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Guardians of Mobility: from the front lines of Vienna, Austria

20/05/2020
  • Europe
  • COVID-19
  • Operators
  • Passenger
  • Urban mobility

There are many “unsung heroes” in times of crisis, and we recognise that our public transport professionals are some of them.

Our ‘Guardians of Mobility’, are an integral part of the front liners keeping essential services available throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the course of these past few weeks, we have been sharing stories from our own community on what’s being done to keep public transport operations running around the world, and to shed a little light on our sector’s contribution to fighting this pandemic.

Today, we hear from Wiener Linien sharing their experiences from Vienna, Austria.

Wiener Linien

After weeks of national lockdown in an effort to “flatten the curve” of rising numbers in coronavirus cases, Austria was one of the first European countries to announce de-confinement measures and a plan to “phase out” of the lockdown. Wiener Linien managed to keep the Viennese public mobile throughout each phase of this pandemic.

Wiener Linien is the public transport network operator in Vienna serving roughly 2.6 million passengers daily. During the nationwide lockdown, Wiener Linien reduced their usual operations, using their weekend timetable for continued transport services. As a result of the lockdown, ridership decreased by about 80%.

During this period, ticket sale revenue was equal to almost zero, while dozens of customers per day rushed to return their annual tickets. However, most of the 852,000 customers remained loyal ticket-holders of their annual tickets.

Urban mobility needs to be safeguarded and public transport plays an essential role here.

“This is a situation we’ve never seen before”, says Alexandra Reinagl, CFO of Wiener Linien. “We managed to keep essential services running, knowing that we had an obligation to the community. Urban mobility needs to be safeguarded and public transport plays an essential role here. For this, we must thank our dedicated staff and our customers for their encouraging messages.”

As of 14 April, some of the stores in the city were reopened, leading to a return of footfall in the city centre. As a result, Wiener Linien promptly increased the frequency of transport operations to their school holiday schedule, as schools and many other aspects of daily life remained closed. Wiener Linien registered a slight increase of ridership.

Adjusting to the ‘new normal’

All the while, maintenance and strict cleaning measures continue to be taken on a regular basis to ensure the health and safety of staff and passengers. The use of masks is quite widely enforced in Vienna, while further good hygiene practices for passengers are clearly communicated in stations and platforms. For all employees Wiener Linien provided masks and produced protective face shields to make work in workshops and on construction sites more bearable under these special conditions.

As the Austrian government continues to make plans to return the country to some semblance of “normal”, Wiener Linien is left with the challenge of increasing ridership to make ends meet. In one effort to reduce some of their revenue losses and in a gesture of goodwill towards their customers, the company decided to extend the validity of student semester passes (purchased for the spring-summer semester) throughout the summer holiday period until 30 September.

We also have to move on and deal with the next, even bigger crisis at hand: the climate catastrophe.

On 15 May, the city of Vienna saw the reopening of the rest of its businesses and restaurants. Wiener Linien, as a result, has dutifully reinstated normal operation for the public transport network, aside from night trains which remain suspended (night buses are running). By now, ridership is at about 50% from before the pandemic.

“We know it will be difficult, but we will do everything possible to bring back our passengers in the coming months”, said Günter Steinbauer, CEO of Wiener Linien. “We can assure the public that their health and safety is—and has always been—our top priority. But we also have to move on and deal with the next, even bigger crisis at hand: The pandemic is a frightening episode, but the climate catastrophe is a permanent issue. Public transport is key to tackle this problem.”

We are proud to hear of the excellent services provided by our Guardians of Mobility in Vienna at this time!

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