Page last updated at 07:07 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 08:07 UK

Austrian mayor wages war on mobiles

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Graz

European airlines may be considering whether to let people use mobile phones on flights, but Austria's second biggest city - Graz - is taking a step in the opposite direction.

The mayor of Graz applies a mobile use ban sticker to a bus
Siegfried Nagl wants to silence mobiles on buses and trams in the city of Graz

It is banning phone calls on public transport - and the move has unleashed a noisy debate.

Polls suggest that almost half of the people of Graz find listening to other people's mobile calls highly irritating.

So the mayor Siegfried Nagl has taken action.

From now on, phones have to be put on silent mode when their owners get on a bus or a tram.

Mr Nagl told the BBC he was confident the ban would catch on across Europe.

"If you sit beside someone who speaks on a mobile phone, he is louder, it is not possible to hear the answers and I think it disturbs a lot of people.

"This ban is a first step. In five or 10 years you will discuss it in every city."

Banning mobiles on public transport was tried out in the Swedish capital Stockholm, but it did not work.

Driven to distraction

A spokesman for Stockholm Transport, Bjorn Holmberg, said that Swedish customers preferred their phones to silence on their commutes to and from work.

But Mr Nagl is undaunted.

"In Graz we had a slogan - we are allowed to do everything. Therefore we will try it and I hope it will work."

A teenager uses a mobile on a bus in Graz, Austria
The young and old in Graz have very different views on mobile use

The Austrians love their mobiles, or Handys as they are known in German.

Studies suggest that they are among some of the top cellphone users in the world.

One sunny morning in Graz, many of the people walking across the baroque main square had mobiles glued to their ears.

So implementing this ban may be challenging, especially as no fines or extra checks are being introduced.

However, drivers do have the right to ask people making loud telephone calls to get off the tram or bus.

The voluntary nature of the ban concerns Antony Scholz, the director of Graz public transport.

He says it means his drivers will have to play policemen.

"It's a problem for our drivers, because the younger generation wants to use the mobiles and the older generation does not and the drivers have to decide whether to allow them or not."


Mr Scholz says people have to be educated.

"It is the problem of showing consideration for other people. It is like eating pommes frites and ketchup and ice cream in buses.

"If all had respect for other passengers life would be easier."

Travelling the trams and buses of Graz for an afternoon, there were plenty of mobiles in evidence, but most people had them on silent mode or were sending text messages.

Close-up of sticker saying mobiles should not be used on buses
They are just showing off. I'm not interested in what people say to their parents, lovers or whatever
Graz pensioner

Just a handful of people could be seen talking surreptitiously into their cellphones.

But Gerald Grosz, from the Alliance for the Future of Austria, the party founded by far-right leader Joerg Haider, makes a point of deliberately using his mobile on public transport.

He is working with other parties in the city council to try and overturn the ban.

"We have other problems in Graz on the public transport system with crime rates, but not with mobile phones or their ring tones," he said.

"We will fight against this ban and take the majority in the city council with other parties and send this ban into history."

But that may be difficult. This is a matter which arouses strong feelings here.

One Graz pensioner said he found people who use mobiles in public places extremely annoying.

"They speak so loudly and dominate the whole place. And they are just showing off. I'm not interested in what people say to their parents, lovers or whatever."

But a young student disagreed.

"If people are talking on the tram to each other it is the same as if someone is talking on the phone.

"Some people are protesting against the ban and I think they will keep talking anyway."

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