Push the button, climb the high steps and plop yourself down on a polished wooden seat. The seat’s design has an inward slope, so with every twist and turn you slide back or to the side. The ticket validating machines make a funny noise when there’s a bump on the rails, and the signal bell clangs every so often to wake up the occasional distracted motorist – it’s hard to imagine a Vienna without its classic old trams.
As the standards for public transport rise, however, we are just going to have to. The Wiener Linien, Vienna’s public transit authority, is phasing out its iconic E1 and E2 trams, to be completely replaced with ULFs – the Siemens-produced ultra-low-riding trams, less noisy, more spacious and better suited to people with disabilities and big bulky things like prams and buggies.
When the Wiener Linien posted a blog entry last year about discontinuing one of the E1s – it was taken off the rails and disassembled for scrap metal, accompanied by rather graphic photos from the scrap yard – there was a wave of grief. “We had many people call us and message us saying ‘that’s so sad, it made me cry’,” says Johanna Griesmayr, a spokesperson for the Wiener Linien. “I think I will be quite sad too when the last old trams are taken out of service. They are part of the city and how it’s viewed internationally. When you see a picture of Vienna, there’s usually a tram in it.”
The clanking, high-riding, hard-seated Bims – as the Viennese affectionately call their trams – have been in use since the 1960s, so by any measure they have done their duty, and they have done it well. They are no doubt capable of much more, but like cars, ships and airplanes, they too have an expiration date. So, as you climb those steps and slide into your wooden seat, take a pause to enjoy it before you push that button one last time.