Budapest Underground: The World’s Shittiest Metro System

Leaving Bojnice, a small town in central Slovakia, we next arrive to Budapest in Hungary. This would be our third country of our winter road trip and for me it would be my only night off before driving south to the borders of Croatia. To make our visit to Budapest easier we decide to stay in a hotel outside of centre in the Pest area with plans to use the Budapest Underground Metro system to travel to the main attractions. So arrive to the city, we check-in quick to the hotel, and pretty much throw our bags into the room, before rushing to catch sunset over the Danube river.

Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Single Ticket. Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Fines by BKK on Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam


The World’s Worst Metro System?

Leaving the hotel I  withdraw 30,000 Hungarian Forint from the nearest cash machine (15:23pm), which would do us until we reach Croatia in two days time. Next we cross the road to the Pottyos ucta underground metro station and look for help or advice to get on the trains. There was none, whatsoever. Instead, we press buttons on the ticket machines until some fella tells us it’s out of order. He points us to the one next to us and we move there to try and buy two single tickets using a 10,000 Forint note. But they don’t take 10,000’s so we instead get change at a nearby snack kiosk buying a Coo Cappy Ice Fruit juice (15:31). So it costs 350 Forint for single tickets, which is around 1 Euro. It’s extremely cheap here. Now, with no idea what to do next, we have few option but to follow the flow of traffic to the platform and we board the train. It’s all very exciting. Budapest’s underground is beautiful, in an ugly kind of way, outdated, stale, and it feels a bit like riding a museum. Along the way I have my camera out and am photographing everything. I was really enjoying myself. Then, as we change platforms, we are approached by two men. They stop us, tell us our tickets are wrong and fine us 8,000 Forint each (14:00pm). We were fined 16,000 Florint, roughly £38 quid, and we had barely been in Budapest for an hour. The reason we were fined was because Budapest’s underground metro system is seriously shit.

Újpest–Központ, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Woman on Train, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Old School Trains, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam


What Did We Do Wrong?

We were wrong in that we expected Budapest’s Underground Metro system to be like any normal city metro line. Throughout the world we’ve travelled on umpteen metro systems, probably close to triple digits, and they’re all pretty much the same. Pay for a ticket, pass through gates, then exit more gates on the opposite end. It’s all very simple. I learnt this process in primary school. But Budapest still haven’t caught on. Instead they set up an odd orange pillar box, which looks similar to a parking meter, which on our return journey, we find stood next to the shop in the center of the station (look at it, pictured below). Single journey passengers must stamp their tickets at these things before boarding the train. However, there is no indication or instructions to do so, whatsoever, there’s no no booth or office for help, and locals don’t really use “single journey tickets” as they board with travel cards and day passes. So first time users are left completely blind. Fortunately I had proof of my journey, and port of entry, though photographs and receipts which I collected like OCD. But the officials were having none of it. Anyway the system is dumb and, on this instance, I assume the ticket machine had marked our port of entry on our tickets. This is the obvious thing to do. But instead of ensuring travelers board trains with the correct tickets, they choose to pounce on them at the opposite end, with hefty on-the-spot fines. It’s really quite ugly. So to give a comparable western equivalent to equate the heftiness of these fines. It would be similar to a £110 on-the-spot fine on London’s Underground when using single journey tickets, and this would then double to £220 for failing to produce the money on the spot. Fortunately, while London’s Underground is ridiculously expensive, it isn’t ridiculously crap, like the Budapest Underground Metro.

Ticket Machine, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Ticket machines, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Machine for Tickets Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam


Are they Scammers?

Of course this was the obvious interpretation of the situation. There is no official booth, or even easily recognizable clothing. They just loiter on platforms, seemingly picking on easy targets. They acted like scammers and we therefore treated them as this (my parents were once scammed by fake police in Barcelona’s main square). For a start, the two of them just looked ludicrously shifty. They almost looked identical to Harry and Marv from Home Alone. A short, conniving troll, wrapped up warm, with no neck. The next stands tall, weasly and scruffy. The weasly scruffy one, Marv, did all the talking with us, and wrote up out tickets. When I questioned their authority they would just point to armbands on their upper left arm, which read BKK. Slightly reminiscent of uglier eras in this part of the world. So we refuse to pay the fine and there’s a back-and-forth. When Fanfan fails to show her passport they then threaten to phone the police. Apparently it’s illegal to walk around Budapest without holding ID. So Fanfan is happy with this and she eggs them on to phone the police. They take out the phone, but don’t. She called their bluff. So this goes on for quite sometime until Harry gets bored and pulls over some other young girl. She gets similarly harassed. I can’t tell if she was a tourist or not given she was too timid and terrified, I couldn’t hear a word she said. She did rummage through her bags and produce an obscure passport. Anyway, in the end we pay them and move on. It isn’t until later, using Google, that I confirm that they are genuine. They’re often referred to as the “ticket gestapo”.

Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam: Worlds Shittiest Metro System for Tourist   Deák Ferenc tér, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Fines by BKK on Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam


Do they target tourists?

This happens on the transfer at Deák Ferenc tér, which is probably one of the busiest stations in Budapest. It is also the inevitable junction for almost every tourist attraction in Budapest. As the two train loads empty, on both sides, we appear to be the only people they stop. At the time I was dressed like David Attenborough on an Arctic expedition, with a small backpack, camera legs, and I am photographing trains. Fanfan is Asian, wearing a hat with cat ears and an unlikely smile of enjoyment. She is reading directions from her iPad. We couldn’t have looked more like tourists. But I do spot them staring from early on when we had walked the wrong way, towards the red line exit, only to maneuver back again to the yellow. We obviously looked lost, and I hoped their intrigue was to point us in the right direction. Of course this is what I hoped but, going by their miserable expression, I thought maybe photography wasn’t allowed on the underground. I put away my camera. Then, when we approach the escalator out, the first thing Marv asks is “what language do you speak?” in English. I’ve never been greeted like this ever, and the question in itself is just weird. They say they’re targeting offenders who abuse single journey tickets, or something along those lines, yet hundreds of potential offenders passed while they wasted a good ten minutes harassing us tourists. I’m fairly sure they target tourists, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like tourists. Maybe their jobs are just so demeaning and worthless that they sometimes feel the need for an easy win.

Riverside Photo from Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam  Trams at River, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Danube Riverside, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam


The Return Journey

So we snap the cliched Danube riverside photos before making our way back to the hotel. While I admit Budapest is a masterpiece of a city, it’s magnificence was now marred by Marv and his sticky bandits. Of course we are both still pissed. While our plans were for a paprika and booze fuelled night in the city, we skulk back to where we came from. We had lost over half our budget for Hungary and while I could easily have taken out more money, and tried to enjoy our stay, I have no desire whatsoever to do this. Why would I waste my money in a city, which so happily robs me. On the return journey we follow the same route only to find the cash payment option blanked out, leaving only the cashless credit card option available to us. For a 1 Euro ticket. To get back we are forced to use the single journey tickets we bought from the journey earlier. But we’re still clueless to how this stamping system works. To be sure we stamp both sides of the ticket. Anyway, we fortunately make it back without incident. So much of our plans for Budapest, as with most of our travel, was to eat and share local food and restaurants. Instead we are forced to eat cheap crap from a corner store and drink wine from LIDLs. To be fair the salami we bought was delicious, but it was also made in Slovakia. I did taste the national dish “goulash” a couple nights earlier in the Upper Tatra mountains of Poland. It was okay I guess, but it would be much better in a pie. We watch 22 Jump Street in our hotel, in Hungarian. It was still crap. Again for breakfast I eat salami.

Local Shops. Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Backpacker snacks, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam Breakfast at Hotel, Budapest Underground Metro Tourist Scam

18 Comments

  • Dude, you cried how badly unlucky you are, that you bought single ride ticket, weren’t smart enough to validate it and paid a penalty fare. You should learn in that same primary school you mentioned, that single ride tickets needs to be validated/stamped with an hour of your ride. How else would anybody know if you already used your ticket or not? You have to validate single ride tickets not only in Budapest, but also in Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw …aaand many more metro systems. It is a basic knowledge. If you tell that validating a ticket is a fraud, then I would say you are an idiot and you deserved the lesson you that you had got. Next time in any metro system on the world you will validate your single ride ticket before boarding the train. And besides that – when you go to a new country, you should be prepared in some basic way – that includes reading an instruction of how to use metro and what kind of tickets there are.

