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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 18:21 GMT
Is UK transport the worst?
The UK's transport system is failing compared to the rest of Europe, the government was told this week. But how does the daily experience of the UK's commuters compare with workers from other countries? BBC News Online hears some of their tales.

Sandra van der Tuuk, Haarlem, Holland
I travel to work every day by train, from Haarlem near Amsterdam to The Hague. The trains are mostly OK - quite crowded but then I usually travel at rush hour. It's fine because most of the time I get a seat for the longer part of my journey.

Travelling by train in Holland is expensive. To buy a travel card for a year costs about 1,600 euros but I'm OK because my boss pays for it. Most of the time, the trains are clean and not broken, and there isn't too much vandalism. Often you can't hear the announcements though, so when the trains get into a station, you miss your stop.

When I get on a train that runs on time and there's room to sit down, the Dutch train system is excellent. But it's not always like that

Trains are often delayed but only by about five minutes. Still, it is annoying when one train is a few minutes late, which means your connecting train has gone by the time you arrive.

About two years ago I stayed in London and commuted to Surrey. I didn't think the trains were too bad, but it was in the summer, and you don't mind waiting around as much in the summer.

I feel very safe on Dutch trains, except maybe late at night around Rotterdam. There haven't been many serious accidents either - I can remember one train derailing, but no passengers were injured.

When I get on a train that runs on time and there's room to sit down, the Dutch train system is excellent. But it's not always like that.

Adrian Pitts, Salamanca, Spain
If I want to get anywhere in quickly in Spain, it's best to go in my own car. Trains and buses can be much slower.

There are a few high-speed train lines going in and out of Madrid, but they are quite expensive. They are out of most people's price range really, and I usually go by bus.

But a lot of people commute in Madrid, and always by train. Buses would be too slow as they would just get caught up in traffic. But this is not possible everywhere in Spain as not all cities have a decent local train network.

Waiting room
Where there are trains, though, they are much better than in Britain. There is just one state body that runs the trains. Because there are not loads of companies, it's much better co-ordinated.

When I travel by train, there are often quite a few delays, but not nearly as many as in the UK, and the safety record is better. There are definitely fewer leaves on the line! Trains are a lot newer - you never have to lean out of the door to open one like you do in Britain.

And the local commuter trains are also much more reasonably priced. I use the train to travel short distances in Spain, whereas I wouldn't be able to afford to do that in England.

Bridgeen McCloskey, Dublin
I can get to work lots of different ways. For a start there are three routes I can drive - over the mountains, along the coast or on the dual carriageway between the two. That is the shortest of the three, but I prefer to go on the coast road because although it's longer in miles, it saves in time. It also means I can drive along the Vico Road, known locally as the Dublin 'riviera' (due in part to the fabulous view from there over Killiney Bay).

I could go by train, the Dublin Area Rapid Transit. It would mean a 10 minute walk from my house, and a 20 minute brisk walk at the other end. I could also go by bus, which would only mean a 30-second walk from my house and a 30-second walk at the other end.

I know I should be green

In theory I've decided to go by bus, but in practice I usually drive. There are dedicated bus lanes two-thirds of the way to where I live. When the final third is completed, it should only take 20 minutes to get to work - the drive currently takes me about twice that. The bus fare is about 1.30 euros each way.

I know I should be green. I should take public transport, but somehow I have not got round to doing it yet. There's a lot of car parking where I work. I have noticed that people here seem to think it's a God-given right to be able to drive their cars, and I don't get the impression that people in London think that any more.

Mike Sposito, Rome
I live in the first commuter belt, about 37km from the centre of Rome. My journey into work takes about 25 minutes door-to-door. In general, I think the Italian train network is good. There are sometimes delays, but these are usually minor.

I don't like to think too much about safety concerns, but the standard seems to be quite good. The number of accidents is low, certainly less than the UK.

You can always complaint about something... for me, it's the frequency of the service

I met a couple of Brits the other day who were amazed at how cheap it was to travel here. A one way ticket costs 2 euros, and I buy a monthly pass for the equivalent of £25, which gives me unlimited train, metro and bus transport within a 50km radius of the centre.

