Friday morning, 10:00 a.m., Strasbourg. Anyone for whom Strasbourg conjures up images of charming timber-frame houses, good wine and Flammkuchen is not giving the city its full due. This is because, since 2013, Strasbourg has been operating an innovative BRT system that sets new standards for public transport in Europe. The motto here is "liberté, egalité, mobilité".
But what does a BRT system look like in real life? In order to answer this question, I am meeting Christoph Rethmann at the Park and Ride (P+R) at the Espace Europeén de l'Entreprise, in the Strasbourg suburb of Schiltigheim. Christoph is still new at Daimler Buses but very familiar with France and its modern urban transport systems. The 29-year-old gives the impression of being grounded and collected. He speaks thoughtfully in a quiet voice - which is probably related to the fact that he originates from Westphalia.
Christoph grew up in the Münsterland region, and went to school in Greven. The city, which is situated on the Ems river in North Rhine-Westphalia, is also where he graduated from high school (Gymnasium Augustinianum). He spent his spare time on soccer pitches and his racing bike. Christoph became an FC Bayern fan in an area where the choice for soccer enthusiasts is between black and yellow or blue and white. He still enjoys playing soccer with his friends, who now live scattered around Germany. Sometimes they meet back home at the grounds of their old soccer club, and talk about old stories over beer and sausages.
In Strasbourg Christoph shows me "Ligne G", a bus line that connects the main station to the Espace Europeén de l’Entreprise, which is where the employment center is situated in addition to numerous research and educational institutions. "Ligne G" is a special bus line. When the city of Strasbourg was looking for a way to integrate the northwestern part of the city into its public transportation network, it opted for a "BRT system". During the construction phase, the Daimler Buses BRT Team visited Strasbourg multiple times in order to discuss the circumstances of the project with the operator Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois and the planning authority.
"BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit," Christoph Rethmann explains. "In this system, our Mercedes-Benz buses drive along physically separated lanes. At junctions they are given priority over other road users by the intelligent switching of traffic lights."
From the P+R we take the bus toward the main station. The journey takes about 15 minutes. Christoph tells me about the time he spent in Lyon during his degree studies, which gave him the opportunity to get to know our French neighbors a little better. After studying Geography with a focus on Regional Planning at the University of Trier, his career took him first to Radolfzell at Lake Constance and then to Basel. His last workplace in Switzerland was at a large engineering company. What is it like for a German living among the Swiss?
"Basel is a very international city on account of its pharmaceuticals industry. A single German is not going to stand out. The Swiss and Germans are also not as different as you might think when it comes down to it. One aspect I certainly liked was the reserved and friendly nature of the Swiss."
Halfway along the route we disembark at the Lavoisier stop. The bus stops at the center of a circular residential complex. A new playground is being installed between the buildings. "Social considerations are often neglected in discussions about sustainability," Christoph says. But it is modern buses that allow many residents of the suburbs to travel quickly into the city center. Commuters also benefit from the BRT system. They can leave their cars at the P+R, thus avoiding the stressful rush-hour traffic in the city. The bus lanes bring life to the suburbs. The circular complex in Lavoisier is the best example. Where before there was a large empty space, there is now a bus driving through every few minutes, bringing the residents of the surrounding residential buildings together at the bus stops.
Christoph also likes using public transport. He does not own a car, and travels short distances on his bike. He says that you can make good use of the time spent on the bus or train, by reading the newspaper for example.
He feels very much at home in the Daimler Buses BRT Team in terms of subject matter. "It was important to me to work in the field of sustainable mobility. We can offer very good solutions in regions with pressing problems. I like that I can play my part in making that happen." Christoph fulfills a number of different roles within the BRT expert team. From the planning of BRT systems and visits to potential customers regarding BRT systems like the ones in Strasbourg or Istanbul through to presentations at trade fairs and industry symposiums, the experts from Daimler Buses provide comprehensive advice on all things BRT-related.
Christoph's response to my question of whether he is an idealist is typically modest: "I am enough of a realist to know what is feasible. For me, it is also important to always be open to compromises."
We have now arrived at the main station. From there, it is only a few meters by foot to the city center. If you would like to get around a bit faster you can hire one of the many bikes offered by Vélhop. The bikes are distributed throughout the entire city. The bikes complement the public transportation network thanks to the large number of hire options available, which can also be combined with bus and tram tickets.
When Christoph considers his new workplace, he says he feels very good here and that the transition was made very easy for him.
But he still needs to adapt a little bit. At a large corporate group the processes can take longer sometimes – but he adds that this cannot be avoided above a certain size.
What is BRT?
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a high-quality public transport system in which buses use a dedicated lane, are given priority at junctions and therefore achieve fast journey times.
It is therefore an important growth concept in light of the progress of urbanization. Experts expect around two thirds of the global population to be living in cities by the year 2050.
BRT is one of the most efficient public transport systems available in terms of overall CO2 emissions. The fast journey times even during rush hour also add to the appeal of public transport, and offer an incentive to make the switch from individual modes of transport. This reduces congestion, aids the flow of traffic and avoids additional emissions of CO2. Another important advantage of BRT systems is that they are easily integrated into existing urban structures.
One characteristic feature of BRT systems is the accelerated handling of passengers since tickets are purchased before the journey. BRT systems also stand out on account of the specific design of the vehicles and stops. They are integrated into the existing transport system by means of a harmonized ticket system, dynamic passenger information systems and the consistent integration of park + ride and bike + ride facilities along the bus lanes. In addition to improving the public transport services on offer, BRT systems can also lead to considerable urban regeneration. Successful examples of this can be found in the fast-growing metropolises of the world such as Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul, as well as in mid-sized European cities such as Nantes and Strasbourg. BRT systems also play an important social role in developing countries in particular. There, relatively cost-effective and rapidly implemented BRT systems provide many people with what is often their first access to safe and affordable mobility, allowing them to participate in society.
There are currently a total of 180 BRT systems operating around the world. Around half of the buses used are made by Daimler Buses. Daimler Buses offers a comprehensive Bus Rapid Transit package consisting of vehicles as well as advisory and financial services.