Sunday, April 10, 2011

Holding the Line Against Family Fun

As a committed foot soldier in the urban cycling movement, I take pride in the few battle scars I've picked up over the years. The one I got this weekend was no exception.

On Saturday morning, I went from our flat on Margit körút over to District VIII to pick up a bike for my 6-year-old boy, Lance. I was joined on the excursion by Lance, and also by his 11-month-old sister, Sequoia.

We met up with the seller of the bike, Lance did a test ride, and we decided to take it. Lance had been given a cool dirt bike just a week earlier, but it's on the large side. This other bike seemed just the right size to tide Lance over until he's big enough for the dirt bike.

So we took the bike and started for home. Lance rode it while I walked briskly behind. This was fine for the few blocks back to the körút, but not for the full 4-5 kilometres back to the flat. Not with the heavy traffic and not with me having Sequoia on my back.

So we boarded the 4-6 tram near the Corvin cinema and were on our way. I'm aware that bicycles aren't allowed on the tram, but I thought in this instance I'd be OK. Afterall, it was a little child's bike, no bigger than a pram or shopping trolley, which are perfectly legal. And there was the fact that I had two kids in tow, which usually makes you seem more sympathetic.

Famous last words. Before we got to the next stop, a pair of inspectors stepped up and motioned to the bike: "A kerékpárt nem szabad szállítani." (It's against the rules to bring bikes on board.)

So we were busted. Fined HUF 6,000 (about EUR 23) and made to get off the tram at Oktogon and walk the rest of the way home -- about two kilometres. After I'd paid, the inspector who'd been doing most of the talking shrugged and said to me in English, "I'm sorry. That's the rule in Hungary."

I can understand limiting bike access on crowded public transport lines at rush hour. But to go after little kids with little bikes on a Saturday morning when the tram's half empty? No wonder the inspector seemed ashamed of himself.

Today, I was on the tram, and a woman got on with a 4-or 5-year-old boy. Little helmet on his head and a bicycle in tow. They'd probably been riding on Margit Island, and were taking the safe way back home. And, of course, what was I thinking: Where are the police when you need them!??


voross said...

This is what we should call a real "Hungarikum", instead of the famous traditional music/wine/food of Hungary...

Jelica said...

Not sure about trams, but bikes are allowed on buses here in Geneva--you just have to pay an additional ticket. Gotta love the Swiss: anything goes, as long as you pay for it :)

kristin said...

The Geneva approach is a completely rational one. Pay for the bike and you can take it on public transport. That's how it works in a normal city!

I can't even count the number of times I've seen the BKV guys try to penalize someone riding without a ticket but the offender just ignores them or gets aggressive with them and immediately they wuss out and give up because they're every bit as lazy and cowardly as the policemen and every other "official" figure here. This city is drowning in vandalism and trash -- is this really the way the authorities want to show they're keeping order?
This is a classic example of the random, stupid, petty and senseless way the rules and laws are enforced in this country. There is just no other way to interpret it.