A Ray of Hope

Some time ago we published various articles on digitisation and its sometimes grotesque excesses – e.g. Digital Na(t)ive or Digital Punk. I found myself at this point again when I was on my way to and back from my summer holiday. This time, however, I can report on positive examples – but you can only appreciate them if you have also experienced the disasters.

Unfortunately, I have to say that the Pareto principle (80/20) can be fully refuted by my completely representative personal experiment. With regard to public transport, I unfortunately only manage 50% (punctuality, or refusal to work – depending on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty). On the way to our holiday destination, we made it from home to Frankfurt airport on time and without incident with 3 children, 2 adults, 3 large suitcases (yes, 20 kilos), 3 small suitcases and 5 €9 tickets. Bus, train, transfers, everything was fine – delays in the range of <5mins. I could have guessed that if the 50% rule applied – and it always does – the return journey on 1 September would be a disaster.

So let’s take a look at the return journey: Get on the Bilbao metro, a train every 5 minutes and they really are always on time – cost: €5 for all 5 people all the way to the city centre. What do you need? A freely available travel card that you can top up with an app and NFC on your smartphone without an account or disclosure of all personal data (or on machines that really work). Wow – just for the record: you hold this card (similar to a credit card) directly on your mobile phone and can then top up your balance. Amazing that anyone would come up with an idea like that. But on with the journey – having reached the city centre, we waited for the bus to the airport. One comes every 15 minutes, and that‘s also on time. Again used the same ticket, again a fare of about €1 each. I’ll spare you the Lufthansa bit, of course they weren’t on time, but I don’t want to complain – a day later and Lufthansa were on strike again and we would have been stranded.

Having arrived in Frankfurt, and we stumble from disaster to disaster: escalator broken or not there => carrying suitcases, episode one. We have to get a ticket from a machine – but at the commuter station there are only tickets for local connections, great – except we have to go beyond the local fare zone and for these tickets we need Deutsche Bahn machines, which we can’t find. OK, then by app. Do the children actually pay full fare? Why does it cost more to take the light railway than the high-speed express? Can I still use both all the same? Help! When we arrive in Frankfurt, the timetable is missing for the Inter-City, so we don’t leave the station (as if the train driver could really “steer”). This is followed by various sessions of train-hopping, because another one might actually leave (carrying suitcases, episodes two, three and four). Quote from a fellow passenger: “I’ve been trying to get out of Frankfurt for 3 hours. I’m already worried about the last bus…”.

Well, eventually we roll forward a little and actually manage to get to Ladenburg. Now roadworks – the bus doesn’t stop at the planned stop. The app only has text with street names that nobody knows. Why don’t they make a map with the alternative route? We miss the “connecting“ bus from Ladenburg to home, don’t know if there’s a bus at all and even if so, when. Quote: “Due to construction work, the bus will temporarily stop here” – but it doesn’t say when it stops. Believe it or not, they’ve forgotten about a timetable. We can only roll our suitcases, we can no longer carry them. After more than 10 hours of travelling, we are at our wits’ end and call our neighbours who pick us up in their car for the last 4 km. We made it- by the way, the total distance by car would have cost us only half and taken 14 hours instead of 10 hours by plane/bus/train. I’d say that’s a great breakthrough for transport transformation.

But I don’t want to just complain, because I actually really like taking the train. By the way, my wife tried out our local (Rhein-Neckar) linear distance fare calculator yesterday. It has great potential. You tap Start on your mobile phone where you leave and Stop when you want to get off. Then the app calculates what it would cost and if a journey is cheaper in the zone rate (why do you need that again?), only the cheaper one is charged. Wow, that’s how it should be. The app still has a few weaknesses, but that’s where we should be going. In this sense: don’t give up and don’t despair!

Original text: MHA
English translation: BCO


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