Saturday, 31 August 2013

San Sebastián (Donostia), Spain

31st August 1813 was a fateful day in the city of San Sebastián.  It was on this date that British and Portuguese troops attacked the city, burning it to the ground.

Two hundred years on, San Sebastián is a bustling city.  The old town was rebuilt following the 1813 assault.  The city's position, on a sheltered, conch-shaped bay, enabled it to develop as an elegant coastal resort.  In 2016, San Sebastián will hold the title of European Capital of Culture, a designation is will share with the Polish city of Wrocław.

The city is located in the Basque region, around 20 kilometres from the border with France, on Spain's northern coast.  It is known both by its Spanish name, San Sebastián, and its Euskara (Basque language) equivalent, Donostia.

Trams used to operate in San Sebastián.  However, in the post-war years the system was in need of modernisation.  The decision was taken to close it.  The trams had gone by the mid-1950s, replaced by trolleybuses.  The trolleybus fleet included second-hand double-deckers imported from London.  The trolleybuses operated until 1973.

Today, buses provide almost all of San Sebastián's public transport system.  The city bus network is branded as d-bus, with vehicles wearing a blue and green livery.

Many of the d-bus fleet are standard single-deckers with three doors.


Certain routes are operated with articulated buses, also with three doors:

Smaller vehicles are operated on a handful of routes.  These include short-length (but still three-door) single-deckers, such as this one...

... and minibuses.  Even these have two doors:

The minibuses serve places which larger buses cannot reach.  Route 39 winds its way up Monte Urgull, which overlooks the city.  This image (below) was taken near the city terminus of the route, with waves crashing against the sea wall:

During my visit, in June 2013, I noted a hybrid-powered single-decker which had entered service on the d-bus network.
A flat fare applies on d-bus services.  If paying cash, the fare (at the time of writing) is €1.60, but paying with a smartcard ("Mugi Card") is much cheaper.  The actual fare paid depends on how much use is made of the card during the month.  Transfers between many buses is allowed at no extra charge, within 45 minutes if boarding the first bus, although there are some limits to the transfers which are permitted.

Services heading out of town are branded as Lurraldebus (website in  Euskara and Spanish only).  The Lurraldebus network stretches east to the French border at Irún, west to Bilbao and south as far as Vitoria-Gasteiz

Buses are provided by a number of operators using differing colour schemes based on a standard layout.


Some of the vehicles used on Lurraldebus services have two doors, others have three.
Although most of the vehicles I noted were standard single-deckers, there were other types too including this minibus.

Further variety was evident on the services heading west from San Sebastián towards Zumaia.

These were operated by a mix of vehicle types, including rigid and articulated dual-purpose buses.


Three-axle coaches were operating the service to Azkotia.


The coaches included a double-decker.

Fares on Lurraldebus services are based on a zonal tariff.  Mugi Card smartcards can be used, as on d-bus. 

Through fares are available between Lurraldebus and d-bus, although these are a little more expensive than a fare which doesn't involve transfer.

Other than the double-deck coach, the only other double-decker I saw in San Sebastián was this convertible open-topper, being operated on a sightseeing tour.

Complementing the open-top double-decker is a road train tour, "Txu-Txu".


In addition to these tours, a funicular railway climbs Monte Igeldo, to another viewpoint overlooking the city and its bay.


More information about these tourist services can be found on the San Sebastián Tourism website.

Although San Sebastián lacks trams, it does have a narrow-gauge local rail system, EuskoTren.  Two lines serve San Sebastián.  One, branded as Metro Donostialdea, heads east to Hendaye just across the border in France while the other goes west to Bilbao.  

There are separate websites (in Spanish and Euskara only) for EuskoTren and Metro Donostialdea.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Update - Bratislava

Following another (brief) visit to the Slovakian capital, I have updated my Bratislava post and added more photos (particularly of buses - including this one, which caught me unawares while it was being trialled).

Click here to view my observations in Bratislava.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Vienna, Austria

Updated 14th June 2015 

The Danube is one of Europe's great rivers.  From its source in Germany's Black Forest, the Danube flows nearly 3,000 kilometres to the Black Sea.  On its journey, it passes through, or forms the border of, no fewer then ten countries.  Four capital cities lie on its banks.  The first of these is Austria's capital Vienna (or Wien, to give it its true name).

Vienna welcomes millions of visitors a year, drawn to its cultural attractions including theatre, opera and museums, and/or its wealth of baroque architecture.  But Vienna isn't just for visitors.  More than 1.7million people live there.

The city's transport system comprises a metro, numerous tram lines and bus services.  Much of the transport network is operated by Wiener Linien, a subsidiary of Vienna's city corporation.


The tram fleet comprises a mix of modern, wheelchair-accessible low-floor trams and older, high-floor vehicles.



The city centre is bordered by a ring road.  General traffic flows clockwise only, but trams operate in both directions.  Tram lines 1, 2, 71 and D operate along parts of the ring road.

Since the tram routes are operated by a mix of wheelchair-accessible and non-accessible trams, the "next tram" displays at tram stops alternate between showing the next tram on each route and the next wheelchair-accessible tram.


In some parts of Vienna, the tram system descends into tunnel.  The tram tunnels were built to free up road space for other traffic.


The tunnel sections include a number of tram stops below street level.



As far as I have seen, none of Vienna's trams wear commercial advertising liveries.

