PJ Heslin takes the bus - and bike - challenge
A friend told me that you could take a bus from Menton to Cannes for just a euro. I was suspicious since the information was delivered by one of the Côte d'Azur's more shady characters. He's not on the scale of those who skip off to Spain with your life's savings but it's best to take his information with a grain of salt. Even if it was possible, I thought it must be a God-awful experience. As a kid I could barely stand to have my brother's leg close to mine in the back of our family car so what chance did I have of enjoying a hot summer bus ride while a stranger's sweaty beef shank was pressed dangerously close to me?
Despite my scepticism, I decided to test the Menton-Cannes one euro bus theory and came to find out it's true. Not a bad deal when you consider the train is more than six times that amount just from Nice. After I paid my fare I asked the bus driver if the receipt he gave me would act as a transfer (une correspondance) if I wanted to go all the way to Cannes. This was one of the surly drivers so he sighed, took my ticket back and then provided me a new one, assuring me that would take me all the way to Cannes. When using the TAM, Bus Var Mer, Envibus, Sillages or Bus Azur lines, tell the driver when you get on what your final destination is, and you will be issued one ticket-transfer to use for each successive leg of your trip. So, in fact, I could have continued on to the Reporter office in Mougins for the same euro.
Not a bad experience
And how “awful” was the bus ride? Except for one surly bus driver it was a pleasant trip. The buses are air-conditioned and comfortable - I even managed to have a little nap at one point. And having lived in New York for a number of years the only thing that could make me feel less secure than napping on a city bus is doing so with my wallet open on my lap with a sign stating my PIN and social security numbers.
Not only was the bus trip scenic and not too crowded but it was pretty quick - about an hour and a half to get from Menton to Nice via Monaco and the same amount of time to reach Cannes. A fantastic alternative to frustrating summer traffic. Also, the Alpes-Maritimes public transit is the only system I know of anywhere in the world I've been where you don't need exact change to purchase a fare. For a full list of TAM schedules go to http://trim.li/nk/azur_bus
Pedal to the metal
If you live in Nice another convenient way to get around is the Vélo Bleu. Subscriptions range from a day to a year (details can be found at their website www.velobleu.org) or use your phone and credit card to sign up at one of the many Vélo Bleu kiosks around the city. With any membership, the first half hour of the bike is free but after that you're charged €1 for the next half hour and then €2 for the following hour.
I've been using the Vélo Bleu service for about three months now and I think it's a great service although far from perfect. Almost all of the Vélo Bleu's I've used are in decent shape but the weak link in the Vélo Bleu system is the blue boxes where you have to access the bike. These little boxes can drive you crazy, especially if you're in a rush. From personal experience, nearly 40% of the time the station boxes don't work and take a while to activate. Fortunately, there's more than one box at each Vélo Bleu kiosk. The number of out of service boxes seems to have increased now that the bikes have become increasingly popular. Once they work this kink out, the Vélo Bleu system will be a flawless way of getting around town … if you don't mind pedalling.