Thursday, 1 August 2013

BERGEN Bybane

My Norway tour this summer brought me by train (8+ hours) from Oslo to Stavanger, where as of now there is just a suburban rail service (running every 15 minutes between Stavanger and Sandnes!), although there are plans for a light rail system, too. Then I took an express boat (4.5 hours) to Bergen, where I had two days (30-31 July 2013) to explore the city and its transport system. I had been here once in 1996, but Bergen didn't have an urban rail system at that time.


To start off, Bergen is one of the most expensive places I have been to, and not only transport-wise. Here, a 24-hour ticket costs 110 NOK, which is around 14 EUR, hardly beatable by any other European city, and considering what you get for it and that even in Oslo with its huge rail network you only pay 80 NOK for 24 hours, this is completely overpriced. And whereas in Oslo you can also take frequent NSB trains, the Bergen Skyss daypass does not even include the frequent shuttle train between Bergen and Arna, a suburb to the east of the Ulriken tunnel. Skyss is responsible for transport integration in the entire Hordaland province, but for some reason, they seem not to get on well with NSB, the Norwegian National Rail company (I assume this is the reason they simply ignore their Bergen station, see below!). Although partly of use for urban transport, too, the Fløibanen (funicular) is, of course, not included in the Dagskyss either and costs another 80 NOK to go up and down.

Skyss would not get a great mark if I had to evaluate them, their bus/light rail map is basically useless, just a very simplified diagram which helps you a bit to get orientated, but a complete mess in the city centre area. Neither does it show all the stops, and anyway, it is not displayed anywhere but in the timetable booklet. The timetable booklet, however, does not even show all the stops for each line, not even on the line diagram, so trying to check out the correct location and names of the stops on trolleybus line 2, I got quite desperate, not even walking along most of the line did convince me that I got it right, as some of the stops are so basic, they don't even display a name, instead there is only a tiny blue bus sign hidden in the bushes, sometimes with line numbers for routes that are supposed to stop there. Some stops have shelters with the name written on them, but in one case apparently the stop name had changed and the sign hasn't (Arstadveien). On the northern route to Asane I observed they had installed new orange poles, hope this will be the standard throughout the city although a little more information would be good there, too. Electronic next-bus indicators only exist in the city centre.
About the Skyss/NSB friendship, trolleybus line 2 and bus line 3 actually run past the railway station only one block away, but there is no stop! The two closest stops are somewhere in walking distance, of course, but not related to the train station at all. So, unless you know your way, you won't find the railway station easily.

Bybane (Light Rail)

Bergen's new light rail system, opened in 2010 and extended in June 2013, was much acclaimed in Europe for being one of the big tram revivals outside France or Spain. And they have done a good job. The line runs every 10 minutes even during the summer timetable (every 5 minutes most of the day from Aug 12) and is pretty busy all the time, altough it doesn't go to any tourist places, neither seem to be there any major centres directly along the line. The area appears to be more of an American sprawl with lots of small houses in a very hilly area. Nesttun is the only urban centre on the southern section, and at the new terminus Lagunen there is a large shopping mall. Lots of buses connect to the line there and at Nesttun terminal.


The line has a pleasant, carefully designed corporate image, no idea, whether this was already planned as the Skyss image, or the other way round, anyway, trams and stops are in harmony, and most buses carry the same colour scheme, too, except the few trolleybuses, which are yellow (I don't really understand why they bother to maintain the small fleet of 6 trolleybuses on a route which is mostly shared by normal buses - diesel or natural gas – and yesterday only three were in service, I guess because too many drivers with a trolleybus license were on holiday...).

The Bybane (which literally translate as 'city rail line') is well aligned and almost entirely on a dedicated or completely segregated right-of-way, which makes it deserve being called light rail. On the inner section, some segments are also used by buses, and only a short stretch can be driven on by cars. On the outer section, there are several tunnels, and trams really speed up to their maximum allowed speed of some 70 km/h. There is no underground station, and passengers can cross the tracks at all stops. What I missed is some kind of visual warning at these level crossings, so the trams actually enter the stops at very low speed, just in case. There should be flashing lights or even barriers. The platforms are the same level as the tram floor, so full accessibility is granted. Basically, all stops have side platforms, except Danmarks plass, which has an unusual layout with individual side platforms, but both on the eastern side of the respective track, the outbound platform being separated by a railing from the inbound track; I guess this is to avoid having people waiting directly next to a dual carriageway.

There is, however, one thing I don't understand about the naming of one stop, and that's Nonneseter, when it should be called Jernbanestasjon and nothing else. Nonneseter, according to Wikipedia, does not really exist, but refers to an old nunnery in this area. Skyss again deliberately ignores the NSB railway station, a hint to it is neither shown as a subtitle on the sign nor in the accoustic announcements on the tram. On the other hand, the stop is quite conveniently located just outside the railway station, and from the inbound platform it is just a few steps through an archway into the station hall and the trains, so this couldn't be much better.

The Stadler Variotrams are quite good for this kind of completely new route (I guess even Citadis would do fine here...), they have a pleasant interior with good visibility through the carriage, but I think they could have one more door, especially as the rear door on each side is single-leaf. It's quite funny, but in the end I don't like that each stop announcement is started with a different melody. I think this sound should be like a signal to inconsciously make you listen to what is being announced. The current 5-section vehicles are planned to be extended to 7 sections, along with the delivery of another batch of trams for the airport extension.


