EXPLAINED: How Vienna plans to make its public transport functional again
For months, buses, trams and metros in Vienna have suffered from staff shortages that have affected service and train intervals. Here's what the government intends to do about it.
Vienna's public transport system is known as one of the best in the world and is regularly cited as one of the reasons why the Austrian capital is the most liveable city in the world. It is also relatively cheap. Residents can buy a yearly card and get unlimited travel throughout the city for €1 a day.
However, the system is not perfect and it has suffered a lot from staff shortages, especially as hundreds of workers from the so-called "baby boomer generation" retired at the same time as Wiener Linien, the state-owned company that runs the public transport in the city, has been expanding its lines and services.
The lack of qualified workers has severely affected the company. "There is still a shortage of around 100 tram drivers and 100 bus drivers to provide a reliable timetable at the usual frequent intervals," the public transport operator says.
"The extremely strong wave of illness this winter is making staff planning even more difficult. Passengers are also currently experiencing longer waiting times, especially for the tram."
Why is it so hard to find workers?
The phenomenon of a labour shortage is not specific to Wiener Linien – or even to Austria only. As populations age and birth rates go down, many European countries are struggling to renovate their workforce.
The Austrian population of just about 8.8 million people is only still growing because of immigration, as Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas explained.
He said: “Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term."
Additionally, unemployment in Austria is at record lows at the same time as there are increasing numbers of open positions. In many sectors (but particularly in the industrial and commercial), companies are having difficulty finding workers.
So, what is Wiener Linien doing to improve service?
The transport company has announced its plans to attract more workers and resume normal service. "The past few months have not always been fun for our drivers or passengers. We would like to apologise again for this. In the new year, we want to do a lot better," it said.
Wiener Linien has put together a five-point program to return to the usual regularity and reliability in the coming months.
Firstly, the company is embarking on a "training offensive". The training to become a Wiener Linien driver can take from one to three months, depending on any pre-qualification. The company has added a 10-week language support class for applicants whose German skills are not sufficient, according to a press release.
Additionally, Wiener Linien intends to make the driving service more attractive, with salaries already increasing by €210 gross per month. Bonuses (including overtime work) were also increased, and working hours will be reduced from 37.5 to 35 hours a week while maintaining the same pay.
The company is still making changes to work schedules and there are ongoing studies to improve service schedules, it added.
The third point of the plan includes efforts in recruiting, with more marketing investment to attract new employees and the introduction of a "Employees Recruit Employees" €1,000 bonus for workers.
Changes in intervals for trams and buses
Since November 1st, the company has also increased intervals to help cope with the situation - these will be increased even further in a second step. Mostly, the changes will take place outside of the morning peak hours, on less busy routes and within less busy periods, the company said.
The adjustments will mean interval extensions of 40 seconds to a maximum of 2.5 minutes. You can check the company's timetable HERE. The changes won't affect the subway trips.
Finally, the company has also announced it launched a "comprehensive evaluation of international processes". It also commissioned an external partner to analyse its processes in the driving service.
From the current perspective, Wiener Linien expects the staffing situation to improve by the fall of 2023. Therefore, at this time, it will also be able to operate the timetable again fully.