On a recent trip to Berlin, I abstained from car travel and instead relied on 7 Euro (about $9) day passes to take me around town on the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn and the bus. I was seldom confused, always on time and saved tons of money. The money part was a good reminder of how expensive it is to drive anywhere. Even though Californians have ample reason to complain, in Berlin gas prices are more than twice what they are in L.A.
The ease and frequency of Berlin transit has a lot to do with the maturity of the massive system that began construction in the early 1900s. Just think what the L.A. system could look like 100 years from now.
Among factors contributing to ease of travel:
– Constant updates. As studies have shown, confident travelers are happy travelers. Constant real-time arrival updates on electronic boards in S-Bahn (above ground) and U-Bahn (subway) stations and most bus stops made waiting for the next train or bus comfortable, even when the next one was 20 minutes away.
– Names. Station names in Berlin tend to be utilitarian, marking locations or major sites. Headed for the Zoo? Get off at Zoologischer Garten. Taking a trip to Potsdam? Go to Potsdam Stadt. Off to the Olympic Stadium? Head for Olympiastadion. Simplicity in names promotes clarity.
– Clean. There was at least one snack shop (selling beer, of course) in each of the dozens of stations that I used or saw. Lots of people were carrying food and drink. Yet seldom was there trash on the trains or in the train stations.
– Maps and signs. Train cars had electronic “next station” signs inside the cars. They also had maps that were too detailed to read in a hurry — so relatively useless — but train stations had much larger maps and (best of all) subways had pedestal signs listing stations in order of appearance on the line. So it was easy to glance at the pedestal and determine which train you should board (on which side) and to count the number of stations to your destination. Emergency signs were marked SOS … the universal sign of distress. And when there was more than one train running on the same track, clear hanging signs explained which train went where.
– The honor system. Berlin trains operate without turnstiles. And like L.A., traveling controllers check that passengers have purchased tickets and issue citations to those who have not. Tickets are easily purchased with cash or credit card from machines on all train platforms and in subway stations. The machines read out in a variety of languages — as Metro’s do — and are fairly easy to follow, although it took a couple of tries to figure out the system. Tickets are sold by zones but since there are no turnstiles, this too is dependent on the honesty of the traveling public.
– Shopping. Some stations — Central Station, for example — are actually destinations, containing restaurants and multi-leveled shopping malls.