Tram, Personally

I slip into the very back corner of the tram. It is so cold outside that even I long for the days of butt sweat adhering me to the tram seat. I make decisions, since, like most daily public transport commuters, I am a travel strategist.

Today I’ll ride into the center and catch a connecting tram, instead of the metro. This means I can avoid a long walk in the freezing cold, be warm, and read my book all at the same time.


It’s about 3 p.m, so the tram is about a third populated with women, children, post-shopping elders, and cliques of young people grouped into varying degrees of social status.

Just before the doors close, I physically relax. School, students, and bosses all disappear. I bury my nose in my book and snuggle into the seat to warm up. And that’s when the doors emits an air raid warning; a shrill, piercing, metallic bell that cuts the air and disrupts any kind of peace.

Ah crap.

If you are a daily user of public transport in Prague, then you know each tram has a personality. To be sure, some of this is due to the driver. Some drivers wait for those running for the tram, some absolutely do not. Some drivers leave the doors open until a runner reaches them and then close them in his face. Some drivers shut the door as soon as they are opened; many of us have had to free an old woman from the clutches of a shut door. Additionally, every Prague commuter knows the uneasy feeling of being on a tram with a driver with an aggressive bell finger.

Some of a tram’s personality is due to the driver, but not all of it. Some trams are more inviting. Their seats are more comfortable, their standing spaces are more accepting. Others trams seem to hate passengers, and do everything they can to make their ride uncomfortable: unreachable hand grips, seat warmers on full blast, windows that only crack an inch in the summer heat.

How a tram talks shows a great deal of its personality. Some trams ring a subdued bell, politely reminding commuters that they need to enter or exit. Some trams literally tell you this, and anyone who stays in Prague longer than a month learns this sentence first: Ukončete, prosím, výstup a nástup, dveře se zavírají. Please finish entering and exit, the doors are closing. And they will also never forget it, nor will they forget the awkward realization that they got turned on by the oddly sexy digital recording. Other trams nicely, though strictly, inform you that the tram has the right of way, so be careful and don’t cross in front of it, or you will be killed.

This personality is different in other cities, too. On an outreach program to a secondary school in Plzeň last month, PJ and I laughed at the pleasant little song the trams played while closing doors. The ticket stamp was manual, so you had to stick your ticket in a slot and pull a lever. It was everything you could want from a tram in a small town.

But here in the big city, some trams just screech like metallic harpies. Like the one I’m on now. Though I can normally ignore the bells, by the time I’m halfway through Žižkov I call an audible. I get off at the main station and wait for the metro. When it comes, I both revel and frown at the boring metal train, because these things are total stiffs.

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