Probably World’s Cheapest Public Transportation: Ukraine

Transportation and accommodations are the two biggest expenses while traveling… in most countries. For instance a city bus fare will set you back $1.50 in Warsaw, $3 in Montreal and almost $4 in Berlin… or $0.20 in Ukraine.  You will pay $140 for a 500-600km train ride between Berlin and Dusseldorf. Montreal – New York (similar distance) will cost you $80.

Ukraine train ticket

Ukrainian train ticket. Unfortunately nothing is written in English.

The same distance in Ukraine (Lviv – Kyiv) will cost you about $12, that’s including a set of fresh bed sheets, in a sleeping cabin.

As you might have guessed, this post is about the public transportation in Ukraine. In 2014 I managed to try out the trains, buses, private mini buses, trolleybuses, tramways, metro (subway) and even hitchhiking at one occasion.

Trains in Ukraine.

Trains remain the most popular way of traveling long distances in Ukraine. With over 23,000 of railway tracks Ukraine is the world’s 6th largest rail passenger transporter (thanks, wikipedia). Trains are relatively fast and incredibly cheap. I would suggest paying a few dollars extra to get a bed in a “coupé” (2nd class) – that’s a compartment with 4 beds, separated  by a door from the other compartments and the train hallway. However, you might consider trying a slightly cheaper but a lot more authentic “Platzkart” (3rd class).  There are 54 beds in the Platzkart, compartments are separated from one another, however there is no door separation you from the hallway. You will hear every single sneeze and you will see every single person passing through the wagon.

Here is the layout of Coupe (on top) and Platzkart (bottom):

Layout of train cars - Ukrainian Railways

Layout of train cars – Ukrainian Railways

I took a train from Lviv to Kyiv for $12. Then “electrified train” (електричка aka suburban train) Kyiv – Vinnytsya – Kyiv for $3 each way, then Rivne – Lviv and finally a night train from Lviv to Solotvyno ($9), a border town where I crossed to Romania by foot. Once again, highly recommended method of traveling in Ukraine.

Buses in Ukraine

Ukraine offers an enormous amount of private bus transport companies. There are buses that will take you everywhere and anywhere. Buses are usually more expensive than trains, take as long if not longer and they are a lot less comfortable. I had to take a bus from Kyiv to Rivne (since I couldn’t find a train for that trip). This 300+km trip cost $10 and took about 6 hours. Please note there are usually no restrooms in the bus. Not the best way to travel (in any country) but the vast availability and multiple daily departures make this method of traveling quite popular.

Transportation Inside The City

– Marshrutki

Most Ukrainian cities offer several means of public transportation: buses, trolleybuses, tramways, mini-buses and metro (in Kyiv). Buses seems to be dying out in the cities since they are being replaced by the private “marshrutki” – or mini buses. These big vans (or small buses) have very interesting routes and could take you from one part of the city to another for $0.30 within a very reasonable amount of time. They are often more convenient and even cheaper than public transport.

For instance, you might need to take a tram, then metro then trolleybus to reach your destination. Since tickets are not transferable in Ukraine you will have to buy 3 separate tickets at 2 hryvnya each for a total of 6 hryvnya ($0.60). Or you could use a “marshrutka” for only $0.30 and it will take exactly where you need to go without changing the line. The big problem with these mini-buses is that they don’t have a posted route (main stops of the route are written on the side of the bus). Yet, people somehow just know which mini-bus goes where. You will have to ask the locals if you are planning on using this method of transportation.

These mini-buses can also take you to near-by villages and some even do long distance trips. A lot of locals use this service to travel within 15-50km of the city since state-run bus service is almost non-existent.

– Tramways and Trolleybuses

These historical pieces of transport are still rather popular in Ukraine. Prices ranging from $0.15 to $0.20 per trip make trams and trolleys in Ukraine one of the cheapest public transport in the world. Tickets are usually sold by the conductor or the driver. Students pay half price and it’s free for most old people, war heroes, etc. There is something about tramways that I just can’t explain, especially about the old Soviet trams that still run strong, wandering the streets of Ukrainian cities, throwing you from one side to another. It’s wonderful.

$0.20 tramway ticket in Lviv

$0.20 tramway ticket in Lviv

Metro (Subway) in Ukraine

Kyiv’s underground metro system is the most popular way of getting around the city. You can always beat the traffic by using the subway. 3 lines (4th one under construction), 52 station and less than $0.20 ticket price aren’t the only great things. Arsenalna station is one of the world’s deepest metro stations (over 100 meters underground!). Ukrainian metro opened in 1960 – so it was built by the communists, for the communists. Most station offer impressive architecture and feel more like museums than metro stations. The trains arrive every 2 minutes or less, so the waiting time is incredibly short compared to many other cities/countries.

Kyiv Metro Entrance - photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Kyiv Metro Entrance – photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

I was surprised to find out that Kyiv subway is adding more and more English to its signs and announcements. There is still a lot of work to be done but most tourists will be able to make it around the metro without any issues. You can purchase the tickets (or should I say plastic coins) at orange ticket machines or at the cashier’s desk.

Taxi in Ukraine

This time around I took a cab only once, in Lviv. I mentioned it in Warsaw to Lviv post. A bus dropped me off on the outskirts of Lviv at 3 am. I took a cab to the central station (pretty long ride on the cobble-stoned streets while in an old beat up Lada). It cost $4, which is also very cheap for a cab. I would suggest calling official taxy companies, or even better asking a local to call a cab – this way you won’t overpay.

Hitchhiking

Last but not least: hitchhiking. A lot of locals use hitchhiking as a method of transportation inside and outside of the cities. However, you are normally expected to pay a small fee to the driver. The fee is usually agreed upon in advance. While in Lviv I met two people who constantly travel around Ukraine without paying. They simply tell the driver they don’t have the money (before getting in the car) and most people still take them. If you have a sign with your destination – people will assume you are not local and might take you out of curiosity. If you are a foreigner, you might also get free rides because people will be surprised (as Ukraine doesn’t get many foreign hitchhikers). Just like in any other country – be careful and listen to your “inside voice” when hitchhiking.

If you are planning to travel to or through Ukraine, I highly suggest checking out “Ukraine Travel Secrets” – very well detailed travel site where you could not only find lots of great info but can also book tickets!

 

Do you have any questions about traveling in Ukraine? Let me know in the comments!

– Alex

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