Day 26 – Strassenbahn

11 Oct

I’ve been using the streetcars a lot here in Berlin and I would like to take my next few thousand words and compare them to buses. First off, I think it’s important to look at the usability aspects from the perspective of a new user of the system. The holy grail of public transportation is to implement a system which a person unfamiliar with the city can use at ease. My experience back home is that we have a great system once you figure out how it works. But if you want to increase ridership you need to make that initial ride a good one.

Strassenbahn - Streetcar of Berlin

Streetcars vs. Buses – A North American Living in Berlin

  1. To start, streetcars are bigger so they are more comfortable and can carry more passengers than a bus plus have more space for strollers and bikes.
  2. There’s much less side-to-side motion and being attached to the track they are generally more stable (buses can hit bumps in the road, curbs, potholes, etc).
  3. Over here there’s no such thing as a rude tram conductor (in Berlin the payment systems are all automated) and the drivers have their own booth separate from the passengers)
  4. The trams themselves are fixed to their route (buses take detours, make wrong turns) so passengers can be more confident that they’re going to get where they expect to go.
  5. Some parts of the tram lines are dedicated so they are less affected by traffic jams. A bus-based system is more likely to share a greater proportions of its route with regular traffic.
  6. Tram stops are fixed and set up as an actual station. If the city decides to build one it has to be done properly and take into account vehicular and pedestrian traffic with dedicated traffic signals for the trams. It seems that most of the bus stops in my city were set up by simply erecting a sign for the bus stop and eliminating the street parking.
  7. There are less tram lines so it’s less confusing. A busy tram stop in the middle of Berlin services maybe 5 different lines – at the most
  8. The trams are electric and this means two things. One: when stopped they are silent save the noise from the passengers and two: they produce less pollution in the city center (but who knows what method is being used to produce the electricity)
  9. Knowing when the next tram / bus is going to arrive is in my opinion the most important thing for an effective public transportation system. With trams it’s easier to determine (and publish) arrival times as the fixed track allows for simple position-based location tracking.
  10. The next most important thing is to know when your stop is up. The fixed track allows for low-tech solutions to announce the next station to passengers. (i.e. if you had a line with 30 stops you could make mechanical display safe in the knowledge that once the line is set up it’s unlikely to change that often). A given bus on the other hand could run a dozen different routes in a week. This means stop-announcing on buses is more complex and more costly – and less likely to get implemented and less likely to work properly.
  11. It’s a fixed element of the city. I arrived in Berlin at 8:00 and all the trams in the city center were not running because of the marathon so I simply followed the tracks to the station where I had arranged to meet my friend.

So these are all of these are reasons I could come up with for why one would be more inclined to take a tram than a bus. At the end of the day, most of the things that tend to annoy bus passengers are minimized with trams. Streetcars are more expensive but more likely to be used by more people.

2 Responses to “Day 26 – Strassenbahn”

  1. fernaurora October 11, 2011 at 10:56 #

    and they are just plain coool!

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