Now, I might be biased, but I think that Edinburgh has one of the best public transport systems in the world. I’ve got a driving licence, but after living in Edinburgh for nearly 8 years, I’ve never felt the need to get a car. With the Edinburgh bus system, you can get where you need to be fairly quickly and at relatively low cost.
However, I can understand that the system might be intimidating to newcomers or visitors, so I’ll try and give you the lowdown on what you need to know to bus around the city with ease!
The prominent public transport organisation is Transport for Edinburgh, or TfE for short, which encompasses both the Lothian Bus network and Edinburgh Trams. There are other bus operators in Edinburgh, such as First Buses, Citylink and Stagecoach (although these tend to go further afield), however Lothian Buses are very much the main player in Edinburgh and so this guide will focus on them predominantly – it’s unlikely you’ll use anything else.
Planning your journey
There’s lots of incredibly easy ways to work out what need bus you need to catch, and when.
The first way is at the bus stop. At all bus stops there will be a sign showing which buses stop there and what route they take. It’s pretty easy to figure out the scheduled buses from this information.
If you’re lucky, though, you’ll be at a stop with a bus tracker (pictured above), which are at some bus stops around the city and most stops in the city centre. These signs will show you when the next buses are due, in real time. They are normally pretty accurate too, compared to other systems I have encountered in other cities.
The third, and personally my favourite, way to plan a journey is through the Lothian Buses app, which you can download for free to your Apple or Android smartphone. From the app, you can locate bus stops nearby and check the bus times for those stops, regardless of whether the stop has an actual bus tracker or not. You can also plan your entire journey using, by telling it your start point, your desired destination and the time you intend to leave or arrive. It’s very handy if you need to get somewhere for a certain time and are unfamiliar with journey times.
Lothian Bus ticket prices are excellent value for money. There are lots of ticketing options available, and I could go through all of them, but for the sake of my word count I’ll just cover the main types that you are most likely to use!
If you choose to pay for your ticket with cash, bear in mind that buses do not give change, so be sure to have the right coins ready.
The most common ticket is the single ticket, which at the time of writing comes in at £1.50 for a standard adult or 70p for a child (aged 5-15). A single will take you for any distance on one route. You don’t need to tell the driver where you’re going – just a simple “single please” will suffice!
If you intend to take more than two bus trips in a single day, then you’ll get better value from the day ticket, which costs £4.00 for an adult or £2.00 for a child. A day ticket will get you any distance, across multiple buses, for unlimited journeys that day. Simply ask for a day ticket on the first bus you get on, and then simply show your ticket to the driver on every bus you take after that.
For those heading out at night, there’s a night bus service that runs from midnight through to the wee hours of the morning. A single journey on these will cost you £3.00, or you can get a special Day & Night ticket after 6pm which will give you unlimited travel on the night service too – these cost £3.50.
If you are in Edinburgh for a relatively short amount of time, those are probably going to be the main types of tickets you need. You can save money by buying multiple tickets either online or at the travel shop (there’s one right next door to Waverley Station on Waverley Bridge), or you can even use their trusty app to buy tickets, so you don’t need to rummage around for change.
If, like me, you live in Edinburgh and take the bus as your primary mode of transport, then it really is worth investing in a Ridacard which gives you unlimited travel every day and night, for as long as you have it. Options range from weekly, monthly, yearly through to indefinitely with direct debit. Personally, I have the latter and get it for £50 a month, however prices vary depending how long you want it for, how you pay, and whether you are a child, student or adult. Check out their website for all the options.
Catching your bus
So you know where you’re going, you’ve got the ticket (or the right money for it at least) – let’s get on a bus!
First, carefully check the bus stop sign (pictured above) to make sure that your chosen route definitely stops there. It’s not so much a problem in the outer city, but inside the city centre not all buses stop at all stops. This is especially true on busy roads such as Princes Street, Elm Row and North Bridge, so be sure to double check!
Each bus has its number clearly displayed on its front, so you should see it approach. When you do, stick your hand out to make sure it stops. When it does, allow some time to let people off (we’re very polite here in Edinburgh) then get on and ask the driver for the ticket you need. Theres a slot machine where you put your coins in, then you’ll get your ticket.
In the city, stops can get quite crowded and fairly often buses come more than one at a time. If they do, don’t panic. They will form an orderly queue and might let their passengers off while they are waiting. Wait until your bus is at the front of the queue before you attempt to board. Don’t worry – the bus will get to the front and wait a second to make sure it gets everyone who wants to board before moving on.
Once you’re on your bus, it’s just a case of sitting back and enjoying the ride. Most buses have free wifi – so keep a look out for the “Free Bus Wifi” in your wireless settings.
When you spot your stop approaching, press the bell once to let the driver know you want to get off. Then make your way to the front of the bus and step off when it comes to a full stop. Congratulations – you’ve just survived your first Edinburgh bus ride!
I hope this has helped you make sense of the Edinburgh bus system. If you have any other questions or feel like I have missed something, then please let me know in the comments below.
In the meantime, happy bus riding!