The last stop on my extensive Scandinavian tours this summer was Copenhagen, a place I had also been before several times, and since my last visit in 2007 not too many things have changed. In that year I was there in July, and the Metro's Airport extension only opened in September, so that was new to discover for me during this year's visit (31 Aug - 3 Sept 2013). But as expected, it didn't really have anything new about it as the stations are pretty identical to the older ones. On this new section, there was a bad choice of station names. I observed a group of youngsters who were not sure whether they had to get off at "Kastrup" to get to the Airport or not, as in the region "Kastrup" seems to be synonymous for airport, like Heathrow or Barajas. In Malmö, Öresund trains are actually labelled as "Kastrup/Københamn", so the metro terminus should be called like the Öresund station, i.e. "Københavns Lufthavn Kastrup", while the current metro station called "Kastrup" should either have an appendage like "village" or better be called something else completely to avoid confusion.
Starting my exploration on Saturday morning, I was pretty shocked to find a rather dirty Metro system. I had seen it quite new and shiny in 2003 and still in 2007 it looked good, but now it is showing its age (well, only 11 years!). Getting on a train after a Friday night service, when apparently the trains are used for partying, did not help to get a positive impression. But besides the fresh dirt left behind by the partying folk, the seats look completely worn-out and wasted, the creamy cladding looks dirty especially in the gaps between those panels as if noone has ever cleaned the trains more thoroughly for years. There are cleaners at least at the Vanløse terminus who take away the litter, but the nonstop service doesn't seem to allow proper cleaning, although not all trains are in operation during night times. The stations still look quite alright, although also the corners and edges on the stairs could take some high-pressure waterjet cleaning. The outside of the trains still looks quite o.k., no graffiti, but the white livery, just like in Oslo, starts to look pale and dirty after some years.
The S-tog is quite the contrary, the trains look rather clean inside (the dim light helps to make them look better...), but many are redecorated with huge graffiti and many stations have become simply pathetic, notably Nørrebro, all painted with graffiti and also pretty neglected otherwise. Apparently, they don't have enough trains to withdraw the painted ones from service. I hope they are not going the same way into disaster as the Berlin S-Bahn did after cutting investment and jobs!
Generally, however, I like both Metro and S-tog. The S-tog is almost like a metro, running frequently, and with these super-wide trains. All the older trains have been retired since my last visit. A few years ago they simplified the system, but now they made it more complicated again by simplifying the weekend service. But this 'simplification' results in 3! different system maps placed next to each other on the trains, one for normal weekday service, one for weekend daytime service, and yet another for weekend night service! And all three displayed in the same size. I wonder if this is really necessary? I like the strong image of the S-tog with its huge logo, and everyone perceives the system as something different from other local and regional trains, while in Oslo or Helsinki there this distinction is very vague.
What I like about the Metro is that it is well-built. Unlike the Canada Line in Vancouver, the alignment is perfect, so trains can go into curves at full speed and very elegantly - and I'm looking forward to the Cityring as it almost exclusively consists of curves, so that will be fun to ride. Interestingly, trains start to shake a bit on the straight elevated sections! And, unlike Stockholm, the trains are perfectly tuned, they accelerate and slow down at the right speed, very smoothly and without the danger of passengers falling. The basic design of the stations looks nice, but boring, as all are the same. But luckily, I'm not the only one who criticizes that and therefore the new stations on the circular line will be quite colourful, e.g. red if they provide interchange with the S-tog. I think it would have been wiser to arrange the two flights of double escalators in a different way. The way they are laid out now, all passengers getting off a train need to walk to one end of the platform where they find two sets of escalators going up. I think passenger flow would be better if there was one escalator going up from either end of the platform. Anyway, what is completely missing are the escalators from the mezzanine to street level, instead there are only stairs which are extremely steep, the steepest I have ever seen anywhere on a public transport system. Luckily, the present entrance at the busy Kongens nytorv station right in the city centre will be replaced by a new entrance anyway in conjunction with the new ring line. Many passengers therefore rather wait for the lift to get to the surface directly. I think stations should have been made more future-proof from the start, but many of them in the central area already appear too small for the crowds they have to handle. This is a common misunderstanding nowadays, that driverless metros can be built with small stations. But if in the end you get a train every 90 seconds or less on each side, the small platforms at Nørreport or Kongens nytorv will have problems absorbing all those passengers getting off and at the same time handle those boarding. Adding a fourth car will just make the overcrowding worse. Also, centrally located stations like Kongens nytorv should by definition have exits in different directions to disperse passengers and increase the catchment area.
Unless there is an agreement soon, the new metro station at the Central Station will be quite a disaster. It is being built at the "back" side of the railway station, which as such is not bad. But as of now, it will not be directly accessible from the railway station, instead it will be a standard station with only one exit in a small street nearby that actually faces away from the railway station. So, please, DSB and Metro, get your act together and build a proper interchange, otherwise the whole world will laugh at you both! At Nørreport, the interchange is actually being enlarged right now, adding a new entrance on the city centre side (let's hope that the busy, but appalling Nørreport S-tog station will also be upgraded soon!).
What I like least about the Copenhagen transport system is its lack of a common transport authority. Luckily all tickets are valid for all different operators, but there is no face to it all. Except for some security people, the Metro is completely unmanned, no visible information office, just machines and a few info leaflets in some stations, the same is true for the S-tog, and I don't know about Movia who operates the buses. This is the absolute contrary to Stockholm, where SL is omnipresent, has a few customers offices in strategic places and with many metro stations staffed. At least the tourist office has some maps for visitors which also explain the fare system a bit.
Which brings us to Copenhagen's excessive zonal fare system. The capital region where all those shared tickets are valid may be similar to SL's territory in Stockholm. And while SL needs 3 fare stages (for single tickets only - one single fare zone for all other tickets), the Copenhagen area is divided into none less than 95!!! zones. The maximum number of zone you need to pay is 9. Visitor's passes sold as "City Pass" can be found on machines under "City centre tickets", although they cover zones 1-4 which also includes the Airport, so that's pretty misleading, too. Luckily, many maps show the different zones, although at S-tog stations, I wasn't sure whether Hellerup was included in this type of ticket or not (in the end it is in two adjacent zones, but that was badly drawn). On the other days I bought a 24-timers billet (24-hour ticket) which is valid in all zones, but costs some 17.50 EUR but at least you don't have to bother about zones when taking the S-tog a bit beyond the half-circular F line. Travelling in the region over the Öresund Bridge into Sweden can also be tricky as explanations on the different websites are not very clear. I bought a day-return ticket from Copenhagen to Malmö and understood that this includes travel on local buses for 24 hours also in Malmö. I cannot confirm that this is true, as when I showed my paper ticket to the bus drivers, they didn't really look at it, as on that day the electronic ticketing system in Malmö was not working anyway and they simply didn't care about tickets.... But I think they never look at them as you cannot really expect that all bus drivers know all the 95 fare zones on the Danish side plus their 100+ zones on the Swedish side.
Talking of Malmö, I did, of course, its small underground system, opened in 2010 as Citytunneln, with two underground stations and one partly covered station (Hyllie). While the underground station at Malmö Central is quite typical for European railway stations built in the last two decades, the tube station at Triangeln at the southern edge of the city centre is quite pleasant with clear lines, good visibility despite the massive row of columns in the middle. The route is frequently served by Öresund trains from Copenhagen at least every 20 minutes plus some of those purple Pågatåg services operating in Southern Sweden, but there is no regular headway between trains, so there may be longer gaps.