Velenje’s free bus service is the only one of its kind in Slovenia, and, as the helpful and friendly assistant in the Tourist Information Office there told me, everyone is very proud of it.
There are four bus routes, each one designated with a different colour and between them the whole of the town is covered. Apparently the service is funded by the council but considering the fact that all supermarkets, retail parks and places of major employment (for example the Gorenje factory which makes domestic electrical appliances) I did wonder whether some of these businesses make a contribution other than through their business taxes.
The routes take in the residential areas (very useful for those people living up the hill), schools and colleges and leisure areas such as the lake and tennis centre. We were delighted to learn that the red bus stops directly outside the coalmine, where the Slovenian Museum of Coalmining is located.
When we travelled to Velenje we did so by train rather than by bus as originally planned. However, I had jotted down directions to our accommodation from the bus station, not the train station so we needed some help to get back in track. When a local man heard where we were staying he said we should take the bus. Now, people often tell you to get the bus when, in reality it’s not that far to walk, so we stood firm and said we were walking. Now, my Slovene is still at "beginners" level so we didn’t understand when the man told us that the bus was free. He tried German next "Ein Geschenk!" he said, excitedly. I was so embarrassed "Oh my God" I muttered to my partner "He wants to pay for us on the bus". After a few minutes trying to persuade us to take the bus the man eventually pointed us in the right direction.
It wasn’t until later on, having checked into our accommodation and heading back to town to explore, that we found out that the buses were free. We were waiting at a bus stop, chatting (in a vague version of Slovene) to a lady who, it turned out, wasn’t queuing for the bus at all but just wanted to find out who the foreigners were) and when the bus was in sight I got a few coins out of my pocket. The lady shook her head and told me in Slovene that the bus cost "No Euro". So now we know why there’s a middle aged Velenje man telling everyone the story of the two crazy Brits who didn’t want to ride the free bus on a cold and snowy January day.
Information on the bus routes is shown on every bus shelter so you can see not only which areas each route covers, but also the best places to change onto another route. Services operate daily until mid evening.
Even if you have driven to Velenje, I would recommend using the free bus service – and not just because it is free; it will save you looking for a parking space in the centre of town and it also saves driving round in circles – like many new towns, Velenje is not always easy to navigate.