Public transportation is traditionally an expert area of any budget traveler. Buses, trains, trams and subways offer great ways to save up on travel expenses and visit much of the country. But we’d like to highlight that Ukraine public transport can be an exciting and truly local experience for any traveler (budget or luxury), who is interested in getting to know the real country: without pretence and touristy gloss.
Using public transportation in Ukraine will definitely give one this special insight into the country’s every day life. And with few guides available, we decided to put together our most useful suggestions for using public transport system in Ukraine. DO let us know if we missed anything, and we’d be glad to help you see our country from a truly local perspective!
1.It’s cheap, reliable and safe
First and foremost, when traveling to Ukraine, you need to keep in mind that – even though Ukraine’s public transport is often confusing and not completely comfortable, it is mostly reliable and safe. Staying true to traditional tourist precautions of not keeping your valuables with you will be enough to ensure a smooth ride in city’s metro, bus or tram.
And while public transport schedules are barely non-existant, buses and trams do tend to go within a reasonable time limit of 15-20 min, and you can rely on them to get you from point A to point B without much hassle.
Types of Buses
Buses in Ukraine are of three categories: fancy intercity coaches, regular governmental buses, ‘marshrutka’s and Soviet leftover buses.
Fancy intercity coaches commonly managed by private companies, run between regional centers (Kyiv-Lviv, Kyiv-Odesa) and over long distances. They are the most comfortable type: with stewards, TVs, and tea/coffee/sandwiches.
Most well-known bus companies are
- AutoLux (http://en.autolux.ua)
They have offices in all major cities in Ukraine. Their website is in English, and you can book/buy their bus tickets online. Their buses go to almost all major regional centers all over Ukraine. As of January 2011, Autolux cancelled its direct routes to Lviv and Uzhgorod in Western Ukraine. For those of you, who need to go to Lviv by bus, you can take one from Main Railway Bus Station (it was set up recently in 2011). They have Kyiv-Lviv bus, that departs from Kyiv at 21:00 and arrives to Lviv at 6:30. However, don’t expect the comfort of Autolux.
- Gunsel (http://www.gunsel.com.ua/)
They also have English website, with the ability to order your tickets online. Their bus routes are catered towards Eastern Ukraine, thus they do not have departures from Kyiv to Lviv.
Regional governmental buses
These buses are usually large, up to 40 people, vehicles, traveling between major regional centers in Ukraine. They are not quite as comfortable as the coaches, however, are still way better than ‘marshrutka’s.
If you are traveling from Lviv to Chernivtsi or to Kamyanets-Podilsky, high chances are that you will be taking this type of a bus.
No foreigner leaves Ukraine without having made his/her particular impression about marshrutkas – the common transport for most of people in Ukraine.
Marshrutkas are always managed by small private companies, and thus – the service is not the greatest. However, they are still safe and convenient way to travel around Ukraine, especially off-the-beaten track and between smaller cities.
Soviet leftover buses
Ok, few of you will ever get to see those. However, if you do, waste no time, and take a photo! The remnants of glorious Soviet past are still roaming the distant villages and far away towns. Least comfortable and extremely slow they still remind us about the early 90-ies, hordes of babushkas with potato sacks, and weekend trips to dachas.
2. How to find cross-country bus schedule
If you plan to travel between cities and villages in Ukraine, you can always choose to use the train. However, if the distances are rather short, it often makes more sense to take a bus. Bus schedules in Ukraine are tough to spot, and can often be changed without prior notice.
However, you can check out bus timetables on www.bus.com.ua website. While it’s Russian only, you can look for big city bus routes on their booking engine: ticket.bus.com.ua, which thankfully has a functioning English version.
Keep in mind that even after you buy your ticket online, you still have to present the printed voucher to the ticket counter, and pick up your actual ticket. Due to the imperfection in Ukrainian legal system, e-tickets are not allowed as of yet.
Note! You will also need to present the documents proving your identity, so make sure you keep your passport with you.
For traveling between smaller villages or in more remote areas, your main help will come from locals – so make sure to pick up a word or two in Ukrainian or Russian!
3. Types of intercity public transportation
Most of Ukrainian large cities have a wide network of buses, marshrutkahs (smaller privately owned buses), trams and trolleybuses available. Only three cities in Ukraine have subway or metro system: Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk. The last one has only one line, while Kyiv has the most extensive subway system.
Commonly, marshrutkas are the typical way of getting around, in case the metro is not available. You will probably hear plenty of funny and not-so-comfortable stories about taking marshrutkas in Ukraine. And while a lot of them can still be true for smaller towns, bigger cities have recently started to invest more into the public transport, forcing more and more of marshrutkas to function like a typical intercity bus, albeit smaller.
Pricewise, subway/tram/trolleybuses tend to be the cheapest, with specal discounts for students and elderly, while marshrutkas are the most expensive (up to 3 UAH per ride in certain places).
