Generally, public transportation in Vienna is functional and pleasant. Everything runs mostly on time, and is quite clean. People usually board and disembark in an orderly fashion, vocal volume is low, people (more or less) make way for the elderly and disabled, and strollers are managed without too much trouble. We don’t have a car, and we’ve gotten around Vienna (and beyond) very well using public transport these past 3 years. If you can think of a piece of common sense when it comes to public transportation, it probably happens here (except that Austrians don’t queue properly, ever, and many will go out of their way to wait for an elevator).
Sure, there are always exceptions — groups of rowdy teenagers, drunk people, self-absorbed individuals. But Austrians are a reliably orderly lot in general.
But the bus line I use to take the boys to school in the morning is a complete anomaly. I’ve come to the conclusion that is the most dysfunctional piece of all of Vienna’s public transportation system. The problem has nothing to do with the route itself, but with the passengers. The regularity with which we encounter uncharacteristic dysfunction is kind of shocking. There was the old lady who told me off for not making a space available for her (I was standing, my boys were sitting, the seats across from and behind us were free, but she wanted THAT ONE … but hadn’t asked), the time a mother left her unsecured stroller rolling around the center aisle of the bus while she looked on (no kid inside, thankfully) and the grown woman who pushed past Liam (coming close to knocking him down) to get the seat she wanted. Every day, it’s a struggle to get off the bus while people refuse to make way and/or push past departing people to get in first. Getting a stroller off is next to impossible with people being so impatient that they have to get on before you get it off. (We’ve basically abandoned the idea of taking the stroller at all when we go to school.) And, in the past week, two different people have actually sat down in Benjamin’s seat with him. (I know he’s pretty small, but WHAT?!?)
You might think, from these descriptions, that this is a massively crowded bus line. It’s not. Although there are times that we’re packed in like sardines, the VAST majority of the time (including all of the specific incidents I mentioned) the bus is about half full or less.
For anyone local, the line is the 92A between Donaustadtbrücke and Kaisermühlen. For anyone not local, this is not the city center, but the mostly residential outer section of Vienna. I’ve been pondering the phenomenon of horrible behavior on this line, and I was perplexed. No idea why it should be so bad.
My thought, all along, has been that people must just be markedly more rude during the morning rush hour. But that just hasn’t been my experience when I travel in other parts of Vienna during rush hour. After considering it for a while, and observing this behavior for almost 3 years now, I have come to an embarrassing conclusion: I think it’s us. Not “us” our family, but “us” the Americans, or at least the foreigners. This bus line, just 2 miles and 10 stops long, serves English-speaking Webster University (which seems to host a lot of rowdy and self-involved American teenagers and young adults) and the UN (which seems to host a lot of “important”, “busy” and hurried adults from around the world . . . including a lot of people that I know and like — I’m not saying it’s everyone). A really high number of people foreign to Vienna travel through this part of the city every day. So I wonder if we’ve broken the system. I wonder if we outsiders have introduced so much impatience, dysfunction and selfishness into the system that we’ve brought out the inner “man for himself” in even the orderly, patient, local Austrians who use that line to commute every day.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s some other kind of bad luck that has turned that bus line into the “Lord of the Flies” of the Viennese public transportation system.