a hot trolley bus to protect a baby’s health.  Generally, in the city, most people will keep the windows open on the buses to try to make it more comfortable but cross country travel usually will be in a bus or rutiera with only one window open by the driver.

Relax and Enjoy the Ride

While some of this might sound stressful, the trolley buses are a nice and easy way to get around town.  And for just 2 lei, you can’t beat the price!  Relax, enjoy the ride, and watch the city go by as you rush down the streets of Chișinău.