Every locale has a form of public transportation. NYC has the subway. Paris has the metro. Nairobi has matatus. San Francisco has the BART. Every transportation system has its quirks, and you can usually spot the local from the foreigner wherever you are. Learning how to use local public transportation is invaluable, yes?
In UB, there are three kinds of public transportation: the buses, taxis, and “micros.” For the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the buses. We’ve had more than our fair share of interesting stories that range from miscommunication with the fare-collector to winding up on the opposite side of the city to being pickpocketed. However, since we do not have a personal vehicle, we usually bus around town.
Here are some basics about the buses:
- Cost: 500 tugrug for buses; 300 tugrug for trolleys (buses that run on electricity). Make sure you have small bills for your ticket, and try to have them out of your wallet before you get on the bus so you can leave your wallet safely tucked away to help prevent pickpocketing. (More about pickpockets below!)
- You will pay your fare to a person, not a box. Fare-collectors know exactly who gets on the bus at each stop–even when they are incredibly full–so s/he will find you.
- Basic courtesy rules apply here. If a senior citizen, mother with small children, person with a disability, or a pregnant woman get on the bus, you should offer him or her your seat. More than likely, a Mongolian will beat you to it, but be willing to offer up your seat if you are young and/or able-bodied.
- Be aware that personal space is different in the East than in the West.
- A note about very crowded buses and trolleys: you are more easily robbed on crowded public transportation than on nearly empty public transportation, as is the case in any major city. In the jostling, it’s easy to overlook prying hands. Both Eric and I have been robbed on public transportation, even though we know better. It just takes one moment of not paying attention to lose your stuff. Always keep your bag in front of you and keep your hand over zipper(s) if possible. Don’t ever put your wallet or phone in a back pocket. Even front pockets are vulnerable, but they are less vulnerable than back pockets. If possible, avoid bringing large amounts of cash or credit cards on the bus unless you absolutely have no other choice.
Vehicular transportation in Mongolia is a bit of a wild ride. Traffic is pretty terrible–the government is constantly envisioning new ways of improving city traffic–but miraculously, it works. I have to give mad props to bus drivers for navigating this traffic, but it often results in abrupt starts and stops. So, if you aren’t lucky enough to get a seat, here are my suggestions for maintaining your balance on the bus.
- Stand facing the side of the bus, not forward. This will give you a little more stability.
- If you are taller (like us), hold on to the rail instead of the hanging hand-holds. I’m just tall enough that using a hand-hold will make me lurch forward and backward enough that I risk completely running over the shorter people around me.
- Stand with your feet a little farther apart than shoulder-width (unless the bus is REALLY crowded). Stagger your feet a bit.
- Tighten your core muscles and keep your legs loose. Basically, keeping your balance means you’ll more or less “surf” the bus, bending your knees and swaying with the movement. If you lock your knees and keep your legs stiff, you will lose your balance.
- Relax and enjoy the ride. 🙂
On a related note, this is what the bus is like in winter: