Vienna’s New Nightriders

All-night transportation is convenient for everyone, not just the party-goers, workaholics and night owls

On The Town | Gretchen Gatzke | October 2010

On Sept. 3 the metro stations were crowded; boisterous groups, drinks in hand, laughing and calling out, voices echoing off the hard marble walls. Some sat on the floor, cross legged or legs stretched out, leaning against a pillar, pouring cocktails out of a thermos, sharing a pizza. It was one big party, everyone relishing the newly-anointed convenience of a 24-hour subway.

Over the loudspeakers, a woman’s voice boomed, "Die ganze Nacht gehört Ihnen!" – The entire night is yours!  And this crowd didn’t want to miss it.

The new service runs trains Friday and Saturday nights, and on the evenings before holidays, and was decided following a referendum in February when 54 percent of voters weighed in for all-night trains.

"With a well-coordinated schedule of night buses and metros, we provide 96 percent of the Viennese population with mobility in the early hours of the morning," said Günter Steinbauer, managing director of the Wiener Linien.

Students in particular breathed a sigh of relief when the referendum triumphed. For those who like to party late on weekends, it could be tough to get home. "I used to think twice before going out with my friends," admitted Inez Rikken of the Netherlands. "And I still find myself thinking twice. But then I remember the new schedule… and the decision is made for me. I’m going out."

Maybe the fact that these nightlines started a month before the mayoral election wasn’t just a coincidence. Happy people make happy voters.

Opening night, a "Nightride" ticket gave travelers free entrance to 35 participating clubs and bars throughout the city. All night transportation and no partying fees…what more could one want?

For hours, the scene in the subways and on the streets singed with excitement from the "all-nighter" trains.  By 4:00 in the morning, crowds of liquored-up teenagers in smeared makeup and rumpled clothing were back inside the stations, huddled together, singing loudly and dancing tuneless chanting about the wonders of the "U-Bahn fairy."

Others, like a certain businessman waiting for his train at two in the morning, looked slightly out of place.

"This new 24-hour thing is great for me," he said. "I often work until 11 in the evening, and then go straight to the gym. Now I don’t have to rush my workouts. I can leave whenever I want."

For Vienna, more late-night socializing means more money in the till for local businesses. Though the cost of the 24-hour subway works out to be about €5.1 million per year for the City of Vienna, money made back through VAT will help compensate.

Not to mention the increase in fines to those hoping for a free ride. Stefan Metzger is funding his education by working as a bartender in the 1st District. Every night he takes the U4 from Schottenring to Längenfeldgasse.

"I actually got caught for traveling schwarz…I never thought they’d check." He shrugged. I mean, they wanted us to use the subway. I thought I’d be safe."

But even some Viennese seemed puzzled as to why this is only happening now. "Finally!" one man said. "Every other big city has had 24-hour subways for ages. Why has it taken so long for us to figure this out?"

This, in fact, is not true. There are only 12 cities in the entire world that have a subway system operating 24 hours per day: and of these 12, only four are seven days per week. Vienna is one of six cities, along with Berlin, Bochum, Hamburg, Stockholm and Warsaw, that have ganze Nacht metros only on the weekend. So we’re really not so far behind. Actually, we’re slightly ahead. One other city in Europe wins by having a 24/7 underground, and that is Copenhagen. So why is it that we expect all big cities to run public transportation 24 hours per day, seven days per week?

But many still haven’t caught on. Andrena Woodhams, a writer and event manager in Vienna didn’t even realize the U-Bahn had started running all night.

"I thought it was closed, so I never used it," she said. "But anything that can be done to stop people from doing stupid things, like drinking and driving, is a good thing." If bars and clubs in the city are open until two or four in the morning, there needs to be a way to get home.

"Did they take something away?" Philip Kubaczek, a young artist living in Vienna asked. To an Austrian, there’s always a hook! "Did they stop running the nightlines?"

In fact, the nightline buses still run, though the schedule is slightly changed. Lines running parallel to the subway lines will not operate on weekends, and do not run at all on the ring, covered by four metro lines. The services are meant to complement each other.

Extra measures like increased security and maintenance will also be added expenses. Some 200 workers have been hired for the nighttime operation of the underground, to help driving of the trains, safety, maintenance, vehicle logistics, cleaning and operational supervision. Police officers are more visible, especially in the early-morning hours.

On that night it was mostly cleaning crews, busy sweeping away our beer bottles and empty cigarette packages. Over 100,000 took advantage of the night underground in the first two nights of its existence: 63,000 on the opening night, and 38,000 the following night.

"We have prepared very thoroughly for the night subway," said Michael Lichtenegger, another managing director at Wiener Linien - an effort he felt had paid off for them, he added. Had they not prepared, he said, this large number of new passengers would have been both a shock and a problem.

For now, the trains at night will run at 15 minute intervals, and the night buses will continue to run every 30 minutes. In addition to the five metro lines, 17 bus lines will run at night, as well as seven ASTAX (AnrufSammelTaxi) taxi lines. The night bus network during the week remains unchanged.

So, for all the club-goers, late-night gym junkies, and everyone else who has a reason to stay out well past bedtime…go forth! The night awaits you. And now, you don’t have to wait for your train until 5 in the morning.

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