Why don't more cities have subways?

Title 6/2016

The board of the Verkehrs Aktiengesellschaft N├╝rnberg VAG admits that the ravages of time are now gnawing at the older sections of the route. The maintenance of the nearly 40-kilometer-long subway network cost 16.2 million euros last year. 7.7 million euros had to be made available for the maintenance and modernization of the tram network, which is roughly the same length.

The city of Nuremberg is providing 22 million euros to extend the U3 by two stations and 1,100 meters. The federal and state governments are once again contributing the much larger share of 61 million euros. Without massive support from other sources, the Nuremberg subway network would never have been manageable for the city. A positive cost-benefit factor could only be calculated for the U3 line with noises and tricks, so that it could be settled via the Municipal Transport Financing Act, through which the federal government provides funds for transport projects of the states and municipalities. Travel time gains for residents of a planned new housing estate in the south-west of the city were taken into account, for example - but in fact there are still only fields and meadows there.

In Nuremberg, automatic trains are being used for the first time in Germany in order to guarantee the tight cycle sequence in a tunnel used by two lines. The federal government and the state of Bavaria have subsidized the pilot project. With a two-year delay, the driverless subways have been rolling since 2008. An above-ground extension into the less densely populated surrounding area is as good as impossible because the area would have to be completely screened and fenced for security reasons, criticizes Bernd Baudler from the VCD district association in Nuremberg. The idea that such a system can increase profitability has also proven to be wrong. Although Nuremberg politicians were very keen to convert the entire subway to automatic operation, this was simply not economically feasible. Also, the project has not turned out to be an export hit as predicted: So far, the Nuremberg system has not been adopted by any other city. However, the underground is very popular with many passengers, especially children and young people. Since there is no cockpit, you have a clear view of the tunnel when you sit in front. And the trains are particularly punctual too.

Zurich does it better

Cities like Hanover and Stuttgart have also moved parts of their public transport underground. But these are light rail vehicles that continue above ground outside the centers. Passengers do not need to change planes when changing levels.

How to make life easier for bus and train users, cyclists and pedestrians and how to make driving unattractive has been demonstrated since the early 1980s by the 400,000-inhabitant city of Zurich, which can be compared with Nuremberg in terms of size and surrounding area. At that time, the head of the building authority Ruedi Aeschbacher not only had numerous parking spaces converted into green spaces and playgrounds. Against stiff resistance, he also enforced that commuters arriving by car see red at the intersections and move slowly, while induction loops a few hundred meters before each traffic light ensure that trams have free travel. In addition, the sidewalks at many stops protrude so deeply into the lanes that cars cannot get past buses and trams that are stopping. In this way, passengers can not only feel safe when getting on and off, but also experience that they are always driving ahead. In addition, every apartment and office in the Zurich city area is a maximum of 300 meters from the next stop.

Because buses, trams and suburban trains are perfectly timed and an automatic location determination system checks the exact location of each vehicle every 14 seconds, public transport in Zurich is extremely punctual and changes hardly add to the travel time. Only every second household still owns a car today. The number of bus and train passengers, on the other hand, is increasing and increasing, and the entire city government comes to work by bike, on foot or by tram. Even for bankers in Zurich it is a matter of course to drive publicly. In contrast, the number of motor vehicles in Nuremberg rose again in 2015, with one car for every 1.9 people.

Annette Jensen