ZTM tram
Two trams crossing on Ulica Nowy Świat.

The public transportation in Poland’s capital city is a bit different than systems of other countries. Though there is a western European quality to the look and feel of the buses, trams, and metro in Warsaw, there is also a nod to the past in other aspects of the various modes of transport. Warsaw’s public transportation includes buses, trams, and the metro train, all well developed. There are more than 200 different bus lines, as well as 30 tram lines. Note that “trams” in Poland (as well as in most of Europe) refer to cable cars/trolleys, which typically run on the same streets as cars and have electricity supplied from cables above, as opposed to the more American version of trams referring to the aerial tramway with cars moving from point to point via cables while suspended.

The Zarząd Transportu Miejskiego, or ZTM, is the public transportation organizer for the city of Warsaw and its suburbs. The ZTM is literally the Municipal Transport Authority in English, but translated as Warsaw Transport Authority (WTA). The public transportation sevices governed by the ZTM are:

  • Miejskie Zakłady Autobusowe (Urban Bus Works)
  • Tramwaje Warszawskie (Warsaw Tramways)
  • Warszawa Metro (Warsaw’s subway)
  • Szybka Kolej Miejska (SKM {Rail Service for ther greater Warsaw metropolitan area})

Heading out of WAW, Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Airport (known by the locals by its former name, Warsaw-Okecie Airport{Lotnisko Chopina in Polish}), it is immediately convenient to take public transportation to where it is in the city of Warsaw that you need to go. Though there are the usual taxis waiting outside the terminal, which are relatively cheap when compared to taxis of other Western countries, there is a much more economical and just-as-convenient way to get to many common destinations in Warsaw: the #175, #148, #188, or #N32 buses. These four buses have their termini at the airport, and serve an extensive array of stops along their combined routes.

Getting Around Warsaw Via Public Transportation

Bus – Miejskie Zakłady Autobusowe

The public bus system in Warsaw is pretty easy to understand, once given the keys to decode it. Every bus has a number, and the first number or letter usually categorizes the purpose of that particular bus. Normal bus schedules are from 5:00 to 23:00 (they use the 24hr clock in Warsaw), and there are several night buses that are differentiated with an “N” prefix. Intervals between each one varies, though averaging about 10-20 minutes between buses; some suburban lines may come as far apart as every 2 hours. Buses are fairly frequent during the daytime hours on Mondays through Saturdays; less frequent service is usually the case on Sundays and public holidays.

Understanding the Prefixes

Bus routes have many numbers, and they might all seem to add to the confusion that is public transportation in Warsaw. However, the first number usually can be interpreted into a bit of a system, and the last digit or two are ordinal.

  • 1XX – Normal, All-Day Service
  • 2XX – Various Local Routes
  • 3XX – Normal Service, Limited Hours (Usually Peak)
  • 4XX – Expedited Service, Limited Hours (Usually Peak)
  • 5XX – Expedited, All-Day Service
  • 7XX – Suburban, All-Day Service
  • 8XX – Suburban Service, Limited Hours (Usually Peak)
  • 9XX – Special Routes, Service On Occasion
  • E-X – Various Express Routes
  • NXX – Various Night Routes
  • Z-X – Tram-Replacement Routes (if a tram is out of service)

Understanding Night Routes

Typical template for Warsaw’s street signs; The blue area contains the name of the street: “Odyńca” for short, “Ulica Antoniego E. Odyńca,” fully. Ulica, or Ul., stands for street.The numbers indicate that addresses on this side of the block will be odd-numbered from 51 to 55. The red section contains the name of the neighborhood or subdistrict; “Wierzbno” is a neighborhood in the Mokotów district. Taken by Wikimedia Commons user Sapphire.

After 11:00pm (23:00), normal, day bus service usually ends, substituting the night buses in its stead. All night buses have the “N” prefix, and each one has its terminus at the Central Railway Station (Dworzec Centralny). Departure times from Dw. Centralny are usually at the :15 and :45 of every hour. Bus stops at night, other than Dw. Centralny and Centrum stops, are by request only; to request a stop, it is necessary to press the red “stop” button, or simply alert the driver.

