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How to Ride a Tram in Europe
Riding a tram might sound like an easy enough thing to figure out, and perhaps it is, but if that's the case I was a bit daft the first time I encountered one in Europe. I'd never seem a tram in person did not know how to go about purchasing a ticket, let alone know any etiquette of riding on one. So the following tips are meant to give Americans and other tourists a heads up on trams and how to ride them when you're in Europe. Note that some countries have slightly different systems, but I will do my best to cover the basics.
Buy your ticket.
This sounds obvious, I know. But the first time I rode a tram in Amsterdam, I had no idea where one was supposed to buy the tickets for the trams. Some cities and tram stops will have automated machines you can purchase a ticket from. Some cities will have a ticket booth on the tram itself and you can buy your tickets that way. I have never seen a tram on which you can buy a ticket from the driver, but that may be possible in some places. However, since you can't be sure in advance of whether or not your tram will have a ticket booth, you should be sure you have your tram tickets before you get on.
Stand aside before boarding
People will be exiting the tram so before you get on you need to stand on either side of the doors and wait for the passengers to get off. Also, some trams have doors that will only open when a button is pushed, so if no one is getting off you will need to press the button in order for the doors to open. I have seen many people unable to figure this out and miss their tram as a result -- and most people on the trams who are locals will not be paying much attention to you in the process so they may not realize you don't know how to open the doors, so don't expect them to help you necessarily.
Validate your ticket.
Your ticket is not valid unless you've stamped it in the little ticket machines on the tram. These are usually affixed to a pole and have the time visible. Just punch the ticket and you'll typically have a ticket that's valid for 90 minutes, unless you've bought one that's meant to be 24, 48 or 72 hours.
Ticket inspectors are undercover people who come round with a badge and ask to see your ticket. They can be on trams, they can be at the tram station, they can be anywhere. If you haven't got a valid ticket they will make you get off the tram and they will give you a fine. You may never see a ticket inspector but this doesn't mean you shouldn't have a ticket just in case.
I should hope it goes without saying that one should give their seat up for the elderly, handicapped or small children who cannot stand easily. Observe the signs on the trams and do not sit in the seats which are meant for those persons unless you're able to quickly get up for them should they board the tram while you're on it. Also, if you're only going one stop, you should let others board first so that you're nearest to the door when your stop comes -- it's just plain rude to have to shove your way from front to back through a crowd in that situation.
Trams should only go about 50 miles per hour but some drivers are jerks and drive like maniacs round turns. Believe me when I tell you people have been killed on trams as a result of this, as have pedestrians. Do not stand on a tram without holding onto a pole or chair; it's simply not safe. Hell, even sitting down properly can lead to bruised knees if the tram driver has to stop suddenly. Granted, these things don't happen often but they do happen. Just because trams look cute and seem to drive slowly on a safe track doesn't mean you can't be injured on them, so be smart and hold on.
Mind your luggage
If you're going on the tram with your luggage, realize that it's a normal tram to everyone else and it's extremely rude to place your bags on seats or leave them in the aisle where people have to climb over them. If you have a lot of luggage, take a taxi or shuttle bus.
Mind the pickpockets
Tourists are spotted easily. Do yourself a favor and mind your surroundings and keep your valuables in a safe place.
Know your stop
You should know where you're getting on the tram and know where you're getting off. I say this because sometimes the automated voices that tell you which stop you've arrived at can be one or two stops behind and it can take the driver awhile to realize it. Therefore, you should either have a tram map with you, or you should be looking closely outside at the station names as you pass them until you're sure the announcements are correct. Sometimes the trams will have a big sign with all of the stops listed, and sometimes you'll only see the stop that's next in line. Therefore, you should be aware of your stops before you get on the tram.
Buying tickets for a longer stay
If you're staying for a week or month or something to this effect, you can buy longer duration tickets that will be cheaper in the end and which are usually also valid for other modes of transport. For example, where I live the transportation passes are valid for bus, subway, tram and some local trains. If you'll be somewhere for more than a day or two, these are well worth the cost.