For those who have seen the original route but not yet the recently opened extension – it just looks the same. Past Nesttun terminal, where now both platforms are used, the line runs through a car-free street, though not a proper pedestrian zone either, up to Nesttun sentrum, a stop apparently added at a later stage of planning as it was not shown in older documents. Just after that stop, trams enter the first of two tunnels and remain on a fast and almost completely segregated route down to the new terminus at Lagunen. Here there are three sidings beyond the station, two ready to become the running tracks towards the airport, plus a stub on the northern side. In fact the current track layout does not allow the southern (future northbound) track to be used for reversing, but a train could be stored there being pushed back from the inbound platform. So all trams go into the sidings here to reverse, there is no switch before the station, as the route enters the station in a rather tight curve. Full construction of the airport extension is supposed to start this summer of 2013.


In the city centre, you may come across some tram tracks not part of the Bybane line. These are not relics of the old tram system closed in the mid-1960s, but new tracks which have been laid over the last decades in view of a future heritage tram line, but no date is known when this should be operational.

LINKS



Bergen Bybane at UrbanRail.Net

8 comments:

  1. Great article!
    Finally a skilled person that can point out exactly what is wrong with the public transportation service in Bergen/Hordaland.

    Skyss are, unfortunately, amateurs in the public transportation business. They have no focus on customer experience. It is sad that so many loyal customers (and even tourists) will have to live with this low service-level.

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  2. Hello, good article, in line with what I observed. I moved from the Netherlands to Bergen some years back and followed the development. When "Tide" was in charge it was really bad (bus stops without names, or different names on either sides of the street, a vague time schedule and busses leaving the stop before they were supposed to arrive. In my opinion, Skyss did a good job improving the schedules, naming, the route map, apps are great, but there’s still a lot to do since "Tide" left such a mess behind.

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  3. Good article, I agree with all the points. Looks like the article on bt.no is hotly discussed.
    One thing missing (probably you didnt take Bybanen at night) is the night fare on weekends.
    It is 60NOK to take the bus bybanen if you want to go home in the night, no matter of distance, so from Byparken to Danmarksplass for exemple, totally ridiculous. It is not included in the monthly ticket and is obviously a result of a deal with the taxi organisations. Irresponsible from the communal side. Interest should be to get people home safe and quick from the city center.

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  4. Excellent expert review. I moved here in 2009 having spent about a decade in seven different Swedish and European cities (as vagabond academic witout a driver's license), so I also have some experience of public transport, and there is no question that Bergen is the worst that I have ever experienced in this respect. Thank you for articulating some of the deficiencies.

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  5. Most of your observations are spot on. However, as a previous commenter states, things used to be much worse. For instance, only a few years ago, bus stops did not have individual time schedules - they only showed the time the bus were supposed to leave the first station, and you had to calculate estimated time. Using the bus system felt like a chore (this is perhaps one of the reasons "bus" still is a foul word for many people in Bergen).

    When Bybanen (the light rail) opened, things changed as Skyss was established and there was an increased focus on customer experience. Routes are more effective (major lines run more frequent), proper time scedules are in place, and finally real-time monitors are being installed at major stops. Bybanen of course, is itself a major step forward.

    However, it's obvious that Skyss or Bybanen would have a lot to gain by acquiring (or hiring) service design competence. For instance, the doors on the Bybanen cars are too few, and open too slowly, which leads to minor annoyances and perceived time loss as people queue up to validate tickets (the quite slow valdation machines are placed right at the entrance, and the subsequent queue through the car door delay the departure). When the cars are expanded from 5 to 7 sections, there is an obvious opportunity to make things right, by installing better (and faster) doors. But instead, the opposite is happening - the two new sections will only have one door (in total), meaning relative door capacity actually goes down. (Article in Norwegian: http://www.bt.no/nyheter/lokalt/--For-fa-dorer-sinker-Bybanen-2948347.html)

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  6. Interesting article! Having moved here as an adult from a country where Cars are the norm, I learnt using a bus here. Oft times I´ve felt stupid not being able to find unmarked invisible bus stops, with different names in either direction, figuring out times from the supposed time bus left point A. I still, rarely, get lost, or stuck out in the middle of nowhere--but have always luckily had wonderful, kind drivers who went out of their way, on their off time, to make sure I got back to a recognizable place. The bus drivers go out of their way to wait, to help best they can. Maybe the public transport here has many things which could be improved, but I appreciate it is as good as it is---and am extremely impressed with all the comments that other places have even better public transport! Well done, looking forward to any improvements here.

    And I like the music on the last stops of bybanen,)

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  7. The "bybanen" should never have been built. It occupies large areas where electric or gas busses would be more effective.

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  8. Why do you always think about the bad things only? Read this article Bergens tidende wrote about you as a "German expert": http://www.bt.no/nyheter/lokalt/bybanen/Tysk-ekspert-slakter-Skyss-2958840.html#.UxNulON5MrU
    "Europe´s most expensive day ticket, unusable linemap and invisible busstops. The German public transport expert Robert Schwandl isn´t gracious with Skyss."

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