Under-fire Wiener Linien hits back

Viennese public transport agency Wiener Linien has defended itself over a series of defects and major delays in service.The company has come under fire for various occurrences in the recent weeks including the case of a pensioner whose foot got stuck in the door of an U-Bahn train. The public transport vehicle’s door allegedly failed to open again automatically as it is supposed to in such an incident for safety reasons.Hundreds of passengers were outraged last weekend when they were forced to switch to buses and trams as the city’s U3 underground line was out of order for hours due to a short circuit.Now a spokesman has defended the company and promised improvements.”Our buses, trams and U-Bahn trains are so busy that each day they cover a distance  equivalent to going four and a half times around the world. In a rush hour we operate 900 vehicles simultaneously – it’s clear that problems can occur,” Dominik Gries told Die Presse newspaper today (Tues).Gries admitted that the number of service-affecting errors has been on the rise. He claimed there were more incidents bringing operations to a halt because of to the higher number of passengers due to the recently introduced 24-hour U-Bahn service at the weekends and the extension of the U2 line.The Wiener Linien spokesman announced that the firm will introduce five new U-Bahn vehicles. The newer generation of underground trains are understood to be less error-prone than the old U-Bahn trains which are still in the majority. Only nine new underground trains were used last year.Gries also told Die Presse that 20 additional new trams will start operating later this year. Nearly 300 of the 500 trams in service in the city are of the old generation. These vehicles lack digital schedule displays and are difficult to access for physically disabled passengers.An independent expert for public transport has meanwhile criticised Wiener Linien. The firm is widely regarded as one of the most reliable public transport operators in Europe. But Michael Palfinger said: “I don’t think there are more failures in public transport service in any other city in German-speaking Europe.”Speaking to Die Presse, Palfinger claimed the situation will not improve if Wiener Linien do not face consequences such as a reduction of subsidies. Wiener Linien is a company close to the government of Vienna. The city parliament supervises its operations and commercial decisions. Wiener Linien earns around 420 million Euros a year with ticket sales, while the city of Vienna supports the firm with almost 715 million Euros at the same time.Political decision-makers have been criticised for decades for doing to little to encourage people to use means of public transport more frequently. The federal capital of Austria has one of the lowest average fees for permanent parking in Europe and a comparably high number of parking spots.The government is however expected to introduce more 30-kilometre-per-hour (kph) limit areas in the near future due to the participation of the Greens. The party decided to form a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) after both factions suffered losses in the city parliament vote last October.The coalition’s 77-page legislative period programme reveals plans to increase the share of public transport in overall traffic in Vienna, but fails to make clear how the SPÖ and the Greens plan to achieve this goal.