By Yekaterina Medvedskaya
Buses began to depart from Tsentralny bus station back in September, heading towards Brest and Grodno. I met Olga Gravyushko and her granddaughter Dasha at the station, setting off to visit relatives in Pinsk. It was their first time at the refurbished station and they were greatly admiring the spacious platforms and LED screens hanging above. It’s impossible to get lost, as the screens show clearly where to go and at what time each bus leaves.
Fourteen platforms grace the station, with at least twenty route buses leaving daily. People head to Brest and Baranovichi, Naroch and Novogrudok. There are even international buses, travelling to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Munich, Paris, Strasbourg, Cologne, Vilnius, Prague, Palanga and a dozen other European cities.
The bus station’s major building isn’t yet complete but will have restaurants, shops and souvenir stores, as well as 3D cinemas, rest rooms and children’s entertainment centres. Already, passengers can relax in the waiting hall, with its cosy cafe, which offers hot coffee and tea; there’s a newsstand while TV screens around the perimeter of the room show videos promoting Belarus’ reserves, historical and architectural monuments, and beauty spots. A tourist bureau, offering excursions countrywide, is also situated there.
The ticket offices are in a neighbouring room, with no queues at all. Previously, at least ten people would be waiting at each window. Now, each of the twelve box offices is equipped with a computer, saving time. “Electronic ticket reservation system — Ticket Bus — has recently been introduced,” notes booking clerk Zhanna Martseleva. “Many passengers are already using this system.”
Information on each route is available from electronic reference terminals. I look up the Minsk-Vilnius route and the screen immediately displays the time of departure, the platform and the number of remaining seats.
Yulia Starovoitova, the Head of the Transportation Department, shows me a timetable for international routes; there are so many! “Trips abroad are very popular,” notes Ms. Starovoitova. “It’s hardly surprising, as going by bus is cheaper than train, let alone plane.” Big discounts are available on international routes for youngsters and pensioners. “Of course, in summer, there are more students and schoolchildren,” she adds. “In autumn, we primarily serve middle aged travellers and senior citizens.”
The bus station can now rival the railway station, also recently reconstructed, in its number of passengers and appearance. The new building’s mirror facade reflects the delighted faces of passers-by. Being located close by, the two stations harmoniously complement each other, creating a single, contemporary structure. Pleasingly, guests begin their acquaintance with the city with these wonderful stations. As they say, first impressions are vital.