Working out which travel card and payment system you need to use Lisbon’s many forms of public transport can prove more complicated than it should be. If you have a Lisbon card, your travel costs are covered. If not, you need to think about how many trips you are likely to be doing each day and which forms of transport that will involve.
If you’re travelling within the city and plan to make more than five single trips per day using only buses and the metro, a 6 euro daily pass is your best option. If you intend to do less journeys or use more forms of transport on any given day, Zapping is the way to go.
I made an expensive mistake with the Sete Colinas card which turned out not to be as inter-modal as I expected it to be. I understood that I could use it on buses, trams and the metro so I calculated how many journeys my family would need during our stay and loaded up four cards with the appropriate number of journeys. We used the bus one day with no problems but when we tried to use the metro the following day, our cards were refused. Even though we had unused journeys, I had to buy separate cards and pay for more trips for everyone to use the metro and we never did get around to using all the prepaid journeys on the Sete Colinas card.
This is because you have to use all of one type of transport credit before you can load a Sete Colinas or Viva Viagem card with journeys for a different mode of transport.
Crazy but true.
Happily, I’ve now found a system that allows me to use all forms of transport with one card, which is the way it should be. Zapping is my preferred way of paying for transport because you don’t waste money, in fact it works out cheaper because you’re charged a discounted rate for journeys and get a bonus credit when you recharge.
What is Zapping?
If you’re familiar with London’s Oyster card, Zapping runs on the same principle and in my experience, it’s the best truly inter-modal transport payment system. Once you have a card and have loaded it with credit, you can use it to pay-as-you-go on Lisbon’s buses, trains, trams, the metro and ferries.
How to pay for and use the Zapping system
You buy a Viva Viagem or Sete Colinas card for a small fee (50 cents) then add money to it – click the ‘zapping’ option on machines in metro stations or ask for this at the counters in metro and train stations, the ferry terminal, Carris kiosks and post offices. You need one card for each person travelling.
Each time you travel, you validate the card by swiping it across a sensor and the cost of one journey gets debited.
And slightly cheaper than paying for individual journeys any other way, for example, you only pay €1.25 on buses and the metro instead of €1.40. The savings are even greater when you consider that the on-board price of a tram ticket is €2.85 but with Zapping, it’s only €1.25. On trains, you pay a flat rate of €1.80 for urban journeys of up to 90 minutes.
When you recharge your card, you get a small bonus credit. The minimum amount you can add to your available Zapping fund is €3, maximum is 40€.
If you find that your Viva Viagem card has expired (they’re only valid for 12 months) but you still have credit on it, don’t worry. You can continue to use the card as normal until there is no longer enough to cover the cost of a journey. Any remaining credit can be transferred onto a new card – just take it to a counter and ask them to do it for you.
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