Clean Transport

Published on October 2nd, 2014 | by Roy L Hales


A Different Model: How Public Transit Should Work!

October 2nd, 2014 by  

Originally published in the ECOreport

North American cities are primarily designed for automotive traffic. There has been more attention to bicycles, buses, and trains, but most people still look upon them as a poor person’s transportation. Traveling in Germany I found a different model: how public transit should work!

“If I want to drive a car, I rent one,” a young Berlin based executive told me.

The same sentiment was echoed by an executive in Hamburg.


In fact, a recently published survey showed that two third’s of Berlin’s population did not own cars in 2012. There were 1.38 billion BVG and S-Bahn trips that year and a 38% increase in bicycle traffic since 2001.

This has resulted in a 17% reduction in CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2009.

Berlin has fewer traffic accidents and the number of fatalities has dropped from 56, in 2007, to 37 in 2013.*


Though getting from one place to another can involve one or two transfers, buses and trains run like clockwork. Waiting times are generally less than five minutes. The empty platform at the bottom of this page was probably crowded only minutes before.

As there is no gridlock on the U-Bahn or S-Bahn, they often move through Berlin faster than automotive traffic.

For those who prefer exercise, bicycle lanes run along the sidewalks of most cities. My Berlin contact usually pedals to work.


The Deutsche Bahn offers an InterCity Express (ICE) connecting most of Germany’s major cities with Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands. The “slow” ICE, connecting Berlin and Hamburg, travels at up to 230 km/per hour. Faster trains can go as much as 320km/per hour.

“Why would I want to buy a car?” my Berlin contact asked.


Both he and my Hamburg contact admitted their answers would have been different had they lived in the rural parts of Germany  where the transportation infrastructure is not as developed.


With one exception, all photos were taken in Berlin. The are, in descending order: street scene from the seventh floor of the Domicil hotel (Berlin); in a van heading east from Hamburg; pedestrian & bicycle lanes in the Aldershof district of Berlin; Berlin’s main train station. All photos are mine – Roy L Hales

*Footnote: Figures reported in BZ Berlin on September 24, 2014 from a Mobility Plan presented by Michael Müller, Berlin Senator for Urban Development and the Environment

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both CleanTechnica and Planetsave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over a thousand articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

  • vadik

    I would also mention the trams along the subways in the German cities which are wonderful, but also the gps based per minute car sharing. You get a card and can jump cheaply into any (also electric) car scattered around after looking it up on the smartphone. The new thing are electric buses which are being tested.
    And then parking a car in a larger german city is a nightmare in its own right. Just takes the bowels out through your eye sockets.
    Definitely, massive, electrified public transport+bicycle+BEVs is way to go, people.

  • JamesWimberley

    Berlin is quite low-density as European cities go. This is no doubt partly the result of the postwar reconstruction tin two halves, with no single centre. For example, the main railway station is a brand new one, opened only in 2006. The old East and West Berlins had separate termini, Zoo and Ostbahnhof.

    • Ulenspiegel


      Berlin had already pre-WW1 an extremly modern public transport system with future-proof ring lines (S-Trains), subways, tramways. This system was improved between the wars. Unfortunately, all this was gutted by the Berlin wall in 1961.

      After reunification the quite obvious low hanging fruit was simply to restore the situation as it was before 1961, this was done. The new railways mainstation, that is for the traffic within Berlin not so important, was only the icing of the cake.

      • Philip W

        The not so good thing I noticed when visiting was the small U-Bahn with only 2,3m width. Sadly there is no easy way to make it bigger. Munich for example has 2,9m width and that public transport system is already extremely overextended. Only solution is to have more trains.
        You should visit Munich right now during Okoberfest. Public transportation is a pain in the arse.

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