Important Bus Routes for Travelers

  • #148 – Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Airport to Wiatraczna.
  • #175 – Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Airport to Dw. Centralny to Centrum (City Center).
  • #188 – Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Airport to Gocławek Wschodni.
  • #N32 – Night route from Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Airport to Centrum (City Center).
  • #180 – Route from Powazki Cemetery to Wilanow; daily sightseeing bus running every 2 hours, with many top attractions along the route.
For maps and other useful information that is constantly changing, visit the ZTM website.

Tram – Tramwaje Warszawskie

Trams are the above-ground trolleys (streetcars) in Warsaw, operating on a track with an overhead cable for electricity. Riding the tram can be quite convenient, especially during rush hours, when it is much faster than a bus usually; because of Warsaw’s notoriously dreadful traffic (at times), a tram can  make it from stop to stop with ease during peak operating hours, whereas a bus may take up to 15 minutes or more.

The tram system in Warsaw has about numerous lines, serving up to half of the city’s population. The trams operate with only double-digit numbers on them; currently, numbers 1 through 79 are designated for tram service. Numbers 1-39 are the basic tram lines offering regular service, numbers 40-49 are lines operating at specific times of the day, such as on peak hours, and the rest of the lines are special or substitute lines. Not all numbers are used in the tram system.

In case of any service interruptions (breakdown/failure) or planned works, a tram line may be suspended and a substitute bus will be made available. Substitute buses are marked with the letter “Z” or “Z” along with a number of the tram line it is replacing, e.g. “Z-2”. Click to Open Warsaw Tram Map.

Metro – Warszawa Metro

Currently, the Metro in Warsaw is one line that runs in a north-south fashion. There are plans to expand the line, and work has already begun on an east-west line, which has an expected completion date of late 2013. The Metro connects the districts of Bielany with Ursynów, via Śródmieście. Metro runs based on approximate hours from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. On Friday and Saturday nights metro runs until 3 a.m. with a stable 15 minute frequency. Warsaw’s Metro is well known for several of its beautiful stations, such as Słodowiec, Młociny, Plac Wilsona, and Ratusz-Arsenał Station.

A funny thing about Warsaw’s public transportation system is that, though the buses and trams have specific times when each will arrive at a station, the Metro does not. The metro schedule is based on average service frequencies within specific time frames. Click to Open Warsaw Metro Map.

SKM – Szybka Kolej Miejska

The SKM, or Szybka Kolej Miejska, is an urban rapid-rail network which services the greater-Warsaw metropolitan area, using preexisting national rail tracks. It follows the zoning and fare price rules of the bus and tram network. Currently, there are 3 lines on the SKM system: S1, S2, and S9.

S1 – The S1 line runs from the small town of Otwock, south of Warsaw, through Warszawa Zachodnia and Warszawa Śródmieście to Pruszków, another tiny town in the western metropolitan region of Warsaw.

S2 – The S2 line used to run from Pruszków through Warszawa Zachodnia and Warszawa Śródmieście to Sulejówek Miłosna, located east of Warsaw. However, the S1 took over the route to Pruszków, and there are plans for the S2 to continue on to Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Airport.

S9 – The S9 line is the most recent addition, completed in 2010 to run between Warszawa Gdańska (a downtown Warsaw station) and Legionowo (a small town northeast of Warsaw), with some trains reaching Wieliszew, a tiny village of under 5,000 people north of Warsaw. Click to Open SKM Map.

 

Navigating the Streets, Translating the Maps

In the English language, there are abbreviations for streets (st.), avenues (ave.), and other geographical markers; so, too, are there abbreviations for many of their Polish-language counterparts.

