A bit of an explanation of the title. If outside of Hungary one uses public transportation without paying for it, it is called "cheating." In Hungary they call it "bliccelés," the same word students use when they skip a class here and there. "Bliccelni" generally means to gain a certain advantage by cleverness, by outfoxing the authorities. It is not really a crime.
It seems that twenty-five percent of people who use public transportation in Budapest "skip" the price of the ticket. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised that even that many pay their fare. (Of course, there are large segments of the population who can legally ride for free.) Ticket inspectors don't regularly check to see whether passengers have tickets. Moreover, because the ticket inspectors don't have the right to demand to see valid identification cards people without tickets can give false names and addresses. The "skippers" (bliccelők) sometimes feel so self-righteous that it has happened more than once that some indignant passenger physically attacked the inspector. Or the guilty ones complain about the rude behavior of the inspectors. Of course, sometimes the criticism is valid, especially when the inspectors behave in an unacceptable manner toward foreigners who don't speak a word of Hungarian and who had no idea that they had to buy their tickets at some designated place before they got on the bus or streetcar. Yelling at them in Hungarian will not promote tourism!
When the topic comes up on forums where there are Hungarians from all over the world there is an interesting split between those who live in Hungary and those live or have lived abroad. The ex-patriots almost unanimously, regardless of the country in which they live, suggest that new passengers should enter in the front and show their ticket or their season pass to the driver. Passengers who want to get off should use the back door. That was immediately rejected by people from Budapest. It would slow down traffic. It would be an impossibility. They added that there are those endlessly long streetcars where this arrangement wouldn't work.That last argument does have merit, but the question is how many of these long monsters are in Budapest. And for the few would it not be a good idea to employ inspectors at every door? I'll bet that the extra money collected would more than pay for their salaries. The Budapesters added that the financial loss was simply not enough to worry about. Peanuts!
To the contrary, for the past few years one has heard more and more about the transit system's staggering losses, specifically the losses incurred as a result of "skipping." Billions and billions of forints. It has taken management a long time, but it seems that they have finally recognized that the current system is unsustainable. As is it, there are talks about reducing the number of buses and streetcars by thirty percent in order to survive. Or perhaps allowing private companies to provide public transportation.
My first inkling that something was in the offing came from a relative in Pécs. I happened to mention to my cousin the practice here of getting on in the front and off in the back. The surprise answer came: they introduced this a few months ago in Pécs.
A few days later what do I read? As an "experiment" they are testing out the system we have been suggesting for years on "less frequented" bus lines in Budapest. The article mentioned four such lines and stressed that this is just a trial run. After assessing the experience with these four lines they will decide whether this new practice could possibly be introduced on other lines as well.
And now comes the modern monsters' case. This is a real problem due to the extraordinary length of the Siemens Combino streetcars recently introduced in Budapest. As you can see from the attached picture checking tickets here might be a real problem. Again as a "experiment" they are checking passengers' tickets at the beginning of their run and only during rush hours. During the day everything is going on in the same old way. The experiment started off well, the "passengers were cooperative." A reporter sent out by Népszava talked to a man in his thirties who unabashedly told him that he never buys a season pass and only purchases a ticket when he really has to. Yesterday he didn't have to because it wasn't rush hour. And if tomorrow the inspectors allow people to ride only if they have tickets, he will just walk a few minutes to the next stop where no one checks anything. At home he has hundreds of "summonses" to pay a surcharge on his travels without tickets, but he will never pay them a penny. The reporter did a mini unscientific survey which confirmed the general impression. Out of ten passengers six paid while four skipped. Another man interviewed called the whole checking process "humbug." His wife used his season pass today, so he "skipped." Of course there were no consequences.
During our animated discussions about public transportation we, ex-pats, also suggested queueing up at the bus stops. That too was rejected. First because it slows down traffic. Second, because several buses stop at the same place. Let's say one wants to take bus number 17 but 19 and 23 also stop there. One cannot queue up under these circumstances! We suggested that perhaps there should be more than one stop if three different buses go along the same road for a while. Well, that wouldn't work either, they answered. It would take up too much space at the curb. At that point we gave up.
This story tells a lot about how difficult it is to introduce anything new. People are afraid of innovation and will go to great lengths to explain why a particular change wouldn't work. It might work everywhere else in the world but not in Budapest. A difficult situation.