Italy seems to maintain its track system quite well. A lot of the trains are quite old though, but they seem fairly well looked after.

You can always complaint about something and if there's one problem for me, it's the frequency of the service, but I'm sure everyone in Europe would say that. When there aren't many trains, there can be overcrowding, but 95% of the time I still find I can get a seat.

Dave Farrell, Cologne, Germany
I live in Cologne and have another small apartment in Stuttgart. I travel regularly on the train from Cologne to Stuttgart, about 250 miles, and I also commute by train from Stuttgart to Karlsruhe, about 50 miles away.

I use the train because the road from Stuttgart to Karlsruhe is very poor, congested and prone to accidents. The journey is quicker and safer by train.

German train
Trains, German style
When I was in England I used to travel regularly to London by train. German trains are generally faster, cleaner and cheaper than British trains.

The fare structure is simple - you pay one price for a journey and double the price for a return.

They are also very reliable and safe. In 18 months of travelling I have only experienced one serious delay and that was because someone threw themselves under the train. And there are no violent drunks and muggings to worry about.

The 50 miles from Stuttgart to Karlsruhe takes less than an hour. It is not crowded because people who live on the outskirts of major cities do not need to use the train - they have the use of an excellent tram system.

Trains in Germany run 24 hours a day. If I go for a drink after work in Bonn I know there is a train every hour all night to get me back to Cologne.

The Germans pay high taxes, up to 50%, but in return they get excellent investment in public services.

Callum Hetherington, Oslo
Living in Oslo is the equivalent of living in a city the size of Edinburgh.

The region is served by excellent public transport services, including buses, trams, underground trains and regional main-line trains. But I, like many people, prefer to cycle or walk in the warmer summer months. The average commute rarely exceeds 30 minutes.

I have never heard of anything going wrong beyond small delays, on the scale of five to 10 minutes.

Many daily commuters have travel cards (valid on all public transport services) that cost around 600 NKr (£46) per month for the central Oslo zones, and up to 1200 NKr (£100) per month for towns beyond the Oslo city boundary.

This may be a little more expensive than some European cities, but the reliability of all services throughout the day probably compensates for this.

Services can be quite busy in the morning rush hour, but over-crowding on the scale of London or Paris is rarely a problem. One further draw-back is that most services cease shortly after midnight.

Generally, though, the services can be relied on to transport people where they want to go throughout the day. I have never heard of anything going wrong beyond small delays, on the scale of five to 10 minutes.

The national rail-network is somewhat limited because of the nature of the countryside, with its many fjords and hills. The engineering required to extend the network makes further construction unlikely.

But all the major cities are connected and trains depart every one or two hours. In general, I find the services excellent - they are reliable, clean and much more preferable to sitting in a bus or car.

Your comments:

Bridgeen McCloskey is not a typical representation of the Dublin commuter. The traffic is always jammed, the bus system is crowed and at peak hour unable to cope with the volume of passengers, the dart is also crowed but is more reliable, I used to spend 2-2.5 hours travelling 20 miles to work, before I relocated to the city centre. Now the only transport system anyone can rely on is a bicycle
Brian, Ireland

In the year that I have lived in London I have never had a seat on my morning commuter train from south London to east London. I have never arrived to work early or at home early - the days are long and hard enough without having to worry about the journeys either way. I have experienced a better standard of train service in the Far East for a tehth of the price. Every morning I experience a sardine tin-like situation where I can feel three or four other peoples' bodies squashed up to mine, unless my whole body is squashed against the door and then it is only two. I can smell what other passengers have had for breakfast, evening meal or whether they had alcohol the night before - this is how close we are packed together - where our breath meets. Slow trains, crowded trains, infrequent/cancelled/delayed/broken down trains. Blood boils, expletives fly out and fists punch - a typical day on British trains for the long suffering commuter.
Joanne Bestall, London

I travel on a train starting in Brighton, the train service is terrible, always delayed, dirty trains, vandalism appears to be rife on them, the loos are locked and I pay nearly £3000.00 pounds for the privilige, rarely do I get a seat, and I cannot remember in two and a half years when my normal service has been on time from station to station.
Richard Brammar, UK