    • Duuuude. I travelled through 10 countries, last minute, on these two weeks, so I didn’t go into much detail on each destination. But I have looked into this and found that similar systems were found in the communist era and it seems to be ‘basic knowledge’ in the eastern bloc. I was actually brought up in the western world and schools here are different, dude. Going by your name Pepe I thought you maybe similar, although the way you articulate I would guess you are Polish? Anyway, dude, this is looking at the entire system, not just the ticketing, and it’s from a tourist perspective. I also found the general direction and hospitality on the system is also reminiscent of a similar era. They’re certainly not tourist friendly. P.s. Do people really still say ‘dude’?

      • Dude, this is called “Honour system” of fare collection and there are a lot of metro systems like that – not only in the “eastern bloc” as you called it, but also in the “western world”. Have a look here for full list of metros like that: http://mic-ro.com/metro/farecollection.html
        Actually, dude, going “last minute” to 10 countries you don’t know – without being prepared – is like asking for troubles. I visited Budapest last month and found its metro amazing as a whole.
        Have a nice day, sorry for my bad English, I am from “eastern bloc” 😉

        • Dude, many of this honour system list are actually proof-of-payment, not ticket validation, where entry and departure gates are noted, but the gates have been removed. They tend to be used in systems where passenger volume and density are not very high, not the busiest systems of entire countries.

          • Dude….I’m completely with you Allan, we got stung on the ‘validation’ too. Minimal signage to explain and the dudes that fined us seemed to take great pleasure in it.

          • I actually spoke to my brother soon after writing this about being in Budapest and he told me he’d been before but would never go back because he was scammed at the metro. I hadn’t even mentioned myself being scammed yet. One of friends was fined similar on the trams on the same trip 😀 It’s bordering on ridiculous.

          • I’ve just spent 10 minutes googling ‘Budapest metro scams’ as my husband and I were almost done (in exactly the same way, not stamping the single ticket) but we refused to pay. The ‘government official’ spat at me, escalated the whole situation as we would not comply with this ridiculous rule, called my mother a hoar and then tried to film me as I argued back with him – at this point I flung his mobile onto the floor as he tried to hit my husband! We ran off without parting with any cash, just a little shaken up…
            One of the worst metro rides in the entire world!! I can’t believe this is a government run scheme. The man was definitely inbred and had a woman with him verifying what he was saying. Just so glad we stood our ground and didn’t pay the filthy pig.
            Shame as the city of Budapest itself is worth seeing but unbelievable how this sort of thing is happening to happy tourists in Europe in 2016!

          • Complaining like a little bih plus you also sound dumb as hell telling others about it…. It’s like I would complain for going to London and being fined or called out for recording the trains in the Tube when that just wouldn’t happen at home.
            By the way just so you know I have been in that exact same situation as you once before in Budapest (when I was 19 or 20 year old and just a dumb kid) and got out of it by just speaking Russian to them lol…. Dude, next time try to do some reading and look around before you get in the metro, don’t just follow the locals like you some sort of sheep.

            Been to 100+ countries and territories, including shit holes in the war zone like Ossetia, Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, etc, never had a problem respecting local laws and customs, and if I did so for lack of knowledge I would just get out of any problems by talking them over or doing whatever I though was the most suit for the situation. Your attitude is what matters the most in most cases like this…..

            Validating your ticket is a NORMAL thing, otherwise how would they know you haven’t used it a bunch of times….

            Cheers

          • Sup, @klydebarroweii:disqus (fantastic name btw). Thanks for the info. I will inform everyone that (obviously) you just speak Russian to the Hungarians, and they’ll let you with it. No fine. It’s no problem. Because it most suits the situation, obviously, in Hungary. Keep on being awesome Klyde. Yolo. Bih. Dude.

          • That is not what I said, but since you at it spreading misinformation ; )

            Cheers

          • It’s kind of is what you said “got out of it by just speaking Russian to them lol…. Dude”. “I would just get out of any problems by talking them over or doing whatever I though was the most suit for the situation”. I got bored with the rest plus you’re kind of bias giving your missus is Hungarian. сосать мои яйца.

          • Google translator won’t help you babe, (makes no sense) but nice try tho ZAEBAL : D

          • Well if Google translate won’t help then I guess we’re all screwed on the Budapest metro. Do any other languages work? I can speak high school French?

