The final stop on my Austrian tour 2014 in preparation for the new edition of my 'Tram Atlas Schweiz & Österreich' was Innsbruck. I only stayed for one day (21 April 2014), which is more than enough to explore its modest tram network and do a little sightseeing (including the Bergisel ski jump with its funicular-style lift). I had travelled on the entire Stubaitalbahn (STB) already last time in 2010, so this time I only used it from the city up to Sonnenburgerhof, a section included in the Innsbruck day ticket available for 4.50 EUR.
This already takes us to the first point, buying a ticket. At the tram stop outside the railway station, there are two ticket vending machines, but both resisted for a while to accept my banknotes and my debit card, eventually one of them kept the 10-euro note and issued a ticket and the change. So you'd better have some coins ready, especially as at many of the other stops there are only small ticket machines which only accept coins and cards. Single tickets can also be bought from the driver.
The Innsbruck tram system is primarily cute. Its urban sections are mostly in mixed traffic with cars and almost always, even when the track is marked off, buses share the same right-of-way. Even the recently opened extensions on line 3 were laid out this way (in Germany, by current regulations, these extensions wouldn't get any federal money). Having visited on a holiday, I cannot really judge whether car traffic interferes a lot with regular tram traffic on a normal weekday. In the urban area, there are still some stops without proper platforms, although I think that line 3 is now fully accessible, whereas on line 1 even the most central stop (at least for tourists), Maria-Theresien-Straße as well as the two stops east of it, have street-level boarding. This is remarkable as Innsbruck invested a lot of money to replace all older trams with new low-floor Flexity Outlook trams from Bombardier within a very short period of time. The lack of proper platforms is especially noticeable at Fritz-Konzert-Straße, where the boarding area is actually fenced off from road traffic, so laying raised platforms couldn't be easier.
The overall length of the tram system of approx. 38 km may give a wrong impression as a large part of it corresponds to line 6 and, of course, to the STB (18 km), so the proper urban system is still very small and only plays a minor role in the city's urban transport system. This may be the reason why tram lines are not shown in any special way on system maps, although at least the lower numbers are reserved for them, whereas bus lines actually carry letter designations. Line 3 got a new western leg not too long ago, but this only makes sense so far to reach a shopping mall at its western terminus. This was, however, meant as the first segment of a larger extension now under construction to replace bus route O (until a few years ago a trolleybus line) by trams. Line 1 has not changed much over the decades and is not likely to change in the future either. The major flaw with these two urban lines is that interchanges are virtually not available. At Bürgerstraße, the two lines cross, line 1 has a proper stop, but for line 3 only an eastbound stop was added without a platform, and further away from the intersection than necessary, but easily walkable, though. Near the railway station, the two lines actually meet and use the same tracks for some metres, but without an interchange stop. The bad thing here is that even a walk from the nearest stop to the other is a tough thing as you need to cross several streets finding your way across major road intersections and under the mainline railway. In fact this interchange is not even shown as such on the maps. The route of line 1 and its stop locations also makes it very unpractical for those passengers to reach the railway station. There is no easy solution to this, but maybe a completely new line arrangement with the introduction of new lines for the forthcoming extensions may help. Otherwise a city circle line might help, too. On the other hand, many destinations in the city are easily accessible on foot, too, and a change of lines may be nicer between Anichstraße/Rathausgalerien (line 3) and Maria-Theresien-Straße (line 1) with a walk along the pedestrian street.
In most other cities, line 6 would no longer exist. It is what makes the Innsbruck tram system 'cute'. Even on weekdays, the line only runs hourly. It is a relic of times gone by when no cars or buses existed and railways were the best way to reach remote villages on a plateau high above the city, but nowadays the line is more of a fun ride as it does not really serve any places of importance, because those areas with some houses are too far from the respectives stops for today's standards, so buses have to be operated anyway to reach these places. But even on a holiday with weather nice enough for a walk, the single tram required for that service was far from full. One weak point is, of course, its separate operation instead of running a through service into the city centre as part of line 1. In this way it would also be more visible for tourists who will enjoy the ride up the mountain. The line is steep and with many bends, but as has been done in the past, is manageble by normal trams, so maybe a kind of heritage service would attract more passengers (although this may again raise the problem with full accessibility as with the Pöstlingbergbahn in Linz).
The much longer Stubaitalbahn, however, seems to deliver its services as an interurban rural tram line, with half-hourly trains to Kreith and hourly all the way to Fulpmes. Whereas line 6 is completely within the Innsbruck urban fare zone, different fare zones apply for the STB. Certainly, running trains directly into the city centre over tram tracks has contributed to the line's survival.
The Flexity Outlook trams are quite comfortable to ride, and given the steep and winding routes on line 6 and the STB, they do a good job from a passenger's point-of-view, no irritating shaking or wobbling even at reasonable speeds. Also within the city, drivers take curves at relatively high speeds compared to many newly-built tram systems, and the Flexitys perform well there, too. What I don't like so much is the irregular arrangement of the seats, but that may be a result of the intention to place a maximum of seats and may be required by the double-ended trams with doors on either side.
Inside the trams, network maps were readily available. These are large fold-out maps, on one side on a city map and on the other a diagrammatic map. While the first is easy to use, I find the latter rather problematic. As said before, tram lines are shown just like bus lines and the colours used for the trams are pretty difficult to distinguish and identify, with three different shades of malve, basically. The STB has some sort of purple-brown and is therefore hard to tell from the brown of the major east-west bus line O (which may become tram lines 2 and 4). Hardly any bus line acts as a feeder to the tram system and all buses go into the city centre too. As a result, too many lines need to be shown in the central area, making that map even more cramped. So hopefully, the tram lines will be given stronger colours and thicker lines to highlight them on the map, which might deserve a complete redesign anyway.
Innsbruck at UrbanRail.Net