Vienna and its’ surroundings are covered in a vast web of efficient public transportation. Four rail options make life in the Austrian capital a breeze for residents and visitors alike. Like Miami, Vienna lacks a definite central district where workers travel to and from daily. The inner stadt, encircled by a one-way ring street and streetcar is about as close as it gets to becoming the center of Viennese activity, but major business hubs such as the UN complex are located far outside of the center.
The streetcars or Strassenbahns are a marvelous form of transportation, easily accessible by locals and visitors alike due to the vast network they create across the entire city (There are over 30 different routes and it is the third largest network of streetcars in the world.) To understand how vast this system really is, please click on the map here, you won’t be disappointed. Nearly every street contains tracks for the streetcar, which often shares the limited roadway with vehicles on narrow 2 way streets. The streetcars are prompt, clean, and effective forms of traversing the city.

The U-Bahn (Subway) is a relatively new form of transportation in Vienna; it opened in its modern form in 1976 and has since grown to incorporate six different lines (although parts of the U-Bahn date back to the 1890’s.) Click here, for an animation depicting the growth of the U-Bahn over the years including the upcoming extensions of the U2 line due to open in 2008 (to the stadium) and 2010, in time for the UEFA Cup which the city will be hosting in 2008. The U-bahn provides a faster mode of transportation and links some of the major hubs including: Stephansplatz, Vienna International Center, and train stations (Westbanhof, Franz-Joseph Banhof, Wien Nord.) Like most modern transit stations, most stations feature newsstands, bakeries, and all other sorts of convenient amenities foreign to the Miami-Dade Transit System.

The city and its immediate surroundings also contain over 380 kilometers of track for the Schnellbahn, a suburban commuter rail train similar to our tri-rail, only its efficient, vast, reliable, and electrically powered. As I mentioned previously, we used the schnellbahn to connect from the airport to the U-Bahn. There is also a small light rail transit system located within city limits (I know these people are so lucky to have all different forms of rail transit) known as the Lokalbahnen. I’m not familiar with the Lokalbahnen, seeing that we never had the opportunity to use it, but I often saw its trams arriving at the Karlsplatz station, where passengers could connect with U-Bahn, Schnellbahn, or bus transit options along the Ringstrasse. Notice how every site I’ve linked contains maps, schedules, routes, tickets, etc. in English in an easy to find format…

The city is also covered by over 80 different bus routes some of which operate 24 hours a day. The Nighlines provide service once the metro systems close for the night, at 1 am and run until they reopen at 5:30. The Nighline runs every 30 minutes and is just as prompt and easy to use as the Strassenbahns and no less popular among the locals or even us visitors. Using the bus system was no less of a breeze to connect us with the nearest U-Bahn station. The buses also lack the stop signal system found on most U.S. buses, instead a button near the exits serves as a dual use button to trigger doors to open and to signal the bus driver to stop. All buses (thanks to GPS devices) also announce upcoming stops and Strassenbahn and U-Bahn connections.

After experiencing yet another efficient and effective public transportation system, I am forced to realize that Miami has far to go before it too can become a very accessible city to all. Below are a series of photos I took while in Vienna for the purposes of depicting some of the most fascinating elements of their public transit system on this site:

