Cutting a (Life) Line

When the Vienna Transit Authority Closes Down the 21 Strassenbahn, a Neighborhood Will be Stranded

News | Dardis McNamee | April 2008

The first problem is going to be how to get the children to school on the edge of  the Prater. And then back down to their music lessons on Karmeliterplatz. And then back out the Austellungsstrasse to a friend’s. All of which often happened before the parents got back form work.

"Everything the children do is on the 21 Tram line," said Susanna Heilmayr, who lives with her husband Klemens Gruber and their children Sophie 14 and Kasimir, 12, on the Grosse Stadtgutgasse, above the Café Heine.  She sounded tired. "Everything will take much longer now. With all the walking, I know how things get; a lot of things just won’t happen at all."

In spite of citizen action and intensive protests, the Vienna Transit Authority (Wiener Lienien) has gone ahead with plans to close down the 21 Tram line that runs from Schwedenplatz to Handelskai as of mid-March with the opening of the U2 extension, in spite of earlier indications that a compromise would keep at least the lower end of the route open, as far as Praterstern.

"It is not defensible to continue to operate a tram line parallel with a subway line," said Deputy Mayor Renate Brauner, saying that this was fundamentally an economic decision in the interests of business efficiency for the carrier. However she admitted that the decision would not mean a net savings, but rather, that the money would be redirected into other options.

But while the city has promised to expand several bus lines that serve the area between Taborstrasse and Nordbahnstrasse that will be primarily affected, residents anticipate a range of negative consequences, including loss of business to shops, cafes  and restaurants along the route.

"This is completely predictable," said Alex Kummer, a former resident of the neighborhood. "We saw this on Praterstrasse, when the U-Bahn went in there. They said it would be the making of the street, but it was just the opposite. As soon as you take people off the street and put them underground, the connection is lost. And whatever they say, busses are just not the same."

The 2nd District Green Party pressed hard to reverse the decision, with District Leader Gerhard Kubik accusing the city of having "deceived the voters" as to their plans. They point to at least four stops that will no longer be served by any form of public transportation in the neighborhood.

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