Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 03:10
Growing up in rural upstate New York, I had the luxury of convenience when it came to getting from A to B. I could hop on my bike and reach any destination in my small city of about 30,000 within a half hour, an alternative I frequently indulged in.
Upon arriving at UNC last fall, I was pleased to find that Greeley was a city that could accommodate my inclination for two wheels. Unfortunately, the same is not true for Prague. Of course, I never had any ambition of transporting, or purchasing, a bike for my short time here.
Now, my standard mode of transportation, disregarding my own two feet, is the tram, conceptually, a simple mechanism found in cities the world over. However, I have come to find that in terms of public transportation, the tram is its own animal. From a code of unspoken etiquette to the threat of petty theft, there is certain knowledge that one should familiarize oneself with when frequenting trams.
If you are planning to study abroad in the future, especially in Europe, you can bet that trams will play a major role in the public transit of your host city. Consider this a crash course in mass transit, specifically trams.
First, know in advance how you are going to finance your transit. In most cities, the expense of 24-hour passes can accumulate quickly. Your best option may be to get a long-term pass. In cities like Prague, London and Berlin, a month-long transit pass will pay for itself in less than two weeks. If you require a month-long pass, you will likely have to purchase it from a ticket broker.
Next, do not make the mistake of assuming every service worker in Europe speaks perfect English. In many cities, especially throughout Eastern Europe, English is still uncommon among older generations. It is best to have a friend present who can translate. Or, it helps to be familiar with some basic terminology in the respective language.
Third, once you have purchased your pass, never be without it. After being in Prague for almost six weeks, only on one occasion was I asked to present a transit pass. Under these circumstances, it is easy to become complacent, and if you are like me, you may be naturally forgetful.
However, the penalty for traveling without a valid pass can be severe. In Prague, the fine for a replacement ticket is 800 crowns; I paid a total 746 crowns for my month-long student pass alone.
Fourth, trams are unique because they run on an individual track, usually separate from the regular flow of traffic. Still, in cities like Prague, trams comply with traffic lights and traffic stops. Therefore, the tram schedule and duration of a trip can vary, unlike other rail systems such as subways that are generally very consistent. It is best to give yourself five to 10 minutes of leeway in anticipation of traffic delays.
Fifth, never let your guard down on the tram. It is not necessary to be paranoid; still, in most large cities, pickpocketing is rampant. This is especially true on trams where people pack tightly together, a condition that makes it easy for a pickpocket to occur discretely. Always store your wallet and other valuables in a secure place, such as an interior pocket.
Finally, be aware of unspoken etiquette. In reality, this does not exceed simple common courtesy, the basics being offer your seat to older or handicapped individuals and when standing, do not obstruct the exits. In addition, when boarding the tram it is always polite to allow the people exiting to pass first.
These are all simple concepts. Nevertheless, failing to recognize these precautions could result in unfavorable consequences.
— Alexander Armani-Munn is a sophomore journalism and political science major and a reporter for The Mirror. Armani-Munn will contribute weekly columns about his study abroad experience throughout the semester.