Sunday 24 February 2013


The rock of Gibraltar towers dramatically over the coast of the Mediterranean.  As a British Overseas Territory, it is under British jurisdiction although for domestic affairs it is self-governing.  Sovereignty over Gibraltar has been an ongoing bone of contention with neighbouring Spain, from whom Gibraltar was captured in 1704.

Gibraltar itself covers less than 7 square kilometres.  It has a land border with Spain to the north, but is otherwise surrounded by the sea.  Home to around 30,000 people, Gibraltar has one of the highest rates of car ownership per head of population.  Traffic congestion can be a problem.

Public transport in Gibraltar is provided by eight bus routes.  Seven of these are operated by the Gibraltar Bus Company, owned by the Gibraltar government, while the eighth is operated by Calypso Transport.

A batch of small single-deck buses forms the majority of Gibraltar Bus Company's fleet.  These operate on five routes.  The winding nature of Gibraltar's streets means that larger buses would be unable to operate over certain sections of route, including parts of the city centre.



Route 2 reaches the southernmost tip of Gibraltar, at Europa Point.  Although this is sometimes claimed to be the southernmost point on mainland Europe, this isn't quite true - the Spanish coastal town of Tarifa, across the bay from Gibraltar, is marginally further south.

Trinity House is the lighthouse authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar.  Europa Point is the only lighthouse on Gibraltar, thus it is the only Trinity House site on the Mediterranean.

Smaller vehicles are used on route 1, which serves the upper town where the roads are narrow and twisting even compared to elsewhere in Gibraltar.


Unlike the larger single-deckers, the minibuses have two doors.  The rear door provides access for passengers with buggies and wheelchairs.

The smallest vehicles of all are used on route 7, which runs from the city to a residential care home at Mount Alvernia.

A simple notice in the windscreen identifies this as a route 7 bus.

Gibraltar Bus Company services operated free of charge from 2011, for about a year.  Free travel was then abolished with fares being charged once more.  The fare structure simple - an adult single fare is £1, while an all-day "hoppa" ticket is £1.50.  Euros are also accepted (€1.30 single, €2 all day "hoppa").  Fares are paid to the bus driver.  Routes operate generally operate from 07:00 to 21:00, seven days a week.  Timetable summaries are shown on the Gibraltar Bus Company website.

Calypso Transport, using the fleetname Citibus, operate route 5 from the city centre to the frontier and the airport terminal.  A mix of single-deck and double-deck vehicles is operated.  Buses run every 10-15 minutes (every 20 minutes on Sundays) from early morning until 21:00.


Most of the double-deckers look to be second-hand vehicles previously used in Berlin.  These vehicles have two staircases for faster loading and unloading.

The road from Gibraltar to the frontier has a level crossing.  This is no ordinary level crossing, since it does not cross railway tracks.  The road crosses the middle of the airport runway.  It closes when aircraft are landing or taking off.  Buses on route 5 cross the runway to reach the frontier terminus, which is close to the airport terminal building.

When I visited in February 2013, some of the more interesting double-deckers were parked out of use at the coach park, which is also Calypso Transport's operating base.

The double-deck fleet includes open-top vehicles although these also appeared to be out of use for the winter season.

Calypso Transport's fares are the same as on Gibraltar Bus Company - £1/€1.30 for a single journey, £1.50/€2 for an all-day "hoppa" ticket.  However, the "hoppa" tickets are not interchangeable between the two operators.  If you want to travel on the services of both the Gibraltar Bus Company and Calypso Transport, you have to buy two tickets.

I have not been able to find an up-to-date map showing Gibraltar's bus routes, so I have drawn one of my own to help make sense of what runs where:

In common with a growing number of cities around the world, Gibraltar operated a cycle hire scheme although you have to be a member to use it.  The cycle hire scheme is operated by Gibraltar Bus Company.

Notice the British-style red telephone kiosk in the background.

In many of the places I have visited, open-top double-deck buses are used on sightseeing tours.  That isn't the case in Gibraltar where some of the main places of interest are high up on the rock, accessed by narrow, winding roads which are unsuitable for large vehicles.  Small minibuses are used by Gibraltar's sightseeing tour operators.

This image shows a minibus of Calypso Tours (part of the group which operates bus route 5) parked outside the airport.

The top of the rock is also accessible by cable car, which operates daily all year round from a station slightly south of the city centre.

No article about Gibraltar would be complete without a picture of the rock's well-known residents, the barbary apes.

The Spanish town of La Línea lies just the other side of the frontier.  Some of Gibraltar's workforce lives in La Línea.  Yet there are no scheduled services across the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.  Although the Schengen Agreement has abolished border controls across most of the European Union (along with Switzerland, Norway and Iceland), Gibraltar is neither a signatory to the agreement nor part of the European customs union.  Passport and customs controls are maintained at the border.

Coaches cross the border on tours and excursions, but passengers travelling from Gibraltar into Spain may be required to disembark and walk across the border (carrying their belongings with them) to complete customs and entry formalities before re-boarding the coach.  These formalities, along with the difficulty in maintaining a timetabled service in the face of traffic queues both at the border and at the runway crossing, undoubtedly explain the lack of cross-border services between Gibraltar and Spain.  La Línea is the subject of a separate post, click here.

Coincidentally, buses in Gibraltar are covered by an article in the March 2013 edition of Buses magazine.

