In our two previous articles we talked about the challenges and practicalities of car and train travel in Poland, with this one focusing on long-distance buses. Curious to learn more? Excellent, let us proceed...
Without going into the details of the road system and quality in Poland already covered in the “Travel by Car” article, this one will attempt to address some of the key issues associated with bus travel and the way it is organized. Surely, there are people out there who just love going on the bus, and this will be a great introduction to the various types of bus services offered in Poland.
First and foremost, bus travel developed soon after World War II in Poland as most people did not have cars of their own, and because train services were initially limited to larger cities and more densely populated areas. The only way for villagers from far-off locations to get into a city or a provincial town was to get on the bus, operated by the national carrier PKS (Polska Komunikacja Samochodowa – Polish Road Transport), as almost anyone in the country was well within the reach of a long-distance bus stop. Buses offered the comfort of not having to constantly wonder about where to get a car from, which was good for the authorities. And buses ran frequently. And buses were cheap. And buses were reliable. Until...
Well, until the country began to change in the early 1990s and everyone went back to their dreams of having their very own four wheels. This is when the bus network started to become disorganized, with services cut, buses turning out to be too old to travel on, and generally no one worrying a single bit about the transportation needs of those in distant locations, still unable to get their own means of transport, and still outside of reach of the rail network. Times were tough, with many private carriers seeing the potential and filling the void. Some of them have survived the difficult starting times and have grown to become the major bus transport companies today.
Today buses (autobusy) serve hundreds of connections, both between larger cities and between smaller villages and towns. PKS is still around, although this former giant has shrunk tremendously and split into numerous smaller businesses. Private carriers compete fiercely against one another, with new players entering the market, too (the notable example here being the PolskiBus company, owned by the Scottish millionaire Sir Brian Souter, which has recently outstripped some of the major competitors by offering attractive specials on tickets, excellent level of service, modern buses with contemporary amenities, such as AC sockets, free WiFi onboard, toilets, or light refreshments, and even international services to Berlin, Prague, Bratislava or Vienna).
Ready to hop on a bus? Great! The question is which one and where from. Read on to find out. For this the Internet will be your best ally, with so many different carriers and services available you will be well advised to do some research first, or ask your Polish friends. PKS buses usually pull in at bus stations (dworce autobusowe), and these will be usually located next to the train stations. Do not fool yourself into thinking that buying a bus ticket (bilet na autobus) at the station will be a piece of cake – the attendants will rarely speak foreign languages and will probably drop their famous Polish hospitality in front of a foreigner unable to verbalize their ticket needs. Shame. However, you can go online and check for tickets there. And buy there. That’s the beauty of modern technology. Do bear in mind though that this option will be available for the major carriers only, such as Polonus or the PolskiBus, already mentioned earlier. Others may have their own websites offering ticket buying options, but this will not be a rule, so check beforehand. On PKS buses you can also get a ticket from the driver – just state the name of the place you are headed for and you should be fine. Bus schedules (rozkłady jazdy) in smaller locations may be non-existent, so ask around or check in advance.
All in all, bus services (komunikacja samochodowa) in Poland have been reborn. The former giant is on its knees, but there are others taking over. Good for them, as people need to be get around. And the better the standard, the more travelers to serve, with fewer using their cars, thus contributing to a reduced carbon footprint. Przyjemnej podróży! (Enjoy the ride!)