  • Pl., short for Plac, is similar to the English word Square.
  • Dw., short for Dworzec, is Station in English.
  • DH, short for Dom Handlowy, or trade house.
  • Cm., short for Cmentarz, is a cemetery.
  • KM, short for Klub Sportowy, translates to sports club in English, but may refer to a team stadium.
  • Al., short for Aleja, is an alley/lane.
  • Ul., short for Ulica, is the Polish word for street.
  • Os. is the abbreviation for Osiedle, which translates to something like a housing development or subdivision.
  • Przystanek means stop, as in station or bus stop.
  • Od is Polish for from, as in the starting point/location.
  • Do is Polish for to, as in the destination.
  • Przystanek Stały is a fixed stop.
  • Przystanek Na Żądanie refers to stops on request.
  • Woj., short for Województwo, refers to a voivodeship, an English word common throughout eastern-Europe defined as a province or administrative division, similar to a state in the U.S.
  • Św. is short for Świętego, which is the Polish word for saint; for instance, Św. Bonifacego is the Polish equivalent of St. Boniface.
  • PKP is the abbreviation for Polskie Koleje Państwowe, or the Polish State Railways, which operates many different train and tram lines throughout Poland and Warsaw.
  • Sz. is short for Szpital, the Polish word for hospital.

How to Pay

Understanding How to Pay the Fare

Tickets for Warsaw’s Metro, buses, and trams are sold in many convenient locations, such as groceries, but are issued only by the ZTM (Warsaw Transport Authority); Look for signs that read “Sprzedaż Biletów ZTM” (“ZTM Tickets Sold Here”). Kiosks and ticket machines at stations also sell tickets, obviously. Tickets on the bus, trams, and Metro are usually not checked by drivers or machines. How it works is that you purchase a ticket, then when hopping aboard the bus or tram, or entering the train station, you must immediately validate your ZTM ticket in a yellow machine. Though Warsaw uses this version of an honor system, constant abusers of the lax regulations force the ZTM to have these plain-clothed “ticket controllers” monitoring the buses, trams, and stations; coming up to random people, they whip out a machine that looks like a credit card terminal and scan your ticket to make sure it is valid, and to make sure that you have it in the first place.

Tickets must be activated/validated in that yellow machine, even if purchased from the driver. Doing so if you sense a ticket controller coming is not really possible, either; most of the times, they can disable the yellow machine, causing a red light to glow, while they validate the tickets of everyone on board. Students may purchase the reduced-rate ticket, as long as they are under the age of 26.

Zones

Warsaw’s public transportation system has 2 main zones. For most travelers and tourists, Zone 1 is the one that matters; Zone 1 includes all of the city proper and some outlying areas, including the airport.

Term Lengths of Tickets

There are several different ticket types that may be purchased. It looks complicated, but it provides for an array of scenarios, making it actually quite convenient.

  • Short-Term Card – Allows for different lengths of times ridden on unlimited ZTM vehicles from time of initial validation. These are great if you need to make a quick roundtrip, especially if it requires a transfer. Both Zones 1 & 2 are allowed in all versions of this ticket, for the same fare.
    • 20 Minute – Valid for use on unlimited ZTM modes of transportation for up to 20 minutes from initial activation.
    • 40 Minute – Valid for use on unlimited ZTM modes of transportation for up to 40 minutes from initial activation.
    • 60 Minute – Valid for use on unlimited ZTM modes of transportation for up to 60 minutes from initial activation.
  • Single Fare Card – This ticket offers the rider travel on only one vehicle for up to 120 minutes. Zone 1 and Zones 1 & 2 tickets are both available in this version, though separate entities.
  • Full-Day Card – Allows the ticket holder unlimited usage by the day.
    • 1 Day Pass – Gives the rider a full 24 hours to use unlimited ZTM vehicles. Zone 1 and Zones 1 & 2 tickets are both available in this version, though separate entities.
    • 3 Day Pass – Gives the rider 3 days (actually more, this one allows until the minute before midnight on the third day before it expires) to use unlimited ZTM vehicles. Zone 1 and Zones 1 & 2 tickets are both available in this version, though separate entities.
    • 30 Day Pass – Gives the rider until the minute before midnight on the 30th day before it expires to use unlimited ZTM vehicles. Both Zones 1 & 2 are allowed in all versions of this ticket, for the same fare.
    • 90 Day Pass – Gives the rider until the minute before midnight on the 90th day before it expires to use unlimited ZTM vehicles. Both Zones 1 & 2 are allowed in all versions of this ticket, for the same fare.

Prices

The fare system for ZTM public transportation looks like a complicated structure, but is not too bad at second glance. Click here to view the ZTM Prices.

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