Saturday, March 5, 2011

User’s Guide: Getting Around

The Luxembourg public transit network is hands-down the absolute, very best deal in the country. For a mere 1,50€ – slightly more than the cost of a croissant – you can ride any bus or train within Luxembourg for two hours. Actually, I’ll clarify: you can ride any combination of buses and trains within Luxembourg, as many times as you want, for two hours. You just need to arrive at your final destination before your time is up.

Riding a city bus to the end of the line is a great way to get your bearings if you’re new to town. And long distance buses and trains are a great way to take in the Luxembourg countryside on the cheap.

So, whether you’re new to town or visiting on vacation, here’s what you need to know:

1. Bookmark This
If you have an iPhone (or any phone with internet access), the absolute most important link you need to bookmark is Mobilitéits Zentral. Offered in English, German and French, the site lets you look up bus and train times for any stop in Luxembourg and throughout the greater region (i.e. Trier, Strasbourg, Saarbrücken, etc.). There's also an app available for iPhone and Android, and a mobile version available that you can use on your Blackberry or Symbian.

You actually don’t even need to know the name of the bus stop you’re going to in order to look up timetables. Instead, try plugging in the name of the place you’d like to go to, or the address, and the site will offer suggestions - and maps - so you can be sure you’re boarding the right bus. The site will also tell you how many connections you need to make, so you can be sure you’re picking the best transport option at the best time for you, with the fewest connections.

2. Two Hours, Three Ways
Ticket from a Lux Ville city bus.
Cash. Depending whether you’re traveling on a local bus, town-to-town bus or a train, there are a couple of ways to pay. When you board a bus, you can pay 1,50€ in coins. In exchange for your 1,50€, you’ll receive a paper ticket with the date and a timestamp, which will be your valid ticket for the next two hours. If you’re paying cash, make sure you have coins; I’ve never seen anyone pay with a paper bill before, but even if you are allowed pay this way, you won’t make any new friends with the bus driver or the people on the bus whose trip is now delayed because the driver is busy counting out your change.

Ticket from a city to city bus.
e-Go card. You can also buy a “book” of electronic tickets that are kept on a reusable “e-Go” card. If you’re going to be in Luxembourg for several train or bus trips, it’s worth buying a book of 10 courte durée tickets (short time; the 2 hour ticket), which costs 12€ - making your trip only 1,20 per ride. When you get on the bus, simply tap your card against the dark circle on the yellow box card reader either next to the driver, or in the middle of the bus, and the screen will display the number of rides you have left on your card.

If you are traveling on a train within Luxembourg, you’ll need either an e-Go card or your validated ticket from the bus. You can also buy a ticket on the train, but I’m not sure how much you’ll be charged. Buying a ticket on the train will probably only run you 4€, but if you’re caught riding a train without a valid ticket and you don’t try to purchase a ticket from the conductor, you can face stiff fines. So, it’s obviously better to plan ahead.

If you’ll be taking several bus trips spread throughout a day, you might also look into purchasing longue durée (long duration) bus tickets. These tickets are valid for the full day on any train or bus. One ticket is 4€ or a pack of 5 tickets can be added to an e-Go card for 16€.

Text message. Bus tickets for bus rides within Luxembourg Ville can be purchased by texting 64222. Send the text and show the confirmation to your driver if asked. The 1,50€ bus ticket will show up as a charge on your next cell phone bill.

3. Where to Buy?
My monthly bus pass e-Go card.
In Luxembourg Ville, you can buy or top off an eGo card in two places: in the main bus station beneath Hamilius (the large bus depot in the center of town) or at the train station via an electronic kiosk or from the friendly, English-speaking agents inside the Mobilitéitszentral store. In both places, you can also pick up wallet-size bus timetables for certain lines, or a map of all major bus stops on all lines throughout Luxembourg Ville.

For new arrivals, you'll also want to investigate the monthly City-Kaart, a monthly bus pass that lets you ride an unlimited number of rides in Luxembourg Ville for only 22,50€. To keep tabs on my transport options, I keep two separate e-Go cards in my wallet: one for my monthly city bus pass and another for my short duration tickets (for train rides or for city to city buses).

Planning to take your bicycle along for the ride? There’s not much space for bikes on buses, so I wouldn’t advise attempting it (though I have seen people on board buses with a bike), but bicycles on trains are no problem at all. Bikes ride for free and no reservation is required (unlike in Germany, where you do need to make an advance reservation for your bike). Make sure you have a bike lock so you can secure your bike and keep it from falling over on the ride. 

4. Validate!
On my very first train trip in Luxembourg, and my very first time using an e-Go card, I assumed that because I had just purchased a brand new electronic “book” of ten courte durée tickets, I was all set. I assumed that the conductor would swipe my card on the train to take my ticket. So, when the conductor checked my ticket he told me it was not valid, I pulled out my receipt to prove I had just paid to add tickets to the card. No dice. What I did not realize at the time was that I had to validate my ticket before boarding the train, and this is not something that can be done on the train. I didn’t take notice of them before this incident, but now I see them everywhere: waist-high, scanning stations on train platforms that exist for the sole purpose of validating e-Go cards.

The conductor didn’t fine me (thankfully) for not having a valid ticket, but instead let me purchase a new, valid ticket. The cost was 4€; I can’t recall if this ticket was a day-long ticket or a short duration ticket, but I do recall making sure I arrived at the Wiltz train station with plenty of time to spare in order to validate my e-Go card before boarding the train back to Luxembourg.

So, don’t repeat my mistake – be sure to validate your e-Go card before getting on the train! Then sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.

More information:
  • Mobilitéits Zentral: Check bus and train times in Luxembourg and the greater region and read news and announcements (in French) of line interruptions or added service for festivals.  
  • Ville de Luxembourg: This link takes you to the bus section of the city's web site, where you can find essentially the same information you can find at the Mobilitéits Zentral web site above. In French. 

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