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Oslo public transport system can be role model

Elaborate network melds old and new mass transit modes with attention to economy, environment

Gulf News

Living in a city is the desire of most people, irrespective of whether it is the right sentiment or not. Almost 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities and it is estimated that this segment will swell to 75 per cent by 2050.

Surveys about living in a city tell us that “the most important factor is safety, health, and security. Efficiency is also important — ability to get around efficiently is probably second in importance only to safety.”

In Oslo, the Norwegian capital, the population is around 600,000 and therefore it may not rank among the mega-cities. But Oslo covers a large area and it boasts one of the best and advanced public transportation systems in Europe that includes a metro, buses, regional rails, trams, ferries and even a 100-station bicycle network.

The services are owned by Oslo’s municipality but run by different subsidiary companies. There is one — Ruter — for public transport and in charge of planning, coordinating and marketing it. A single ticket system is applicable within the Oslo area, no matter what the mode of transport is — an aspect that makes the system more practical and appealing to consumers.

The metro, one of the largest in Europe, comprises of six lines of a total combined length of 84.2 kilometres and has a daily passenger load of more than 200,000 and reaches 90 stations across the city, 15 of which are underground and the farthest station is 17.3 kilometres from the city centre.

The original section of the metro dates back to 1898 and other lines opened, were upgraded or expanded over the years. In 1993, the east and west sections of the city network were connected through a common tunnel under the city centre.

The Oslo Tramway is 39.6-kilometres in length and consists of six lines with 99 stops and carries 110,000 passengers each day. Of course the system is much older than the metro lines but is equally appealing. Oslo should be proud to keep it functioning when some other cities have discarded it to their detriment.

Passenger load is 130,000-plus a day and, in case of any problem, the company running the trams is ready to rent private buses to replace the service and not to leave riders stranded.

The bus routes are 52 in number with hundreds of bus stops relatively protected from the weather and within easy reach of almost all neighbourhoods. The buses are single or articulated and their routes are connected to countryside buses which are understandably distinct from the Oslo public transportation system and governed by a different fare system.

Although the trains are run by a different authority, those running within the city limits and its environs are used for local transportation under the same ticket system as well. The ferry boats also run along the south shores of the city and to some islands belonging to the city in the Oslo fjord. Some ferries operate under the same ticket system as in Oslo but those travelling longer distances have their own fares.

But no transportation system is complete without a fast link to the international airport located 47 kilometres northeast of Oslo. The rail link operates high-speed express trains taking about 20 minutes to reach the centre of Oslo every 10 minutes.

Trips on the public transport are now estimated at about 1 million a day whereas the total in 2009 was 250 million. What drives public transport is not just the economy and the provision of mobility but the need to protect the environment through reducing private use of vehicles.

A toll system to reduce the number of cars entering the center of Oslo has been in operation since 1990 and the revenues from it mostly used to improve and expand public transport. Although it is difficult to quantify the impact, a growth in public transport and a reduction of private car usage are noticeable.

The aim of Ruter is to phase out fossil fuels from public transport in the next 10 years. Some buses and boats are already using biogas, from sewage treatment plants and kitchen waste, in addition to biodiesel, bioethanol and compressed natural gas.

In the long run, Oslo’s population is expected to go over one million in 2060 and there is a need for new solutions to ensure sustainable development. It is suggested that fields nearest to railway stations be used for urban development to increase the efficiency of public transport and reduce investment.

While Dubai’s public transport system is comparatively on the right track, the empty spaces close to the metro stations should receive priority for urban development. The use of biofuels in Oslo is another example that could easily be adapted.