Notice anything conspicuous about this entrance to the U-Bahn platforms? The absence of any turnstiles should jump right out at you, especially if you are familiar with the heavily armored nature of most American subway entrances. In parts of Europe however, subway entrances like this are the norm because the entire metro system operates on the honor system- Gasp! Yet, it works, because people know what the law is. Enforcement is done completely at random on bus, streetcar, and U-Bahn routes. Throughout our week long visit we were checked a whole zero times! While I’m on the fare subject: we were able to purchase an eight day coupon using our credit cards at an ATM like machine at the subway stations. The eight day card (24 Euros) enabled us to eight full days (not necessarily consecutive) of transit use (all forms) provided that we stamped our tickets daily at anyone of the punch card boxes located on every vehicle or station entrance. This marvelous system eliminates the foolish token or cash system and enables passengers to board the trolleys or buses through any door at any stop. The Honor system and punch card system is far too advanced of a thought for any U.S. Transit system. With heavily fortified entrances and armed station guards, many of our transit systems still suffer from delinquent fare box evaders. Part of the reason why Miami’s Metromover system is free rather than 25 cents is that the cost to add security to every platform would cost more than the income gained and more than cutting back security and making the whole system free. In any case, imagine at least if we could add machines which allow users to buy extended day metropasses with credit cards at every station. Maybe our next transit director will bring our transit system into the 20th century, let alone the 21st…After passing through the faux turnstiles, you emerge on a subway platform which is far cleaner than any public space you’ve ever experienced. Though even I admit this station was cleaner than most, it was interesting to look down at the tracks and not see the usual litter, sewage, and congregation of rodents which is typical of any subway system in the United States. Like the honor system, citizens here know to deposit trash in the appropriate receptacles rather than all along the station platform or tracks. It was rather stunning to encounter such an immaculate station in any case. The trains themselves are very well kept, with clean comfortable seats and handles. The absence of graffiti or window etchings was a plus and I even witnessed residents asking fellow passengers to remove their feet from the seats… Some of the busier stations featured the wall advertising typical of most subways along with maps depicting the upcoming routes (way too advance for Miami, but more common elsewhere.) Some of the busier stations also feature projectors and screens displaying top news headlines and local information.
Most of the subway cars are extremely modern, like the one pictured above. The trains are surprisingly smooth and quiet, making the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods minimal in the areas where the trains travel above ground. The Strassenbahns (Aka. Streetcars or Trolleys) are an eclectic mix of old and modern technology. The new cars, designed by Porsche Design Group, feature the lowest ground to floor clearance of any similar vehicle. Every station features covered waiting areas with benches and route maps. They also contain real time data LCD screens which depict upcoming trains and expected waiting times which are frighteningly accurate. As I mentioned above, the streetcars share the roadways with vehicles and rarely travel along their own dedicated right of way. Often times, the only lane in either direction is shared while the shoulders are reserved for on street parallel parking spaces. The streetcars operate under different signals than cars and usually have dedicated space in the “medians” for the stations . The overhead power cables are strung from the surrounding buildings, eliminating excessive poles along the side of the roads. The streetcars enhance the pedestrian activity along every street and do not detract from the vehicular traffic flow at all. The electrical wires are not unsightly and share dual use with the overhead streetlight system. What I always find impressive when touring European cities is the amount of young children (typically 5 years and older) wandering around alone on the public transit systems. I took the picture above to emphasize the benefits a good transit system would have on our education systems. See, in Vienna, like many other cities, their is no school bus system. Kids use public buses and trains to get to and from school. When field trips are scheduled, school groups take public transit like the group pictured above; on its way to the Museum of Natural History. Sensational. Imagine how much money we’d save if we didn’t have to fun an independent cheese wagon transit system just to transport kids to class daily? I took the above picture while waiting for the Nightline bus. After a long night of Karaoke and drinking, the minimal wait for the bus ride home was pleasant as street cleaners buzzed by routine maintenance was conducted on the streetcar power cable systems. Oh, and yes, at night the LCD screens display the wait times for the buses as well…
Nearly all the intersections in Vienna are dotted with Siemens sound sensors to aide blind pedestrians cross the streets. Gas stations such as this one above and below emphasize the idea that cars are secondary forms of transportation in the Austrian capital because well, they are. This particular gas station is located outside the opera house and does little to take away from the imperial surroundings. The one below was built into the side wall of a building.

The picture below depicts the middle level of one of my favorite transfer stations in Vienna, Schottentor. This station is a major transfer point for at least 10 different Strassenbahn lines, including the 1 and 2 trams which traverse the inner stadt. Trams arrive on the ground and mid level of the station, one level below ground. From the mid level the Votivkirche (church) provides a beautiful backdrop for the arriving trams. One level below, passengers can access the U2 line of the U-Bahn. Note: None of the stations feature parking, parking garages, or anything to accommodate ridiculous vehicular usage.

