Vienna Takes to the Trams

In 2006, Public Transport Took the Lead Among Viennese of all Ages for the First Time In Decades

On The Town | Marlies Dachler | February 2008

Vienna‘s subways are by far the fastest way to travel (Photo: Marlies Dachler)

"Are you from the Wiener Linien?" a hunchbacked woman blurted out of nowhere. Braced for a complaint, I tried to be funny:

"No, I don’t even use them!"  Wrong answer.

"That’s not good!" she fussed, poking at me with her cane. Then she turned in a huff and shuffled away: "Young people these days," she grumbled.

I had just walked into the City Planning Office Exhibition on the future of transportation – "60 Minuten in Wien" (60 Minutes in Vienna) – and already I was being rude to an old lady.  After all, she was right and I was wrong. The whole point of this thing was to convince us to get out of the car and onto the tram, or a bike or simply our feet.

Take my car trip to the Wiener Planungswerkstatt behind the Rathaus: €4.11 worth of gas, €1.2 for a Parkschein, and worst of all, my car had contributed 576 g CO2  to global warming. In comparison, the return ticket for tram and subway would have cost €3.40, and saved me a 20-minute traffic jam.

Fortunately trends are against me. According to the German Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Research (Socialdata), public transportation is becoming more and more popular in Vienna. In 2006, it took the lead with 34.8% of all traffic, a full 0.6% ahead of private cars. Another 31% are walking and cycling, making a solid majority of 65.8% NOT traveling by car.

"It’s important to raise awareness," said Rudi Schickler, City-Councilor for Urban Development and Transportation. "Driving is not always efficient, especially in the city."

For example, a full subway train replaces about 700 cars on the streets of the 2,000-year-old city of Vienna. That not only means 100,000g less CO2 emissions, but also a higher quality of living for those of us strolling nearby.

So instead of being stuck in traffic for 71 minutes – that’s the amount of time the average Viennese is on the go each day – you could take one of the new subway trains, and read a detective story, or even a top-quality newspaper like The Vienna Review!

Or what about a little sun worship while cruising down the Ringstraße on a bike, scooter or Segway, instead of having an involuntary sauna in your car?

And apart from being der letzte Schrei, cycling is a very effective way to stay in shape. And if you’re leading a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, Trek would be pleased to sell you Lance Armstrong’s last bike. Speeding over the tarmack on a dream-like carbon-fiber frame with slender racing tires can be as satisfying as revving the engine of your last BMW.

Walking past a display of stats about men and women’s "habits of forward motion" (I’m not kidding! The word was Fortbewegungsgewohnheiten), I realized that I had upset more than just an old lady. I had also brought shame on my gender. Most women are far more conscious about their transportation choices, according to Socialdata statistics -- 22% of Viennese women use their cars in the city, compared to 55% of men.

However, it is not clear how committed the City itself is to the planning goals. Schickler himself, for example, travels mostly by car.

"The city councilor has a staff car because he likes to get work done when he’s out on business," said spokeswomanVera Layr. "It is particularly inconvenient to make official phone calls on the subway!" Right.

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