Thursday 17 April 2014

Liège, Belgium

The Belgian city of Liège has plenty of buses.  This should come as no surprise.

Liège is Belgium's third-largest urban area (after Brussels and Antwerp), but has no trams nor a metro.  The city's public transport system is provided with buses.

Since Liège lies within Belgium's French-speaking region, Wallonia, the buses are almost all provided by TEC (website in French only).  The one exception is a service operating into Liège once per hour from Belgium's Flemish-speaking region, provided by De Lijn.

Around fifty bus routes run into the city centre, providing quite an intensive network.  Some routes remain within Liège, others are interurban services heading out of the city to provide links to neighbouring towns.

When I visited in March 2014, articulated buses were in use on the busiest urban services within Liège.

Standard single-deckers with three doors were also operating on city services.

On certain routes, some of the buses display a backslash after the route number.  This indicates a variation from the standard routeing.  On route 60, however, it appears that all journeys now follow the variant routeing since all buses display 60\ as the route number.
From what I observed, all services heading beyond the Liège urban area were being operated with standard single-deck buses, mostly with two doors.


This image was taken at Place Saint-Lambert, in the heart of Liège.   The Prince Bishops' Palace forms the backdrop. 

Place Saint-Lambert is a busy hub, served by two cross-city routes along with a number of terminating services.

Not all routes serve Place Saint-Lambert.  Some terminate instead at nearby locations - Opéra, Place Léopold or Place de la République Française.

A number of bus routes enter and leave Place Saint-Lambert through a bus-only tunnel.

The tunnel has two branches.  One branch emerges close to Opéra, delivering cross-city routes 1 and 4 onto a dedicated bus lane in the centre of a major boulevard.


The bus lane continues southwards for a kilometre or two, and is used by many of the buses linking the city centre with the city's main railway station, Liège Guillemins.

Liège Guillemins station has been extensively rebuilt in recent times, with the work completed in 2009.

This image shows a bus in front of the station.

A couple of the interurban services terminate opposite Guillemins station, rather than in the city centre.



On my travels I have found diesel-powered double-articulated buses operating in five cities around Europe - Hamburg and Aachen in Germany, Utrecht in the Netherlands, Geneva in Switzerland and in Luxembourg.  The double-articulated buses in all five cities were built by Van Hool, a Belgian manufacturer, but how many operate in their country of origin?

Just one, a prototype built in 1996.

Eighteen years on, and Belgium's only bi-articulated bus is still active, in Liège.  From what I can make out, its regular haunt is route 48, linking the city centre with Guillemins railway station and the university.  It shares the route with other articulated buses.

On the day I visited Liège I was in luck.  I didn't need to spend any time looking for the bi-articulated bus, it turned up at just the right moment.


A very simple fare structure covers bus travel in Liège.  At the time of writing, a single fare covering travel within the city costs €1.90.  This allows unlimited interchanges for 60 minutes after the first bus was boarded.  An all-day ticket costs €4.

For travel beyond the urban area, a single fare of €3 is charged, with unlimited interchanges for up to 90 minutes. 

Future developments

Liège used to have a tram system.  In fact it had two - an urban tramway and an interurban system.  The systems closed in the 1960s, an era when oil was cheap and plentiful.

The bus system is now struggling to cope with rising demand.  To tackle this problem, trams are due to make a comeback in Liège.  Construction work has started, with the first trams expected to enter service in 2018.

More information about the project to reintroduce trams to Liège is available on the official website, Keskistram, but there is also a second site, TramLiège.  Both sites are in French only.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Aachen, Germany

Aachen is Germany's westermost city, lying very close to the borders with Belgium and the Netherlands.  I had passed through it on plenty of occasions, on the train between Brussels and other German destinations.  In March 2014 I spent a weekend in Aachen.

Public transport in and around Aachen is co-ordinated by Aachener Verkehrsverbund (AVV)
Aachen is a city without trams, the last one having run in 1974. 

The city's bus services are provided by Aachener Straßenbahn und Energieversorgungs AG (ASEAG).  Their website is in German only.

Although ASEAG operate some of the buses themselves, others are provided by other operators in partnership with ASEAG. 

Some of the other operators' buses carry full ASEAG colours, but display their own operator's name.

Some carry a modified version of the ASEAG livery.

This vehicle wears a deeper shade of red, and is without the white flash beneath the windscreen.

Not all buses are in red and white.  Some carry the operator's own livery, or another colour scheme.


Meanwhile I noted a number of buses carrying advertising colour schemes.

Some had red fronts....

...others did not.


A busy ring road encircles Aachen city centre.  Here on Heinrichsallee, buses travelling anti-clockwise use a wide segregated lane in the centre of the road.

As well as standard single-deckers, I noted plenty of articulated buses in Aachen.

These were operated both by ASEAG and its partners, with vehicles wearing an array of colours.








A small number of the articulated buses had a fourth axle.

Even these aren't the largest buses on Aachen's streets.

Aachen is home to a small fleet of bi-articulated buses.  These are used on routes 5 and 45 which run from the suburb of Brand across the city centre to the university and hospital.  They may only operate on weekdays - I didn't see any of them operating at the weekend.


