Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Ten Observations on Public Transportation in Germany

A guy who grew up in Bama....has zero understanding and appreciation of public transportation.  I came out of a county area, that was considered 'consolidated' with three surrounding towns, and we were the largest urban area in America (more than 100,000 in population) with no mass transit system.  Nothing much has changed in the four decades since I left.

When I got to DC back in 2010....I made a vow that I'd survive without a car for twelve months.  By the end....I'd done almost forty-two months....without a car.  Yeah, there was a time or two....that I rented a car for day or a weekend....but for the most part....I made it without a car.

Since my semi-retirement in Germany in the summer of last year.....I've come to appreciate the local public transportation system.  It's a four-star system, and fairly different from the DC "Metro" system.  So this is my cynical blog essay over the comparison of the two.

First, If you stopped any DC Metro subway or bus driver and gave them a hundred-question aptitude test on just plain common knowledge....the first thing they'd do is ask a buddy if they could buy the test, then ask for a waiver, and then finally agree to take the test and fail it miserably (twenty-five percent would likely pass it).  My local ESWE German guys?  First, they'd complain to the union that it wasn't in their contract....then ninety percent of them would score eighty or above on the test, and the rest would score between sixty and eighty.  These guys aren't Einsteins....but they weren't hired to be idiots.

Second, there is an abundant staff of planners sitting behind ESWE....who are thinking five to ten years ahead of the DC Metro staff.  Most bus stops in the local area have a TV screen now up, and even at a quiet stop in the middle of nowhere....they will tell you the next bus is X number of minutes away.  DC Metro?  If you have the App on your'll give you the info....but twenty-percent of the's wrong, and no one really knows why.

Third, almost every single day on the DC Metro system....there's an accident.  There are stupid accidents....accidents caused by lack of attention....and accidents due to just poor driving skills.  The local DSWE German guys?  About once a month, I'll hear about some local bus accident.  Subway or trolley accidents?  Almost never.

Fourth, taking subway or rapid-rail lines down between midnight and 5AM?  In DC....Metro was famous for these episodes.  You'd have one entire section of line down every weekend in DC....from Friday night to Monday morning....for maintenance requirements.  The Frankfurt-Mainz-Wiesbaden rapid-rail?  They rarely take them down, and if they do....there's an alternate tracking system for them to use.

Fifth, about every six DC Metro maintenance guy dies on the tracks because someone didn't pay attention or the guy was walking on the wrong track for inspection.  The local ESWE guys?  You just don't EVER hear about some poor track maintenance guy dying on the tracks because of some stupid mistake.  Maybe it's the amount of attention that Germans put into the details or the standards of a no-drug or alcohol usage usage during work-hours.....but they don't screw up.

Sixth, when the local ESWE guys say this is the schedule....they mean....THIS is the expectation.  So if the bus is supposed to be there at will be there.  The DC Metro bus and subway system?  Well....there is a schedule, but I'd be humble and admit that they try hard to keep it on schedule for seventy-percent of the time.

Seventh, train doors on the DC Metro subway opening accidentally?  No one figuring out why or fixing it?  In the local ESWE system....if this happened one time....the car would be removed from the inventory and five engineers would be put to task to figure out why.  People would be fired from ESWE if this was occurring once or twice a month.  Giving some bogus statement of 'investigative analysis'....wouldn't work in Wiesbaden.  

Eighth, suicide by rapid-rail?  Well....yeah....DC Metro has this issue and they generally average ten foolish people a year who just have to jump out in front of a train.  Here in the Hessen-region?  You just don't hear about this kind of jump.  Maybe some idiot would walk over to the Mainz bridge and jump off into the river, or someone would run a hose from their exhaust....but we just don't have Germans running around to jump in front of subway trains.

Ninth, homeless guys riding to system to keep warm in the winter?  In DC's Metro system.....especially in January and February....I'd guess that three hundred homeless guys at any time....are riding the bus system or subway system.  Here in the local German network?  Inspectors tend to ride and ask for your ticket or card, and they make it a hard case for anybody without a valid ticket.  This means you get the cops attention next, and that means they ask questions and just might mandate you get a mental exam....which means you fail, and get kept permanently in some nice friendly institute, and never ride the local system again.

Tenth, after about a year in the DC Metro system....I came to expect "less".  Less safety....less security...less accountability....less performance.....less intelligence....less competence....less professionalism....less integrity....less determination....and less standards.  After the second year....I came to expect the second degree.  And by the end of my forty-two months.....nothing much surprised me.  Even the fact that DC Metro admitted that they had an art director on the staff making over $100,000 a year advising them how to look better at their subway didn't surprise me.

I'm approaching ten months now with the local ESWE system, and frankly.....I can't think of a single occasion where I ever sat for a moment and thought about "less" of something.  If anything....they've shocked me by thinking, planning, and calculating ahead.  I suspect that they go home at night....thinking about their job and how they might do better.

So, it's all pretty good.  Well.....yeah....with the exception of the bathrooms at the Frankfurt and Wiesbaden train stations (they do kinda rate with the DC Trailways bus station but at least there's not crack ladies or transexual pretender guy-gals around).

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