La Línea, Spain

The Spanish town of La Línea, or La Línea de la Concepción to give it its full name, lies in the shadow of the rock of Gibraltar.  Visitors to Gibraltar arriving by road will pass through La Línea.

Scheduled bus and longer distance coach services don't venture across the border into Gibraltar.  However the main bus and coach terminal is a few minutes' walk from the frontier.  Transport in Gibraltar is covered in a separate post.  What of local transport in La Línea itself?

La Línea is not on the rail network.  The nearest rail stations are in the nearby towns of San Roque and Algeciras.  Buses operate regularly (generally half-hourly) from La Línea to both of these places.  There is also a less frequent service running eastwards along the coast to Estepona.

These interurban services are coordinated by Consorcio de Transporte Campo de Gibraltar.

Local services within the town are operated by CTM (website in Spanish only), mainly using low-floor single deck buses.  When I visited in early 2013, route and destination were displayed on boards placed in the windscreen.

The main stop for the town services is in the town centre rather than at the bus station.

As well as the full-sized buses, a minibus was also at work.

Information about longer distance coach services to and from La Línea's bus station, and throughout the Andalucia region, can be found on the website.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Lucerne (Luzern), Switzerland

The city of Luzern is in German-speaking central Switzerland.  It is believed to have been founded in the 12th Century.  Nestling in the foothills of the Alps, at the end of Lake Luzern, it is a picturesque city which attracts several million visitors annually.  It is a few years since I was one of those visitors, having last been to Luzern in 2007.

Luzern's local transport network is co-ordinated by Vehrkehrsbetriebe Luzern (VBL) (website in German language only).

There are no trams in Luzern, the last one ran in 1961.  The public transport network is provided with buses and trolleybuses.  Most services converge outside the main railway station, which forms an integrated transport hub.

Of the buses, some are articulated:

Others are standard single deckers.  Some are short-length midibuses while others, such as this one in a promotional livery, are full length. 

The trolleybus fleet includes standard single-deckers.  Some of these tow trailers to provide additional capacity as well as low-floor access:


Although the trolleybus+trailer combination is very unusual, it is not unique - the same combination can be found in another Swiss city, Lausanne.

Luzern also has a number of articulated trolleybuses.  Three of them are double-articulated. 


Fares on Luzern's transport network are integrated between bus, trolleybus and rail, and are based on a zonal system.  Other than a "short hop" fare, single tickets are valid for transfers within a time limit which varies according to how many zones you pass through.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Praha (Prague), Czech Republic

Over the last two decades, the city of Prague has become well-established as a major European tourist destination.

During the Cold War decades which followed the Second World War, as the capital city of Czechoslovakia, this historic gem was hidden behind the Iron Curtain.  The end of the communist era brought the opening of borders between Eastern Europe and the West, making it far easier for people from outside Eastern Europe to visit.  In 1992 Prague gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status for much of the historic city centre.

The rapid political changes of the early 1990s spelled the end for Czechoslovakia as it split into two independent nations, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, at the start of 1993.

Prague has trams aplenty.  The tram network is one of the busiest and most intensive in the world.  Trams, combined with an expanding Metro system, form the backbone of Prague's public transport system.

The oldest trams date from the communist era, when Prague was home to a large tram-building plant.  Produced in their thousands, trams of this design were supplied to cities across the Soviet bloc.

When I visited Prague in Autumn 2011, hundreds of them were still operating, generally in pairs.


One practice I have observed in some cities in Central and Eastern Europe is trams stopping in the middle of the street to allow passengers on and off.  Other traffic is required to stop while trams are loading and unloading.

Towards the end of the communist era, articulated trams to a newer design were introduced.

These are Prague's only trams which are bi-directional, having doors on both sides and driving cabs at both ends.

Some of the articulated units have been altered with a low-floor centre section providing easier access to disabled passengers.

Further single tramcars entered service in the 1990s.  Most operate in pairs.


A small number of single cars operate on certain routes at certain times.



In recent years, purpose-built articulated low floor trams have entered service in Prague.



These older-looking trams had me fooled.  I had thought they were from the communist era, converted to provide a low floor section.

In fact, as I discovered from discussion on the Eurotrams Yahoo group, the bodies were purpose-built in the 21st Century, although some of the mechanical parts and underframes may be older.

A pair of vintage tramcars are a static feature in Wenceslas Square, in use as a café.

At weekends from the end of March until mid-November, vintage trams operate a heritage service through the city centre.  Special fares apply.

On the west bank of the River Vltava, Petřín Hill offers good views across the city from an observation tower.  It was an exhibition site in the late 19th Century.  A legacy from the exhibition is a funicular railway which climbs the hill.


So, that's the trams and the funicular, but what about the buses?

Prague has plenty of bus services - but visitors to the city are unlikely to see many of them.  Buses generally operate in the suburbs, feeding passengers to the tram and metro systems.  Very few buses enter the heart of the city.  The only bus I did notice in the city centre was an articulated vehicle.

As in most of the cities I have visited outside the UK, an integrated fare system applies.  Single-fare tickets allow the passenger to transfer between different routes, and between bus, metro, tram and funicular for up to 30 or 90 minutes, depending on the fare paid.  Tickets are bought at metro stations, retail outlets and from machines at some tram stops, then validated on entering the system (or on boarding).

The public transport network is provided by Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy (DPP), and overseen by Regionální organizátor Pražské integrované dopravy (PID).  More detailed information about Prague's public transport system, from both a user and enthusiast perspective, can be found here.