Helping passengers may become mandatory

Tram drivers could soon be obliged to help young mothers, it has been reported.

Die Presse reports today (Thurs) that bosses of Viennese public transport provider Wiener Linien are currently holding talks with staff representatives over a possible reform of rules applying to drivers of trams. They do not have to assist women with baby carriages trying to board trams, according to current regulations. A spokesman for Wiener Linien claimed most tram drivers would help mums with babies into trams anyway.

The discussion affects Wiener Linien employees operating older tram types. The new generation of these public transport vehicles have low floors enabling elderly and disabled people to access them easily. However, old models can only be entered via narrow stairs. Many of these types of trams are still in operation in the city. Another aspect many passengers disapprove is that the old models are, in contrast to new types, not air-conditioned.

Tram drivers are reportedly worried about being made responsible for injuries people in need of help like mums with buggies and passengers on crutches may suffer while they assist them with getting on board. Wiener Linien officials and employees are currently also debating what drivers of trams and buses should do if a passenger suffers epileptic fits, heart attacks, cardiac arrests and similar complications. Staff have been criticised by passengers for failing to take action in the past. Regulations in effect at the moment say that drivers of trams and buses have to radio their central office.

News of a possible change of Wiener Linien labour laws comes on the same day as Greens Vienna boss Maria Vassilakou defended her plans to increase the number of 30-kilometre-per-hour (kph) limit zones in Vienna. Several Social Democratic (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) district chiefs reacted angered to news that more Viennese roads will be turned from 5 kph to 30 kph speed limit zones. Wiener Linien trams and buses are not expected to be affected by the upcoming speed reduction.

Vassilakou told the Kurier newspaper: “It is true that nearly 70 per cent of roads near housing estates are 30 kph limit areas already. The number of fatal traffic crashes is in decline, but killed pedestrians’ share soars.”

The vice mayor pointed out that vehicles going at 50 kph take 26 metres to stop whereas cars doing 30 kph come to a halt already after 12 metres. Vassilakou said turning nearly all roads in residential areas in Vienna into 30 kph limit zones would cost “almost 1.5 million Euros”. The project will be carried out in 2012 and 2013, she explained, adding that the city will cover 80 per cent of the costs in that period.

Döbling district chief Adolf Tiller of the ÖVP warned last week he would hold a referendum if being forced to carry out the speed limit reform. Tiller argued: “I have been campaigning in favour of 40 kph zones for many years. Such a reduction would mean drivers do not have to change to second gear but can keep driving in third gear.”

Greens Vienna spokesman Rüdiger Maresch hit back. He promised that district leaders would have the final word on the project, but warned: “They will also have to argue every traffic fatality if they disagree with our plans. (…) Every pedestrian killed by a car is one too many.”

Asked whether it was true that the planned extension of the U2 U-Bahn line to Gudrunstraße Street in Vienna-Favoriten was at risk, Vassilakou told the Kurier today: “Possible routes where the line could go are being checked at the moment. Other claims are just speculations.”

Her statement was preceded by reports that the construction was uncertain. Viennese papers had it that the extension of the busy U1 line to Rothneusiedl in the south of Vienna may not take place as planned either.

The most recent expansion of the underground train network took place on the U2 line last year which now leads to Vienna-Donaustadt. Already three years ago, the once short, city centre connection was expanded to the Ernst Happel Stadium. The extension enabled football fans coming to the Austrian capital for the Euro2008 to reach the 50,000-seater venue by underground. The tournament was co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. Several games including Austria’s group stage matches against Croatia, Poland and Germany and the final between Spain and Germany (1-0) took place at the stadium situated in the heart of Vienna-Leopoldstadt’s Prater park.

Vassilakou was a harsh critic of various decisions by the SPÖ before her party teamed up with the faction of Mayor Michael Häupl to form the city’s first-ever SPÖ-Greens coalition. Asked by the Kurier whether she still thinks that Vienna spends too much money on advertising to do nothing but praising itself as she claimed one and a half years ago, Vassilakou admitted: “I may use more friendly terms today. However, I am still of the opinion that the city could do with less promotion spending.”

The Kurier reports that Vienna spent 47 million Euros on advertisements in newspapers and other media last year, up from 27 million Euros in 2007. Governmental investment on ads in magazines and daily papers is also a hotly debated issue in federal politics in Austria at the moment. Several media claimed having obtained information that SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann ordered road management firm Asfinag and Federal Railways (ÖBB) to place ads in papers in 2007 and 2008 when he was minister for infrastructure and traffic.

The opposition but also the ÖVP, which cooperates with the SPÖ in the federal government, reacted outraged about this “waste and abuse of taxpayers’ money”. Asfinag and ÖBB are owned by the Republic of Austria. Faymann denied any wrongdoing. However, the coalition apparently agreed that the issue would be investigated by a special parliamentary commission.