A night-owl passenger sits on a shiny red seat watching city lights flicker out the window. Sliding smoothly through the city, the U4 line makes frequent stops at the city’s main transit hubs. The doors slide open and a crew of teenage boys sloppily shuffle in while bellowing incoherently, young snickering girls hop off at Spittelau, musicians carrying large stand-up basses saunter off at Schwedenplatz. Various nightcrawlers, concert goers, airport travelers come and go. In other words, it’s a weekend night like any other when Vienna’s public transport runs all night long.
Rapid transit via night train comes to town
Vienna offered after-hours routes as early as 1995 when city-wide night buses started service. The subway system followed in 2010, running at reduced intervals all night long on weekends — and now, it’s expanding to the S-Bahn lines. Starting December 15, the Nacht-Schnellbahn (night light rail) by ÖBB will be added to the all-night routes on weekends. The S-Bahn’s main line (Mödling-Meidling-Floridsdorf) and the S45 Vorortelinie (suburban line) (Hütteldorf-Heiligenstadt-Handelskai) will run every 30 minutes on weekends and the night before holidays.
In addition to the added routes, a number of other adjustments will be made to Vienna’s S-Bahn traffic: The S80 between Hütteldorf and Aspern will run daily at half-hour intervals; the S50 will increase its frequencies at peak morning and evening times, and the S45 will switch to ten minute intervals until 21:00. But there’s more: passengers from Floridsdorf will have access to the S7 Vienna International Airport connection as early as 4:06 a.m. Sayonara baby.
Less drivers on the road, more people in the night train
Night service is convenient, also keeping streets safer, cleaner, and less congested. The STEP 2025 Urban Mobility Plan report stated in 2014 that carless urban mobility is one of the central transport-policy concerns. Over the last ten years, the city of Vienna has seen a decrease in the number of drivers on the road — we have the city’s public transit system to thank for that.
Vibrant city, vibrant nights
“A sustainable transport system in Vienna is the prerequisite for allowing up to three million people to move around in the eastern region of Austria in an efficient, affordable, fast, and eco-friendly way in the coming decades,” said Deputy Major Maria Vassilakou in 2014. “This is essential so that Vienna and the greater Vienna area will continue to be an attractive place to live.”
Access to night transport at all hours is a part of that. Other cities such as Paris — though still not completely on board — have noted the importance of night transport. Starting in April, Paris launched a six-month trial period for 24-hour public transit on weekends as a means to boost the night-time economy while London offers the “Night Tube” on five central lines and runs various night buses. London and Paris also recognize the economic benefits of 24-hour service, which could help maintain their status as vibrant places to live, work and visit.
Night transport is good for business once the sun goes down, but it’s also crucial for road safety. Austria had a total of 720 road fatalities in 2006 but that number steadily declined to 552 fatalities in 2010, the year nighttime subway service commenced, going down to 432 in 2016.
Despite the steady decrease, efforts to further decrease the number of road fatalities continue. The Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology Jörg Leichtfried stated in the Austrian Road Safety Program that “The goal is to halve the number of traffic fatalities by 2020 and reduce the number of seriously injured road users by 40%.”
In a country with the 3rd highest rate of alcohol consumption and one of the highest numbers of teen binge drinkers in Europe, it’s all the more reason to offer 24-hour public transport on weekends to reduce drunk driving.
Weekend night transit can also help reduce greenhouse emissions caused by traffic. In 2018, there were 6.8 million registered motor vehicles in Austria. The target of the STEP 2025 Report suggests that the Viennese use public transit, cycle or walk to cover 80 percent of their trips, while car usage should decrease to 20 percent of overall transportation. Additionally, the Climate Protection Program of the City of Vienna set the goal of reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 21% by the year 2020. “Every commuter who travels to Vienna via S-Bahn or regional train instead of by car improves the environment and quality of life,” said the City Council.
From road safety to a better economy to a healthier environment and more convenience, Vienna’s public transit system is humming along quite nicely.