In the UK, it is sometimes claimed that articulated buses pose a danger to cyclists, as justification for removing these high-capacity buses from the streets.

In Aachen, artics and cyclists seem to co-exist without any obvious problems. 

Although most of the bus fleet is very modern, I did notice some older vehicles still at work.

Several "SchnellBus" (express bus) services operate in Aachen, generally limited to a few journeys at peak times, operating only in the direction of the peak flow.

Route 103 is one such service, running to the university and hospital in the morning peak and away in the evening peak.

Longer-distance services link Aachen with the surrounding region.  Many of the vehicles I noted were wearing DeutscheBahn livery.

A mix of articulated and standard buses operates on these services.

Not all the longer-distance buses were in DeutcheBahn's red livery.  Some were carrying other colours.


To confuse matters, I found one DeutscheBahn-liveried bus operating on one of the local routes within Aachen.


The longer-distance services converge on Aachen Bushof, a rather dark covered bus station built in the 1970s.

Many of the city bus routes stop on the main road outside.

Fares and tariffs

The fare and tariff levels are set by AVV.  Zonal fares apply across the region, with Aachen forming a single zone.  Single journey tickets allow interchange, and are valid both on buses and on local rail services.  Day tickets are available for unlimited travel, with a group ticket (for up to 5 people) costing less than two individual day tickets.  On Mondays to Fridays, day tickets are valid after 09:00; at weekends, they are valid all day.

Buses without frontiers

With Aachen so close to the borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, not all of the city's bus services stay within Germany.

Route 24 extends over the border into Belgium, to a terminus at Kelmis.

Some of the buses are provided by AESAG...

...while others are provided by a Belgium-based company, SADAR.  SADAR's buses carry the standard Aachen livery but Belgian registrations.

AVV's tariffs apply throughout route 24.


SADAR don't limit themselves to routes operating into Belgium.  Route 2 stays within Germany, nevertheless I noticed some of the vehicles were operated by SADAR.  So here we have a bus from a Belgian operator on a service which runs entirely within Germany.

Route 14 extends further into Belgium, linking Aachen with the town of Eupen.  It is provided jointly by German and Belgian undertakings, with two buses from each.

The Belgian share is provided by TEC, the bus undertaking for Wallonia (Belgium's French-speaking region - website in French only).

Some journeys are provided by articulated buses, such as this one in Aachen's Bushof.

Other journeys are provided using standard single-deck buses.

Now comes a twist in the tale.  The German buses may not be German after all.  This one was operated by Belgium-based SADAR and was therefore carrying a Belgian registration.

On route 14, the AVV tariff applies only as far as the national border.

There are cross-border services into the Netherlands too.  Route 44 to Heerlen is jointly operated by German and Dutch undertakings.


Veolia have the concession to operate buses in Limburg province.  Veolia buses work alongside those from Aachen's operators on route 44.

AVV tariffs apply within Germany on route 44.

Veolia also operate route 50 linking Aachen with Maastricht.  This service, however, is not covered by the AVV tariff.  Dutch fares apply.  The Dutch national public transport smartcard, the OV-Chipkaart, can be used for travel into and out of Aachen on route 50.


Vaals - over the Dutch border

The town of Vaals lies less than 5 kilometres from the centre of Aachen, but in a different country.  Vaals is in the Netherlands.

Several of Aachen's bus services run to the border point, Vaals Grenze (literally, Vaals frontier).

In this image, the bus is in Germany but the buildings in the background are in the Netherlands.

Route 35 is one of several which reaches the border but does not venture across it.

Routes 25 and 33 do cross the border into Vaals itself, and thus into the Netherlands.  AVV tariffs apply throughout.

This image was taken in the centre of Aachen.  The bus is heading for the Netherlands; in the background is a TEC bus on route 14 into Belgium.

Not all services in Vaals cross into Germany.  Veolia operate a couple of services to nearby towns within the Netherlands, in addition to route 50 which passes through on its way to and from Aachen.

A service into Vaals from Belgium is provided by TEC, with a route from Eupen.  TEC comprises five regional transport undertakings within Belgium.  Although most TEC buses appear to be operated directly by the five undertakings, this one was running under the TEC brand but operated by SADAR, who also provide vehicles on Aachen's bus network.

At the time of my visit, buses were using a temporary terminus off Vaals' main street, due to road works.

At weekends, route 149 operates from Vaals into the woods overlooking Aachen.

I found a minibus in use.

Route 149 reaches the highest point in the Netherlands, marked by this stone and pillar.

The observation tower in the background isn't in the Netherlands, nor is it in Germany.  It is just within Belgium, for it is here that the borders of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany meet.  This gives the terminus of route 149 its name, Drielandenput (three lands point).

The actual point is marked by another pillar (image to the right).

The EU-Regio day ticket

There is a day ticket which allows travel on local transport without being constrained by the national borders.  The euregioticket, priced at €18, permits unlimited travel on buses and many local trains through the regions of Belgium, Netherlands and Germany which are close to the border.  At weekends, a single ticket can be used by a family group (up to 2 adults and up to 3 children) travelling together.

I have written about the euregioticket in a separate post.