The regional transit options are no less spectacular than those of the city or of other parts of Europe. The OBB, a train I could liken to tri-rail, only dependable, transported us to a town called Melk, 85km west of Vienna in about one hours time. The OBB trains are powered by overhead electrical wires and make stops in various stations along the way. It was amazing to be outside of the city and traveling through woodlands and pastures in the matter of a few minutes, emphasizing the compact nature of Viennese life and making such marvelous transit feasible in the first place. Melk, a small unassuming town along the Danube River even boasts a local bus circulator and is so compact we had crossed the town by foot in a matter of minutes. Stay tuned for Part 3…

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Related posts:

  1. Travels Through Europe, Part 1
  2. Travels Through Europe, The Conclusion
  3. The Airtrain Solution: Part 3
  4. The Airtrain Solution: Part 2
  5. Experiencing Public Transit (Part 1)

8 Responses to Travels Through Europe, Part 2

  1. Ryan says:

    Awesome work, Gabe.

       0 likes

  2. Anonymous says:

    The honor system is in use on some mass transit systems.

    The light rail in Hudson county NJ works on that principal.

       0 likes

  3. Anonymous says:

    Los Angeles Metro also works on honor system ($200 fines to arrest if caught w/o ticket).

    We are so far behind in public transit here. We have to beg for a single line of streetcar and those cities have multiple lines…

       0 likes

  4. Javier says:

    After reading this, you can’t imagine how crappy i feel about our own transit system. damn.

       0 likes

  5. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    After experiencing this…You’d feel even worse…I do!

       0 likes

  6. Michael Emilio + Miami Real Estate says:

    That first picture blew me away! Nice photography on that…

    “Though even I admit this station was cleaner than most, it was interesting to look down at the tracks and not see the usual litter, sewage, and congregation of rodents which is typical of any subway system in the United States. Like the honor system, citizens here know to deposit trash in the appropriate receptacles rather than all along the station platform or tracks.”

    After experiencing New York’s subways, I have to see this!

       0 likes

  7. Patrick says:

    I don’t even know what its like to travel or commute and not worry about traffic or safety, whether abroad or locally. I can only dream of a NYC transit system or one from Europe. How I long for this…

    Good Job!

       0 likes

  8. Jeff says:

    There’s one little problem with the observation that cars and trolleys didn’t interfere — it goes against the observed reality of light rail in America. One big difference is that in other countries, light rail lines in dense urban areas DON’T usually run down the middle of busy 6-8 lane roads with bumper to bumper traffic. They run down the middle of otherwise-quiet RESIDENTIAL streets a block away (streets like Pennsylvania Avenue in Miami Beach), where there isn’t a lot of traffic to begin with, and the streets themselves are basically residential parking lots. Or commercial streets that are more like Lincoln Road than Bird Road. I shudder to think of what blindly running a trolley down the middle of Kendall Drive or NW 103 St/W 49th Street would do to traffic on the road.

    Just to give a great Miami example, a trolley along Coral Way would be a complete disaster — forcing either the destruction of the trees that make it special, or eliminating the on-street parking that facilitates casual customers for many businesses along the road (ie, people running into Subway to pick up an order or going to the ATM at a bank). A trolley down the middle of the residential street a block south would probably be a brilliant idea, especially if the street were rezoned to allow 4-story townhomes (like the Lincoln Park area of Chicago). The problem is, in Dade County, the current single-family homeowners along the road would bitch, and the trolley would end up running down Coral Way anyway (or, knowing Dade County, would end up eliminating onstreet parking, but some idiot in charge would decide to cut the trees down anyway to make room for the construction crews to work), and everyone would end up miserable — hot treeless pedestrians, gridlocked drivers, and low-rent pawnshops that moved in because all the upscale businesses would have fled the newly-blighted gridlock in disgust.

       0 likes

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