German Tram Redoux

A Bonn tram on a simple, yet effective reserved rights-of-way, giving metro service at a fraction of the cost.

In the 1970’s, German trams were on the decline. Two decades of subway mania fragmented tram lines and tram routes and on the whole, ridership on German public transport was declining.

Despite eager promises from planners and politicians of futuristic rapid transit, the new subways were not attracting predicted ridership and car use increased dramatically, further putting pressure on transport authorities.

As the 1980’s approached it was common knowledge that all but a few of German tramways would not survive into the 21st century.

Then the mid life subway rehab time bomb went off, further stressing transit managers to find new monies to subsidize huge subway rehab costs and under performing bus routes.

A Berlin tram is a very user-friendly park like setting.

As the mid life rehab costs for subways began to beggar transit operators, transit managers struggled to maintain a consumer friendly transit system. Subways were not attracting the expected ridership and ongoing maintenance costs were limiting expansion. The buses that replaced the trams were far from popular and with forced transfers from bus to metro, many customers started to drive instead.

Politicians, like politicians elsewhere they thought they were grand transit experts. In Germany right wing politicians favoured metros or subways and left wing politicians favoured trams.

Sound familiar?

A modern articulated tram in mixed traffic in Heidelberg.

The 1980’s brought the low-floor articulated tram; the concept of the urban reserved or dedicated rights-of-ways; and simpler ways of ticketing.

By the early 80’s, German public transport was on the decline and in trouble.

Desperate to retain ridership, tranait managers listened directly to the transit customer and tried to provide a transit service that best fitted the needs of customers and not politicians.  Transit customers did not want buses, nor subways, rather they wanted their trams because of their convenience and speed to get to their destinations. Add in new cars and new ways of operating and once was a declining transit mode, saw a massive resurgence.

The now famous Karlsruhe Zweisystem or TramTrain came from a direct result of customer input and managers thinking out of the box. Transit customers did not like the transfer from commuter train to tram at the main station and TramTrain provided a direct service to the city centre. So popular was this new concept of operating trams that ridership exploded, with a 479% increase in ridership in just a few months!

Customer first planning, quality vehicles and thinking out of the box has brought major changes on how transit is provided, including TramTrain, cargo trams, lawned rights-of-ways and much more.

The successful Car-Go-Tram in Dresden.

Today Germany operates ten light rail lines (most are Stadtbahn with extensive subway sections) and fifty-six tram/LRT lines, which is extremely positive of a transit mode that just over forty years ago was deemed obsolete.

The German tram resurgence gives many positive lessons about public transit, including giving the customer a product he wants to use, quality service to cater to destinations where the customer wants to go and not burdening the taxpayer with transit “glam”.

Lessons that have yet to be learned in metro Vancouver.

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