Monday, June 9, 2014

Ode to the Ukrainian tram

Not everyone likes riding the trams.

"They're sooo slow", some friends complain. "And they're old."

I love the trams, though. For me, "slow" becomes scenic. "Old" means it's pretty much the cheapest way to get around the city.

A tram can seat just over 30 people or squeeze in almost 60 if they aren't opposed to standing, but most trams I've been on aren't even halfway full. The few that have been packed with passengers have been memorable, especially if it's a hot summer day :p Still, I'd take that over an equally hot and crowded marshrutka any day!

One ticket costs a few grivna (about 25 cents US). Sometimes you pay the driver directly for a ticket, other times a conductor wanders up and down the aisle, brusquely collecting coins and bills. I've always wondered how she can remember who already paid, who just boarded, and if she ever encounters situations like this one.

One insider secret:

Sometimes she'll hand out tickets that aren't torn in the middle. If you watch carefully, you'll see passengers handing these tickets back to the conductor before they exit. This is how one can tip on the tram; she then can turn around and resell that ticket and keep a few grivna for herself.

Kharkiv trams come in all colors and designs, be it simple blue-and-white, the ever popular red-and-yellow, the rarer green...

... or smothered in ads. Sausage advertisements are extremely common, usually with grinning or pony-tailed little kids. I'll try to get a pic of that variety soon.

The tram (or трамвай, tramvay) operates all year long. At times people are bundled up in heavy coats, hats, and gloves-

- while during the summer you sit, sweat, and pray for a breeze through one of the opened windows.

I remember how years ago my first Russian teacher tried to instruct us all in the art of the tram. There we were, in a small classroom at the University of Alaska, role-playing a tram ride. It seemed crazy at the time- repeating "Excuse me, coming through!" and "What's the next stop?" a million times- but now those words have become part of the lyrics of my life here.

Tram #3 will take you to Youth Park



Bonus: 6 Random Tram Tidbits from Elsewhere on the Internet

Last week a collision between 2 trams sent a dozen people to the hospital. Here's a photo from another such accident last month.
photo credit to Tramvay Kharkovsky's vk page

How in did we miss this awesome Christmas tram, complete with live music? No!!!!!

News story from 2011: Kharkiv proud to receive Czech trams (includes short video from the tram depot).

Map of the city's tram routes.
This has got to be the coolest Kharkiv tram pic online. Check it out!

Something my Russian teacher didn't teach us but I'll teach you: the famous phrase "Я не такая, я жду трамвая", literally I'm not that kind of girl, I'm just waiting for the tram. Don't know when or why you'd use this, unless people regularly assume you're a prostitute, but hey, you're now prepared for even that scenario. It's also the refrain of this ludicrously-music-video-ed song.

Do you ever travel by tram? 
What's your favorite way to get around your city?


  1. Hi Katherine, what a great shame that your blog is not read by more folks, you remain a beacon of reality, along with the erudite @odessablogger, on matters Ukrainian :-) (Re-shared here: )

    1. Thanks, Rupert : ) Glad to have you as a reader!!

  2. My Father-in-Law’s favorite mode of transit is as he refers to it as trolleybus, because seniors ride for free. In fact we have walked, seemingly well out of our way to catch the trolleybus, oh the lengths that will be taken to same grivna. I have to agree with everything you said. 1. Not crowded, 2. How does that woman remember who has paid, though I find that an even greater feet on the Mushootka. 3. Come on breeze! Sometimes the pole that makes contact with the wire comes off and I think that adds to the experience. My favorite part of the ride is taking off you can hear the power surging through the engine or whatever makes that bus move, it’s just awesome. Zak

    1. Oh yes, I'd totally forgotten about those epic sparks from the overhead cables! Yep, the same thing with some of D's elderly relatives. They're almost religious about travelling this way "because it's free". One time we travelled from Simferopol to Evpatoria by electrichka instead of the usual bus because we were with an aunt who could ride it for free. It was my first electrichka trip, very cool : )

  3. I'm a big tramvai lover too! I don't usually use them if I actually have somewhere to be, but I like their rumbling, half-filled presence when I don't mind going slow.

    1. Oooh... "rumbling, half-filled presence" is the perfect description. Good word choice!

  4. I loved learning about the tram system, especially the surreptitious "tipping." Great insight into your daily routine!

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  6. That was always such a mystery to me... How did they remember who had paid and who had not. Once I had a ride where the conductor asked everyone but me for fare. Another time a friend ate a ticket because it was a lucky number, or something. It was quite puzzling.

    1. Whaaat? Someone ate a ticket?! That's just... wow. I haven't heard of that one yet ;) Thanks for sharing this!