The Tram Scam

Most common complaint of tourists visiting Budapest?

It’s sure to be some variation of the following:

“I was fined for not validating my ticket. I didn’t even know I had to validate.”
“Someone with an official-looking wristband walked up to me and told me I owed them 6,000 HUF for not validating my ticket but they didn’t wear a uniform or have ID.”
“Someone with a ticket-master uniform told me I would be taken to the police if I didn’t pay a 10,000 HUF fine for not validating my ticket.”

To avoid this: As soon as you enter the Metro station, swing by the validation machines and validate those tickets. On the trams, trolleybuses, and buses, there are two types of validators, red and yellow/orange. The red validators do not auto-validate and require you to place the ticket into the top of the machine and pull the lever forwards. The yellow validators auto-validate the ticket after you place it in the front of the machine. The fine for not validating your tickets is 8,000 HUF cash on the spot. If you don’t pay on the spot, it’s 16,000 HUF.

Let me just be straight with everyone… unless you’re truly a novice traveler, you probably already know you need to validate. I probably don’t need to explain this to many of you. This scam? It preys on those who are already being dishonest by not validating or are too travel-naive to understand they need to validate. I understand better than most the desire to save a few bucks on transport costs, but find another way to do it. 

The scam part: Anyone who is not wearing a purple armband with an ID or badge identifying them as part of the BKK (Budapest’s transportation authority) who corners you is probably scamming you. This is one of the most common scams in Budapest. The good news is that people with a validated ticket are, for the most part, left alone. 

Here’s the deal: All BKK ticketmasters have the legal right to kick you off of the tram or bus immediately and demand payment of the 8,000 HUF fine or ticket you 16,000 HUF. They also have the right to patrol the trams and buses in plainclothes, but they should have their badge and armband (although it may be in their pocket).

They will NOT:

-take your passport
-threaten you with arrest
-attempt to detain you (unless you run- and then they will)

IF you don’t have the cash, pay at the BKK office in District VII at Akáfca Street 22, in the facility marked by the “Pótdíjazási ügyek intézése” sign. Clearly, you should ask for a receipt.

IT IS TYPICAL FOR BOTH SCAMMERS AND BKK AGENTS TO HAVE LIMITED TO NO KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH. A grasp of the English language or lack thereof does not a scammer make.  

On the other hand, scammers may or may not have an armband (but it is often not purple) but no ID badge (beware the officer who escorts you off the tram and then surreptitiously takes off his or her armband). They typically attempt to take your passport, which official BKK personnel will not do. They  will  immediately threaten you with arrest or imprisonment (again, not typical) and will demand more or less than 8,000 HUF depending on what they think they can get out of you. 

Again, for various reasons, tourists often skip ticket validation or don’t understand the concept of transfer tickets (see my blog on this here. ) Just save yourself several thousand Fiornet and validate your tickets. It’s so not worth the trouble to try and scam the system.

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