4. How to find public transport routes in Ukraine
As of recently, finding city public transport routes even in Ukraine’s capital has been a treasure-hunt like experience! You either had to struggle with Cyrillic only atlas maps or try to figure out your way interpreting the muffled sounds of Ukrainian passerbies. For many foreigners, it forever remained a State-level secret!
Until few months ago, when a new internet system - Easy Way - appeared, offering reliable and up-to-date metro/bus/tram/trolleybus/marshrutka routes across major Ukrainian cities: Kyiv, Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv. With easy to use interface and – oh thankfully! – well-done English version, you will have no trouble finding the best possible public transport option for getting from point A to point B.
Keep in mind though that city buses, departing on a specific set time, are still not-existant in Ukraine, so make sure to allow yourself enough spare time for the unexpected circumstances and traffic jams.
5. Buying your ticket
Buying your public transport ticket in Ukraine can be a bit trickier, than one is used to. It might also differ from city to city, so make sure to check around when you get on the bus/tram.
Typically there are two types of tickets in Ukraine: one-time and monthly tickets. Monthly tickets are sold as a special type of scratch card, while regular tickets look like this:
or like this:
Usually you can buy your ticket in five possible ways:
- with the conductor - middle aged lady, dressed in apron, walking around the vehicle and selling the tickets
- with the driver - by going to the front door and paying directly through the driver’s window (make sure you pay without any change!)
- at the tram/bus/trolleybus stops - not every city has them, but in Kyiv you can get your ticket at the ticket counters, so-called kasa
- at the metro entrances, inside the metro station - also the at the kasa
- at the metro slot machines - you’ll need to enter a fixed amount of cash (10-15 UAH), and will get 4-5 tokens at the same time; good to use, if there is a long line at the kasa
Tickets are often very cheap: ranging from 1 UAH (10 cents) to 2 UAH (20 cents) at the max.
Most of the trams and trolleybus require you to ‘activate’ your ticket, by inserting it into a type of a slot machine, called ‘the composter’. Once you insert the ticket and press the handle, it leaves a number of punched-in dots, signifying that your ticket has already been used.
Surely it is a rather funny device, which can take a few minutes to master, but locals will be mostly happy to help you out.
It is crucial that you ‘activate’ your ticket, as without doing so, your ticket will remain invalid and you can be fined.
6. Buying your ticket in marshrutkas
Buying your tickets in marshrutkas can be a bit trickier, as these small buses are usually privately owned, and often do not give out any tickets at all.
After you hop on marshrutka, simply give the money to the driver, and pick up your change. Don’t freak out if you see people passing the money around the bus. It’s very common for passengers from the back seats to ‘forward’ their payment to the passengers in the front, who then, in turn, pay the driver.
If you managed to get in the back, and can’t figure out your way while marshrutka is fighting the shaky road, simply give the money to the person in front of you asking:
‘Pe-re-DAH-yte bud LAS-ka’ - please, pass this
‘… za od-NOH-goh’ - for one person
‘…za dvoh’ - for two people
and wait for your change to return to you.
If you really need a ticket (for accounting purpose for example), you need to ask the driver in particular:
‘DAY-teh Kvy-TOK bud LAS-kah’
The duration of your trip does not impact the cost of the ticket: it’s the same for the whole route, whether you take one or five stops.
7. How to hop on
Trams, trolleybuses and most of the buses, including marshrutkas, only pick people up at the designated stops. Look for signs like this one on the photo below:
Don’t expect any schedule on the bus stop, but you can usually allow yourself 10-15 minutes wait for the next bus/tram to come.
In some cities marshrutkas can still be flagged down in any part of the city. However, we would strongly advise against it, as this careless practice endangers the passengers and pedestrians, contradicts any traffic rules and only creates additional traffic on the road!
Walk for 5-10 more minutes till you find a stop, and hop on the bus there.
8. How to get off
Now, that can be often trickier than getting on the bus! Most trams/buses/marshrutkas don’t really announce the stops, so make sure to memorize where you need to get off, and ask the people around. They will tell you when you have to jump off the tram.
In marshrutkas you might need to announce it loudly to the driver, as they might not always stop, unless alerted in advance:
‘Zooh-peh-NEE-tsya bud LAS-ka toot’ - please, stop here
9. Night buses
…are non-existant in Ukraine. If you are staying out late, make sure to write down a few phone numbers for reputable taxi companies, and be ready to pay quite a bit for a night ride in the city.
There were a few experiments to introduce night transportation (e.g. in Lviv), but they all were unsuccesful, and nothing of this kind exists in Ukraine at the moment.
10. Traveling by train
Trains are traditionally a very popular and cheap way to get around on the long distances in Ukraine. However, using the train in Ukraine is in itself a separate topic, and we’ve compiled a special Train Series to help you get the best out of Ukraine’s railway!
OVER TO YOU
Have you ever used public transportation in Ukraine? What would you suggest for a new traveler? Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments, and we’d be glad to add your suggestions to our post!