If you’re new to Georgia, having arrived in the most recent orientation group before being quickly transferred to your villages across the country, you may not have had ample time just yet to explore Tbilisi and grow accustomed to ex-Soviet public transportation. I thought I’d explain the basics of Tbilisi’s three primary modes of public transportation, and offer my thoughts and tips.
Tbilisi’s metro is a standard Soviet system built during the heyday of the USSR’s economic power. Tbilisi’s metro opened in 1966, and became the fourth Soviet city with a metro (after Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev). Tbilisi was the first Soviet city with a subway system before the total city population reached one million residents. The opening featured six stations and gradually grew to encompass twenty-two stations and two separate lines with plans for additional sub-lines. During Soviet times construction commenced on an extension to the Saburtalo line to include a new state university station, but funding dried up and the project remains incomplete (although recent funding options have brought the idea back to fruition). Many maps show a third line branching eastward to Vasizubani, but it remains a frozen project.
Tbilisi’s metro is convenient for seeing most parts of central Tbilisi—the most useful stations for sightseeing being Station Square, Marjanishvili, Rustaveli, and Liberty Square. Primary stations feature English signs posted everywhere. It’s very difficult to get lost in the metro, seeing as there’s only four directions you could possibly go.
Rustaveli Station is the deepest. In the deeper stations you’ll notice a slight rotten eggs smell—don’t worry, it’s just the sulfur.
Riding the metro costs 40 tetri. You must buy a Metro Money card at a metro kiosk for two lari, which can be recharged at any pay station throughout the city. This card is also used for riding buses.
As for comfort: the metro is often crowded during rush hour, especially at Station Square. But for the most part you’ll have plenty of breathing space.
Tbilisi has an extensive bus system with convenient and frequent stops along the main arteries of the city. There’s always a stop near metro stations, making it easy to travel from one system to the other.
The bus stops usually have an electronic board which displays the incoming buses, alternating in English and Georgian. Unless you know the city well you may not recognize every destination and street. Luckily, the bus company provides a useful map for determining routes: http://transiten.ttc.com.ge/
Be aware that during rush hour the buses can be very crowded, and often you have to be assertive if you want to climb aboard and be relatively comfortable. Many people ride without buying a ticket, but ticket inspectors are increasingly on the prowl, so be wary if you forgot your metro card.
Mini-buses (or marshrutkas)
The ubiquitous yellow mini-buses represent the third segment of Tbilisi’s public transportation. While the buses cover the major roads and destinations, the mini-buses cover the smaller avenues and streets in addition to the more familiar routes. Unfortunately, there’s no online map of mini-bus routes. On any given major street there could be ten or fifteen different mini-buses, so unless you know which number to ride, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make sense of the destinations written in Georgian on the windows as they drive past. Better to ask a local for the best number to go aboard. But you may recognize a metro station or another obvious location written on the sign.
When you see your mini-bus simply wave it down like you would a taxi. Unlike buses, mini-buses only stop when a passenger yells, “Gaacheret.” They tend to be much faster and more comfortable than buses, although on busy routes it’s a bit of a crap-shoot and sometimes you’re better off waiting for the bus if your trip is only a kilometer or two. A ride costs 80 tetri.