In May 2015, however, Vienna hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. At least one tram wore a promotional livery for the event.

The trams of Wiener Lokalbahnen (WLB) also operate on the city's tram tracks.

WLB (website in German only) operates a suburban line from Vienna to the nearby town of Baden.

Although much of the route is on heavy rail infrastructure, the trams run on street to reach a terminus near Vienna's opera house.

Unlike the Wiener Linien trams, the WLB vehicles have doors on both sides.

As this image shows, the WLB trams share infrastructure with Wiener Linien's services.


The tram network is complemented by a number of bus routes.  City bus routes are usually numbered with an "A" suffix (for "Autobus") to distinguish them from tram routes.

Some of the city bus network is operated by Wiener Linien, but other operators are also involved.

As well as standard diesel-powered buses, hybrid diesel-electric buses also operate.

A number of bus routes are operated with articulated vehicles.

The streets of the city centre carry little motor traffic.

Some are completely pedestrianised but bus routes 1A, 2A and 3A negotiate some of the streets which remain open to vehicles.

Full-size single-deck buses are used on route 1A.

Small battery-powered buses are in use on routes 2A and 3A.




These buses recharge their batteries at the route terminus, using a raised pantograph to collect power from an overhead wire while stationary.

A factsheet from Siemens describes the technology in greater detail.

Out of town buses

Longer distance services operate into Vienna from beyond the city boundary.  These services don't reach the heart of Vienna, terminating instead at metro and suburban rail stations for fast, frequent onward connections into the city centre.  These images were taken in 2013 at Südtiroler Platz, to the south of the city centre next to Vienna's new Hauptbahnhof (main railway station).

By 2015, the ongoing development of the new railway station had been completed.

A permanent terminus for longer-distance buses has been provided beneath the railway station platforms, around the corner from the Südtiroler Platz facility.

Vienna's public transport system is co-ordinated by the Vehrkehrsverbund Ost Region (VOR - website in German only).

Airport coach

Although there is a rail service to Vienna's airport, there are also dedicated coach services provided by PostBus, an undertaking of Austria's federal railway system.

Cycle hire

Vienna is one of a growing number of cities with a public bicycle hire scheme.  The Viennese scheme is CityBike.

For visitors

With the numbers of visitors attracted to Vienna, it is not surprising that a number of sightseeing services are provided.

In 2013, I noted a "hop-on, hop-off" sightseeing tour using convertible open-top coaches, along with a vintage bus tour which operated during the summer season.

Another operator of sightseeing tours in Vienna is Red Bus City Tours .  Unlike the Vienna Sightseeing tour, the Red Bus City Tour does not provide a hop-on, hop-off service.  It departs from a single pick-up point at Albertinaplatz.

The tour commentary is provided in no fewer than 23 languages.


By 2015, double-deckers with retractable roofs were operating on the Vienna sightseeing tour.

Another competitor had arrived too, with the introduction of a tour operated by Big Bus Vienna.

Having a retractable roof, rather than being fully open-top, has its benefits in bad weather!


It isn't just buses which provide sightseeing tours.  The Ring Tram is a circular tour which follows the central ring road.

Special fares apply on the Ring Tram, normal public transport tickets aren't valid on this service. 


In May 2015, a dedicated English language tour operated for a few days, around the date of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest.

This was almost certainly to cater for the large number of people visiting Vienna for  Eurovision.

Another popular way to see the sights of Vienna is on a "fiaker", a horse-drawn carriage.

There is also a cycle rickshaw tour of the historic city centre.

Although this vehicle was advertising Vienna Sightseeing, the rickshaw tour is provided by a separate operator, Velocityline (website only in German).


Vienna Sightseeing provide coach tours from Vienna to places of interest further afield, both within Austria and also over the borders to three other capital cities - Prague, Bratislava and Budapest.

Bratislava: another capital, only an hour away

The Austrian capital is just 55 kilometres (35 miles) from the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.  A coach service operated by Slovak Lines links the two capitals.  In Vienna, the service starts from Südtiroler Platz.

As well as the coach service, there are also regular train services taking about an hour to link the two cities, with a special fare for a return trip to Bratislava.

Meanwhile, a riverboat service along the Danube links Vienna with Bratislava several times a day.
Other international coaches

Other international coach services operate from a coach terminal in the Erdberg district of Vienna.
The coach terminal is a rather basic site beneath a flyover.

Transport museum

Also in the Erdberg district is Wiener Linien's museum, Remise.

Housed in a former tram depot, the museum charts the history of Vienna's public transport system.  The museum opened on this site in 2014.
Remise contains a considerable number of historic trams.

There are buses, too, with a range of ages, shapes and sizes represented.
London introduced double-deckers with three doors and two staircases in 2012.  Vienna had such vehicles half a century earlier.

According to the information board next to the bus, double-deckers did not prove successful in the Austrian capital.  Passengers travelling short distances were often reluctant to go upstairs.
Remise is open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

At weekends, vintage bus route 78M operates hourly to the museum from Schwedenplatz.

Special fares apply, but the fare can be redeemed when paying for admission to Remise itself.
I also spotted a historic tram on Vienna's city ring.  As far as I can tell, it had been hired for a special occasion.
And finally...

When is a tram not a tram?

This may look like a tram, but it is in fact a pedestrian bridge leading to Wiener Linien's head office, close to Vienna's international coach terminal.