Tbilisi Bus Stop (photo: Chloe)

The metro is by-far the most foreigner-friendly method of public transport within Tbilisi, but with a little familiarity with the city’s geography, the city bus system can be a more efficient way to explore the city.  Buses go into neighborhoods that the metro doesn’t reach, and you can see the scenery on the way to your destination.  You can find a brief description of the bus routes online if you’re the type to research your transportation plans before you head out.  If, like me, you plan how to get somewhere and getting home is a bit of an afterthought, you can use the electronic bus boards to pick a likely bus to take.  The electronic boards are located at most bus stops, and display the final destination of the bus in both English and Georgian, as well as the ETA of the bus to you.  This is why I say a little familiarity with the city’s geography comes in handy.  The bus itself will have a description of the route posted if you can read Georgian that quickly, but the electronic board only says the destination. You can often extrapolate the general route of the bus by its destination–if where you’re going is between your location and the destination, there’s a decent chance that the bus will get you close.  This is far from an infallible strategy, though.  For example, last week I was trying to get from the South part of the Saburtalo neighborhood to the North part.  I cleverly jumped on a bus with the destination of Didi Dighomi, the neighborhood North of Saburtalo.  The bus proceeded South into Vake and to the Philharmonic, and then made to cross the river towards Marjanishvili!  I jumped off the bus, further from home than when I started.  Amusingly, it was at this time that some backpackers (assuming I was Georgian) asked me for directions and complimented me on my English.  Little did they know that I was myself a lost foreigner!  I don’t recommend winging it with bus routes if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re reasonably sure that the route will be helpful or you have some time to make mistakes, buses are a great option for getting around the city.  As a tourist, it’s useful to know that the Baratashvili (ბარათაშვილი) bus depot (a final destination of many buses) is just down the hill from Liberty Square, so if your destination is Old Town or Rustaveli, these buses are a good bet.

Unlike the city marshrutkas, buses ONLY stop at the designated bus stops, so you’ll need to wait at one of those if you intend to take a bus.  You can board the bus at any set of doors.  I recommend that you do so quickly, because drivers don’t always close the doors before they start pulling away.  Once you’re on the bus, you need to get a ticket at one of the little boxes in the aisles and near the doors.  A ride costs 50 tetri, and you can pay either with your MetroMoney card or with change. (Personally, I am an advocate for MetroMoney because of the adaptive pricing system–your second bus ride will only cost 30 tetri if you pay using MetroMoney, whereas if you use change it’s 50 tetri every time.  I’ve saved more than enough money to pay for the 2 GEL MetroMoney deposit.)  After you’ve paid, a small receipt/ticket will come out of the bottom of the box.  You need to grab this and hold onto it.  If someone in a yellow shirt starts asking you questions in Georgian while you’re on the bus, they’re likely the ticket enforcers, and you just need to show them the printed ticket.  How frequently the enforcers are on the buses varies–there have been times when I’ve needed to show my ticket more than once on a single trip, and times when I’ve travelled the whole day without encountering a single one.  Sometimes they also wait at the bus stops and ask to see your ticket as you depart the bus.  Since the buses use stops, you’ll need to be on the lookout for a stop near your destination, but you don’t need to signal your intent to get off the bus as you do on a marshrutka.

These instructions are geared towards the Tbilisi bus system, since it’s the one I’m familiar with.  There are also city buses in Kutaisi and Batumi (and perhaps some of the other decent-sized cities).  I have no idea about the specifics on these buses, but I assume the system is at least similar to Tbilisi’s…