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Don't Be Afraid of Foreign Public Transit

In an earlier column, I urged travelers to check out the many deals available for public transit in the most popular U.S. destination cities. My suggestions apply equally to major foreign cities: As a longtime traveler, I've not had any trouble using subways in every big city I've ever visited. 

Some travelers tell me they're reluctant to use public transit in a foreign city because they're afraid they'll get lost trying to navigate the city when they can't read the signs at the stations. Not to worry—in every place I've been where Latin script isn't used, I've found signage in "globish," the de facto international-language version of English. In fact, the Beijing and Dubai transit systems I used recently made recorded station announcements in the local language and English—a feat many U.S. transit systems haven't yet mastered. And you can easily find Latin-script versions of system maps and riding information. As in the United States, many foreign systems offer special deals useful to—and sometimes aimed at—international visitors. You can buy all the passes I cite online or after you arrive. 

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Calling Canada "foreign" is a bit of a stretch, as least where language is concerned, but its cities are extremely popular destinations for U.S. travelers.

Montreal. Metro, bus: Base fare $3 CAD; seniors $2 CAD. Day card: $9 CAD; no senior discount.

Toronto. Subway, light rail, and bus: Base fare $3 CAD; seniors $2 CAD. Day pass: $10.75 CAD; no senior discount.

Vancouver. SkyTrain, bus: Base fare $2.75 CAD Zone 1; $4 CAD Zone 2; $5.50 CAD Zone 3; $2.75 CAD all zones evenings/weekends. Seniors 65 and over: $1.75 CAD to $3.75 CAD. (The airport is in Zone 2.) Day pass: $9.75 CAD; seniors $7.50 CAD.

Beyond Canada, here are details for a few of the most popular overseas destinations:

Berlin. S-Bahn, U-Bahn (base fares based on distance): Central zone €2.40 (about $3 USD); larger zone €3.10; no senior discount. Berlin Welcome Card: Central zone, 48 hours €18.5; 72 hours €24.50; five days €31.50; larger area, including Potsdam and airport, up to €36.50.

Hong Kong. Metro (base fares vary by distance): Typical central tourist areas $4.50 HKD (about $0.60 USD) to $6 HKD, or slightly less with stored value "Octopus" card; seniors $2 HKD only on Octopus card. (Octopus card is a good deal for anyone.) Airport-line fares: $90–$100 HKD. Tourist day pass: $55 HKD. (Tourist day pass does not include airport and is not a good deal unless you ride a lot.)

London. Underground (base fare depends on distance): Zone 1 £4.50; £2 with Oyster card. Bus: Only £1.40. London has a bunch of pass options, but the bottom line is for one day, get a Travelcard (£8 to £11 for most places you'll go); for a week get an Oyster stored-value card that automatically figures out the best pricing for your travels, whether a pass or a single ride. You pay a one-time fee of £3 and refill the value online or by automatic credit-card charge.

Paris. Metro, RER, buses: Base fare €12.70 for a carnet of 10 tickets; no senior discount. Passes: Central zone, one day €10.55; two days €17,15; three days €23.40 (does not include airports).

Rome. Subway, bus: Base fare €1.50; no senior discount. Passes: Central zone, one day €6; three days €16.50; seven days €24. Regional passes, including suburban rail and three-day passes, run from €8.90 to €39.20, depending on distance.

Tokyo. Subway (fares based on distance): ¥160 (about $1.70 USD) to ¥300; no senior discount. Subway: day pass ¥710; add suburban rail within metro area ¥1589; for foreign visitors ¥600. If you buy at Narita or Haneda airports: Two-day consecutive pass ¥980. Skyliner day pass: One way from Narita to Tokyo plus one-day metro pass ¥2600 (regular Skyliner alone is ¥2400); add two-day metro pass ¥2980.

Let me know how you feel about foreign public transportation in the comments!

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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