I travel from the south coast to London every working day on trains built in 1963. They look like they were built in 1963 and are of the highly dangerous "slam-door" stock. They are generally dirty and smelly, unheated in winter, but heated in summer. I pay approximately £3,500 a year for the privilege. The fares went down in price this week, but to compensate, the car parking charges increased by 25%. The railway companies think their customers are stupid. Their customers think they are stupid, and you know what they say 'The customer is always right'. Once at my London Terminal Station, I then embark on an underground journey to my final destination. Most days it's like Mission Impossible due to severe overcrowding.
Malcolm McCombie, UK

Delays? If there's a delay in Japan it usually makes the news. I went home to England and had to take the train back from Chester to London and then to Heathrow. In Japan the trip to the airport is 99.99% guaranteed to arrive on time, for my trip, I decide to leave two hours ahead of the projected arrival time at Heathrow. You just can't rely on the service. I understand the problems with the tube in London - it's such an old system of tunnels etc- but the national network??
Damon, Japan

I commute daily between Örebro and Stockholm. The distance is approximately 210 km and takes two hours. The trains are clean and relatively punctual. There is a compensation system whereby if one is delayed over 30 minutes one could submit a complaint form to receive a voucher valued from 50 SEK= £3.20 upwards, depending on the severity of the delay , to be used towards buying tickets or any goods on the train, e.g coffee etc. In cases where the last connecting trains have been missed due to delays they will order (and pay for) taxis in advance for passengers to reach their destination. If you take your earphones from your personal stereo you can listen to a choice of radio stations dependent on the style of train. The monthly railcard for this costs approx £200, whilst the annual railcard costs £2,000 and entitles you to unlimited rail travel over the whole of the country.
Bernie Johnson, Sweden

I live in a large industrial city of 4 million people, so traffic can be chaotic. It's never as bad as London though; It takes less than 30 minutes to drive 11 miles to work in the morning. The main problem is accidents; Monterrey has more accidents than any other Latin American city, an unenviable record. Passenger trains in Mexico are few - the country is too mountainous - but we have excellent long-distance bus services, with reclining seats, video, and snacks, at very reasonable prices.
Clive Warner, Mexico

I used to commute to work via public transport, I now use the car. Sometimes I miss using the tube, so I stick chewing gum on my seats, ask ten of my friends to travel with me (without deodorant) and turn off the air con, when it gets really hot. Sometimes I will even pull over for 20 minutes to cause inconvenience or to allow someone to graffiti or vomit on the interior. I especially miss the filthy, dusty velour upholstery that is used. I miss it so much!
Ed Tedeschi, UK

I still remember how impressed I was with the Swiss system when I arrived from Edinburgh. The whole network feels integrated and the wide assortment of passes on offer add further value for money to an already impressive service. The Swiss halbtax pass, for example, costs 222 Swiss francs(less than £100) and gives a 50% reduction on fares across the entire network for 2 years. This includes trains, trams(with the exception of Berne), buses, boats and in some cases cable cars. In my experience, delays of more than 5 or 10 minutes are rare.
Stuart Haines, Switzerland

I live in Grenoble in the south east of France. I travel to work daily by tram and regularly use the railway network, which is very efficient with delays practically non-existent. I took my Belgian girlfriend to visit the UK last summer and decided to travel from Birmingham down to Cornwall by train, for a short holiday. The delays were catastrophic, the state of the trains appalling and no member of the rail staff could tell me what was going on. England certainly has a lot to learn from its European partners on public transport
Richard Preston, France

Every time I come to the UK, I'm amazed by how slow the tube is. I travel on the Moscow metro every day. It's very fast and very reliable, with trains about 45 seconds nose to tail during the rush hour. With stopping time, there's normally at least 40 trains an hour at peak periods. The reasons the Russian metro system works so well are that it's simple and trains spend just 15 seconds at each station. I can't remember any signal failures, though people falling on the tracks is fairly common.
Alex Ivanov, Russia

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