Bus problems

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.

Austrians and elevators

On the whole, Austrians are courteous, helpful and generally polite when I encounter them out in public.  People seem to generally do what they’re supposed to do (throw their trash in the trash cans, sit where they should on the train, give up their seat to someone older or less able than themselves, hold doors, cross at crosswalks, etc.).

The example I get to experience, frequently, is how helpful they can be with a stroller.  The trains are generally set up to work well with strollers — there’s designated stroller parking areas on the trains, and doors that are marked which are stroller accessible (generally, but not always, they’ll even accommodate our double stroller) and all of the underground trains are accessible by elevator.

Every so often, though, an elevator might be out of service.  And although I prefer to travel up and down by elevator, I will use an escalator in a pinch — but not every station has an escalator going down, and often the staircase is too long to try to manage a stroller on my own down a flight of stairs (what’s possible isn’t always safe).  And some of the trams and out-of-town trains have several steps up to get inside.  Both can be difficult, if not impossible, to manage with a stroller.  100% of the time that I’ve run in to a difficult situation I have had one or more complete strangers offer to assist by helping me carry the stroller up or down the stairs, helping us on or off the tram or helping us carry excess stuff that isn’t easy to manage on an escalator.  (I had one particularly memorable situation where I had Liam in the stroller, B on his bike and the elevator was broken.  I had no idea what I was going to do — I simply didn’t have enough hands to get everyone safely up the escalator.  But then a woman who had just come down the escalator I was trying to go up stopped and offered to help.  She carried the bike while I managed the stroller and Benjamin — and she even missed her train to do it.)  This kind of kindness is a normal part of daily life here in Vienna.  I’m still a little surprised when it happens, but people generally count on it, and it is incredibly reliable.  I am incredibly grateful for this help when I need it, and truly impressed by the culture of responsibility and thoughtfulness that has created it.

But this leaves me all the more perplexed by the behavior I see regarding Austrians and elevators.  Every single day, I see people go out of their way to walk to take an elevator when they could, more easily and more quickly, have taken an escalator or the stairs.  They will wait for the elevator to come (the elevators here aren’t usually very fast) and pack themselves in.  There are signs on the elevators stating that priority is to be given to strollers, people in wheelchairs, and the elderly, but no one seems to care.  I have, on several occasions, been pushed aside so that seemingly fit people can take the elevator that they had to walk out of their way to get to.  (I’ve seen wheelchairs pushed aside, too.)  Generally, the people here don’t shrink away from physical activity, and the sense of courtesy and responsibility seems so strong that I just can’t make sense of this one weird little thing.  It just seems so out of character based on everything else I experience here, but it’s also remarkably pervasive.  (I wonder if it’s related to the dislike of waiting in lines that seems to be common here, too.)

I am impressed and amazed by the amount of kindness and help I’ve gotten here when I need it — it’s part of what made my mind up to move here when the opportunity came up.  The strangeness with the elevators doesn’t undo that — it’s just a piece of the puzzle that I don’t understand yet (and there are still a lot of those).