Vienna: Even Perfect Integration Isn’t Perfect

As part of my Europe tour, I thought I’d give some attention to things that even the best European systems have trouble getting right.

DSCF0101 On the streetcar line in front of my hotel in Vienna (on Wiedner Hauptstrasse) three streetcar lines routinely went by.  They were the major Line 1, the minor Line 62, and something called the Wiener Lokalbahnen, which has to be referred to by name because it doesn’t have a number.
From its Wikipedia entry, Wiener Lokalbahnen (“Viennese Local Rail”) is a government owned company running both freight rail and the single streetcar line from Vienna to Baden.  The article says that it’s “integrated with” the regional transit authority (the Verkehrsverbund Ostregion” or VOR).  It does seem to be integrated as far as fares and public information go, but it’s not integrated in the nomenclature.  If it were, it would have a number like any other tram line and the operating company name, Wiener Lokalbahnen, wouldn’t be needed to describe the service to the customer.
I don’t know the details, but this looks like one of those cases where an operating company hasn’t consented to disappearing to the user and some sort of compromise has been made.  The result is muddier for the customer, hard to represent on maps, and makes the on-board announcement of connections longer and more confusing.  But these compromises happen, even in near-perfect Vienna.
Oh, and one of the streetcar lines is called the “D”, while all the rest have numbers.  Probably a story there too.

11 Responses to Vienna: Even Perfect Integration Isn’t Perfect

  1. Alexander Craghead September 2, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m not sure if I agree that having a different brand and naming nomenclature is a problem. Perhaps if there were *many* such aberrations, but only one odd man out doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially if the fares are accepted as transfers.
    For tourists and first time users, it would likely be the biggest hassle. These are the people who don’t have a clear understanding of where they are going. In that respect, the ideal would certainly be for seamless service. On the other hand, for the local populace the line is likely known (in vernacular speech I mean) by where it goes rather than a name or number.
    I’m thinking of similar circumstances here in North America. Does it really matter, for example, that Caltrain, BART, and Muni have separate identities? Does it matter that Chicago has Metra, CTA and NICTD/South Shore? The nature of transit lines being attached to geography generally makes it easier to distinguish between them as service lanes.
    Of course, overseas there are even more examples, the most famous (or infamous) likely being Tokyo’s massive subway system.
    In short, I don’t see that a lack of total identity integration is a barrier for most riders.

  2. EngineerScotty September 2, 2009 at 5:27 pm #

    Road agencies also do nonstandard things, sometimes for commemorative reasons.
    A well-known example is the Queen Elizabeth Way in Ontario, which runs between Toronto (or the outskirts thereof) to Fort Erie, at which point it crosses the Peace Bridge into Buffalo, NY in the US. (The bridge and border crossing are not part of the highway).
    While by design a “400 series highway” (provincial freeways in Ontario which meet certain design standards are assigned a 4xx route number), the highway (named for the now-departed Queen Mum, not for either Elizabeth I or the current queen, Elizabeth II) has “QEW” displayed instead of a number on highway signs. This acronym is also typically found on street maps.
    The QEW differs from other Ontario highways in one other respect–direction of travel is labelled by use of control cities (Toronto if headed to Toronton; Hamilton, Niagra, or Ft. Erie if headed towards the US border), as is commonplace in much of Europe, rather than by the cardinal directions, as is commonplace in most of North America. Given that the route is crescent-shaped, as it wraps around Lake Ontario, this isn’t entirely unreasonable.
    (Other hook-shaped highways in North America handle this differently–US101 actually changes direction in its nomenclature as you round the Olympic Peninsula; the portion of I-64 that runs “backwards” on the southern part of the Hampton Roads Beltway simply omits directional signs for the Interstate–instead, the “inner” and “outer” beltway labels are used instead).

  3. As someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay area I can say the many different transit agencies don’t really cooperate all that well and lack such basic features as integrated ticketing or coordinated schedules. This is made more painful because in the Bay Area there is a fair amount of geographic overlap between different services since BART, Caltrain, ACE and the CCJPA (which operates the Capitol Corridor) all are regional agencies while the bus and light rail operators are all more or less geographically defined.
    In fact, the best way to think about how transit in the SF Bay Area works is to look at Vienna and to assume that we do the opposite.

  4. anonymouse September 3, 2009 at 1:07 am #

    I think the Wiener Localbahn isn’t entirely unreasonable: it’s not integrated with the local tram system because it’s not a local tram, it’s an interurban. And if it confuses tourists enough to scare them off from using it, maybe that’s a good thing, because it’s better than having confused tourists ending up in a different city having taken what they thought was a local tram.

  5. Jarrett at September 3, 2009 at 3:54 am #

    Anonymous. If the point is that it’s not a local tram, how is the name “Lokalbahn” helpful in making that clear?

  6. anonymouse September 4, 2009 at 12:07 am #

    It’s not a Strassenbahn, and it’s not a full on Intercity bahn either. It means exactly what it says: a local railroad (that is, something not part of the mainline system), which is distinct from the mainline network and also from the street railway network. “Localbahn” is almost certainly a category unto itself, for a mode that is now mostly extinct. Anyhow, do you know enough german to get the appropriate context for the phrase? Cause I sure don’t. Maybe it’s one of those things that makes as much sense as an “interurban”.

  7. Doug Allen September 4, 2009 at 11:34 am #

    I haven’t been in Austria since 1974, but at that time I recall that “lokalbahn” meant about the same as “interurban” meant in the US.
    In Chicago, the old interurban lines shared track around the “Loop” but provided a distinct service from the regular EL. Today, the South Shore Line operates into Chicago over the same tracks as the Metra Electric Line (formerly IC), and I would be curious to know how they differentiate that service today, which I also haven’t ridden in 30 years.
    I think this is a case where the service is so distinct that having a different naming scheme is probably helpful. Sort of an “exception that proves the rule” kind of thing.

  8. Winston September 4, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    This sounds comparable to the interurbans that used to run in the U.S. Is this a correct understanding?

  9. Thomas Wittmann September 4, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    No one in Vienna calls it Wiener Lokalbahn. I recall it being called the “Badner Bahn”. (1992)
    It was announced as such as a transfer opportunity on all intersecting routes.
    The Badner Bahn only operated on streetcar ROW between the Guertel and the Ring. It has a subway alignment under the Guertel (also shared with several streetcar routes) prior to having it’s own ROW to almost Baden. In Baden, it once again ran in street like a streetcar.

  10. Thomas Wittmann September 4, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    Vienna used to have many more “letter” streetcar lines, and yes there is a story there.
    Radial and cross-town routes both recieved numbers – and the part of town you were in determined the numbering. Routes with letters started off as overlays on top of the radial and cross-town routes, so that different travel patterns could be served without a transfer.
    As recent as 30 years ago, there were routes A, Ak, B, Bk, D, N, J (viennese pronouciation “yee”), N, and O (the Null).
    The U2 alignment used to be an underground streetcar route, with route names like G2, E2 – i.e. a letter and the number 2.

  11. Daniel Sparing September 11, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    According to
    , line D will be renamed to 3, so this one is solved 🙂