Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
I'm on a @#&! Tram
Thursday, May 03, 2012 - 12:48 PM
When traveling I like to use public transit as much as possible, and Leipzig's tram system does not disappoint.
I couldn't help but think of the semi-profane Saturday Night Live digital short "I'm on a Boat" with a group of overenthusiastic guys parading around in costumes rapping about how hot it is that they're on a yacht. I avoided both the rapping and the regatta wear, but I found myself almost unreasonably happy to be riding the tram. It's quick, it's clean, and it's predictable: monitors on the platform tell you exactly when the next tram will arrive.
First, to ride: you buy your ticket either on the platform -- or, prepare to be shocked, New Yorkers -- on the actual tram itself. (How many times have you wished for a MetroCard machine inside the turnstile?)
Once on the tram, you validate your ticket. There are no turnstiles or barriers to entry -- it basically works on the honor system. So why pay at all? Because Germany has roaming undercover ticket police who will board a tram and call out "Fahrkarten, Fahrausweise, bitte," at which point everyone is obligated to hold up their validated tickets. If you fail to show one, the fine is somewhere in the €30 to €50 range. According to a Berliner I spoke to, the Fahrkartenkontrolleur are not amused by your excuses.
Note too in the following picture --on the top center -- you'll see a pair of television monitors. These are on every tram car I rode on. The one on the right runs ads. The one on the left provides a rolling, visual station stop list.
The only unnerving thing about trams, at least if you're used to city subway systems, is that since their tracks are laid into the street, you must often cross them. OF COURSE THE TRACKS ARE NOT ELECTRIFIED. But a healthy respect for the third rail is part of my DNA and I couldn't bring myself to actually step ON a rail, choosing instead to advertise my out-of-townness by casually hopping over them.
And because they run on the street, they have their own traffic lights.
I'm sure the average German commuter is jaded. But as a transit tourist, the tram was a trip.