By 1970, the public transport system (ITB) was no longer adequate due to the fast pace of urban development, although the system was the fourth-largest in Europe. A commission was set up, and its conclusion pointed to the necessity of an underground transit system that would become the Bucharest Metro. The system is regarded as perhaps the only largely successful result of Communist policies towards the planning of Bucharest. Amidst the disastrous systematization and unnecessary construction projects such as Casa Poporului (Palace of the Parliament), this was one of the few projects that really improved the living standards of the residents.
The network was not built in the same style as other Eastern European systems. Firstly, the design of the stations on the initial lines was simple, clean cut modern designs, without excessive additions such as mosaics, awkward lighting sources or excessive decoration. The main function of the stations was speed of transit and modernity. Secondly, the trainsets themselves were all constructed in Romania and did not follow the Eastern European style of construction. Each station usually followed a colour theme (generally white - in Unirii 2, Universitate, Victoriei 1, Politehnica, Armata Poporului; but also light blue - in Obor and Gara de Nord; orange - in Tineretului), and an open plan. No station was made to look exactly like any other. Despite this, many stations are rather dark, due to the policies of energy economy in the late 1980s; later modernisations doing little to fix this problem. Bucharest being one of the largest cities in the region, it has a quite large network (larger than Prague, Amsterdam or Budapest). When the planned new line-extensions will be finished, it will increase to more than 100 km (with about 80 stations).
Large stations which connect with other lines (such as Victoriei) have two terminals, and each terminal goes by a different name (Victoriei 1 and Victoriei 2). On the official network map, they are shown as two stations with a connection in between, even though, in practice (and in trip planners), they are really only one station with platforms at different levels. There is one exception: Gara de Nord 1 and Gara de Nord 2 are separate stations (although linked through a subterranean passage, the traveller is required to exit the station proper and pay for a new fare at the other station, thus leaving the system), passengers being required to switch trains at Basarab.
Generally, the underground stations feature large interiors. The largest one, Piata Unirii, is cathedral-like, with vast interior spaces, hosting outlet stores and fast-food restaurants and has an intricate network of underground corridors and passage ways.
The system uses two kinds of trainsets:
The trains used on the system are made up of various trainsets (rame) connected together. Each trainset is made up of two permanently-connected train-cars that can only be run together. On lines M1 and M3, three trainsets (totalling six cars) are connected together, with a length of up to 120 metres, while in line M4, two trainsets run together (totalling four cars). M2 only uses Bombardier Trains. The ASTRA Arad rolling stock was built between 1977 and 1993, and is approaching the end of its service life, so it is currently being either refurbished or phased out. The Bombardier trains are made up of six permanently connected cars, forming an open corridor for the entire length of the train. Currently there are 252 ASTRA trainsets, 181 in current use, others being kept as reserve, making for about 60 trains, 30 to 50 of which are operated daily. There are also 44 Bombardier trains, all in daily service, out of which 26 on Line M2. The rest of these trainsets were received in 2006 and 2007 and placed in service on Lines M1 and M3.
The new trainsets (Bombardier-made) were given a distinct name (alongside a number) for identification. The names used on M2 are flower names whereas for M1/M3 EU member states' capital city names were chosen. The numbers are four figures long and seem to follow this format:
The naming (and numbering) goes as follows:
The subway livery for Bucharest is either white with two yellow or red horizontal stripes below the window for ASTRA trains, or stainless steel with black and white for the Bombardier trains. All trains run on 750 V DC a third rail, or an overhead wire in maintenance areas where a third rail would not be safe. Maximum speed on the system is 80 km/h (50 mph), although plans are to increase it to 100 km/h (60 mph) on M5, a new line currently in planning stage.
The signaling system used is similar to the light signal system used by the Căile Ferate Române (Romanian Railways), this means:
The minimum distance between two trains is 90 seconds. On the M2, the signaling system is now replaced by the ATP-System. The signals between the stations remain completely dark, while the exit signals of the station are showing a red light and the letters ATP. In the next years, this system shall replace the classic signaling system also on the other lines.
Although the Bucharest Metro is, on the whole, an efficient transportation system, there are several common criticisms of the network. One of these is the relatively poor signage and the lack of network maps on the system. Most stations do not have maps that cover the entire network, instead having only panels showing the names of stations on the current line or, in some cases, only showing a selected number of stations from the respective line. Additionally, many stations have poor signage showing correspondence passages and exits. For this reason, it is common to get lost on the system or take the train in the opposite direction. This problem is currently being addressed, with a new system of information booths and network maps being introduced in various stations, starting with Dristor, Piaţa Unirii, Eroilor and Piaţa Victoriei.
Another source of confusion is the audio announcements in stations and trains. In trains, the name of the station is never announced when entering the station. Rather, as the doors close, the next station is announced, as well as the location of the platform on the next station. The standard form for the in-train announcements is "Attention! Doors are closing! Next station is ... with the platform on the right/left side" (Atenţie, se închid uşile! Urmează staţia ... cu peronul pe partea dreaptă/stângă). However, with the introduction of newer Bombardier trainsets, this issue has been somewhat addressed: most of these trains are fitted with red or orange dot-matrix displays, constantly announcing the next station and the name of the station upon entering.
Other issues are low coverage (sizeable areas of the city don't have any subway access at all and the distance between stations is very large) and large intervals between trains.
The following extensions are in the process of being built, and will be finished by 2006-2010:
These extensions will raise the network size to 50 stations with 70.8 km length, making it rather extensive. Metrorex is also planning the following new lines and routes:
Public transport in Bucharest is heavily subsidized, and the subsidies will increase, as the City Council wants to reduce traffic jams, pollution and parking problems and promote public transport. Like the RATB, the metro can get crowded during morning and afternoon rush hours. The network uses metro cards, that are not valid for use on trams, buses or trolleys (that use stampable/punchable tickets). Riders must buy a ticket for every ground vehicle they use (RATB ticket - 1 trip - 1.3 new leu = €0.36). From July 2006, the public transport in Bucharest was to be coordinated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority - however, this was postponed until 2007. The ticketing systems for ground and subway transportation are currently being unified, with a new RFID card system being deployed across the network. Currently, the unified system is available for monthly passes, and trip cards, with the old cards slated to be discontinued.
Prices (as of February 2008):