          • If you think that what I write is boring then at least take notice of this what I will say next.

            Who cares if my misses is Hungarian, the point here is, that paying fines if you don’t validate your ticket doesn’t happen just to tourists and certainly not just in Hungary, if she is a local then what you saying gets disregarded, that is enough to prove my point , could be my misses or someone I hate, it wouldn’t matter, you saying they prey on tourists with those “scams” is plain stupid and THAT IS MY POINT! If you said this happened in Astana or Wien I would still say the same thing.

            Now, I actually blocked you due to the fact that you tried to “offend me” to no avail and for no reason. I could play your stupid game and telling you that for me to suck your balls you would need to have them in their place, but they most definitely in your mouth. ; ) Nice to read from a stranger you know nothing about ah? Yeah I though so….

            I just called you by what you are, Zaebal? it certainly fits you so I dont know what the problem is!

            Using google translator you just made yourself look even dumber, proving my point, that you talk shit that you dont know nothing about, just as with this post/ entry….. if you would speak Russian you wold simply say Отсоси, or even Отлижи мои яйца, altough nobody says that…

            I also deleted my previous comments as I will do with this one just cuz I see I’m just wasting words with you.

            Then there’s the fact that you take my words and twist them so they sound the way you want, just shows how you are…. I never told you to do same as I did (reg. speaking Russian to ticket control), although we both know from your post that you follow others like sheep….. If you spoke French to them for example, it might have been different, that’s all I was saying, they more understandable if they think you can’t even read the Information written EVERYWHERE in English…

            Congrats for speaking another language, now tell me in French then, that I am wrong, since you at it throw down some more insults ahah

            Bye

          • Did you really just say “I actually blocked you due to the fact that you tried to “offend me” to no avail and for no reason.” when you started this entire thread by saying “Complaining like a little bih plus you also sound dumb as hell”. You sure are a weird one.

  • It happened exactly exactly the same to me and my girlfriend today. It was 30 minutes after entering Budapest by bus from Prague. We had two single tickets, not knowing how they work. In all metro stations we had ever been, ALL passengers do something with their cards or tickets to enter the boarding area. Here people just enter the train. It’s so common for tourists to follow others, especially if they are extremely tired after a long night jurney by bus. We got fined for 8000 piece of shit as the best welcoming system for tourists in the world! And let me confirm your idea that they are just stalking for obvious tourists. Fortunately I’m on the train leaving this Hungry people, but let me tell you another story happened just a few minutes ago in the train station!
    When you get the online ticket here, system tells you home-printed version of ticket is not acceptable and you must print it at the station. So I didn’t print it and just saved it on my cellphone. I reached there a little bit late so I directly went to the platform and showed my cellphone and asked the train officer how to print my ticket. He just said this is just a reservation and you have to pay 15 €! I said I paid before and I just want to get a formal print. He said go to an internet café and print it! I said no it is written here that the printing this is useless. He said yes! You must then pay 15€!
    I got disappointed and ran like a crazy toward the only person I could see. She showed me a line of machines by which, you can get the formal print just by entering the confirmation code. So easy. But they didn’t want to help me just to force me pay them EURO, what they are HUNGRY for.

  • Read about your experience with BKK, Yes they are absolutely garbage and a disgrace to the beautiful city of Budapest. My travel buddy and I did everything we could to follow the rules, had the ticket purchased at the airport and looked for a place to validate, and they still got us for not punching it on the orange box. The ticket was also strictly for bus/metro that can’t be used otherwise.

    While the guy held me there, I’ve witnessed them targeting tourists with luggage. The locals walk past them like they’re a joke. One local got stopped to show proof of fare and just sort of gave him a death stare and kept on walking. Later we saw a local got caught without a ticket on the train, and she just wiggled her way out.

    I thought it was really unreasonable and especially scammy that they’re trying to make us pay cash on the spot and requested our passports. So I just stood there and waited until he gave up. The jerk then went ahead and rip our tickets to force us to buy another ticket for the next segment “as a favor”.

    I then did some research and found a lot of tourists are recommended to just barge past them like they are thin air. Never relinquish your passport unless it’s the police, not some glorified security guards these controllers are.

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