Sunday, 9 June 2013

This Could Be Rotterdam....(Part 2)

Having arrived in Rotterdam for a two-day conference via High-Speed Rail, Phil explores the City’s public transport, featuring tram, bus and metro...

It’s Monday morning in the largest port in Europe, and the “Rotters” are commuting.
Having discovered the previous evening that a tram terminus lay a few metres from my hotel entrance, it is surely no surprise that I was up early to explore what the 2nd largest Dutch City had to offer, public transport-wise. My meeting doesn’t commence until 1pm, so I have the morning free to look around...
A Facebook friend had warned me that the tram conductors don’t take kindly to “free riders”, so I decide my first tram ride will commence with a positive statement to buy a ticket immediately from the on-board staff. In fact, driver and conductor are sharing a joke together as I stride up to them, the only passenger boarding at this location. The lady conductor displays a mix of bemusement and seemingly being impressed as I ask (in English) for a ticket.
I’m surprised that I can’t buy a 1-day ticket on board. Instead, a 3-Euro “1 hour ticket” seems to be the option, where I can get to Rotterdam Centraal station, where they can sell me a day ticket.
The conductor smiles and even “taps in” the small card for me, advising me always to “tap out” when I leave a tram.
And with that we’re off, gliding smoothly along the streets of the City aboard the modern Alstom Citadis tram. RET (Rotterdamse Elektrische Tram) operates the trams, buses and metro in the City, and has 53 of these steeds, which are, perhaps surprisingly, uni-directional.
We’re soon joined by a number of commuters and it’s a typically European transport scene as the locals hop on and off the tram with ease, the lines criss-crossing traffic junctions, then running along their own small reserved sections, by-passing lines of road traffic. This is public transport at its most natural and effective – and it’s a sobering lesson for followers of the UK’s public transport scene: we simply don’t have enough of this at home.
We’re soon at Rotterdam Centraal station, and I’m pleased to remember to “tap out”.
The whole area is a large construction site, which I appear to have missed upon arrival last night, seemingly as I must have hailed my taxi at the rear of the station, rather than the front! In keeping with the architectural theme of the City, the front entrance is breathtaking. As part of a huge revamp of the whole building, it is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere.
Rotterdam Centraal - under construction!

The trams are terminating a short walk away from the main entrance, and in common with lots of other European Cities, the bicycle is King. With trams, cars and cyclists hurtling at you from all angles, the scene is not for the feint-hearted.
Inside the main station area, there is a huge feeling of space – more than I’ve ever experienced elsewhere. It’s clear that the Authorities see the new Centraal station as a major feature of this City.
I make my way to the Travel Centre to buy a 1-day ticket, and take my numbered ticket, Argos-style (and a recently-launched feature of the “new” Birmingham New Street). Alas, when my number finally comes up, the receptionist giggles somewhat cruelly and tells me I’m in the wrong area – she only sells rail tickets. I need to join a more traditional queue across the way.
Here, the more astute gentleman refrains from the giggles and sells me a 1-day ticket, complete with map (“of course”). I ask him why I can’t buy a 1-day ticket on the tram and he nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders, relieving me of 7-Euros.
At least I now have the freedom of the City’s public transport!
The map has lots of information, but none of it in English. The Underground-style line design is OK, but is only just about decipherable – those with poor eyesight might struggle with the place names.
I decide to jump in blind and pick up the first tram that arrives.
It’s a 21 to Woudestein. The map appears to show a connection at Erasmus Universiteit with tram line 7, but when I jump off, there’s no sign of a 7. Perhaps it’s a short walk away, but it isn’t clear.
No sign of tram 7!
 So I jump back on a 21 in the opposite direction and retrace my steps back to Centraal station, this time staying on board, and onwards to what seems a hotbed of public transport activity (according to the map): Schiedam Centrum.
Several free Metro newspapers punctuate the scene inside the tram. “Metro – de nummer 1 in Rotterdam” is a phrase even I can translate.
Schiedam Centrum has not only trams, but trains, buses, Park & Ride and a Metro stop, so it is here I hop off the tram to sample the Metro (Underground) system for the first time.
The impressive entrance to Schiedam Centrum...

My first experience of a Rotterdam Metro...
...but the graffiti is appalling! 
And what a baptism of fire it is!
The service is fast and frequent – as all good metros should be – but the passenger experience is truly appalling. My carriage is covered internally by graffiti, there is a foul smell in the air, and the seats are hard back plastic.
Not the comfiest of seats! 

I decide to ride half a dozen or so stops to Beurs – another multi-modal Interchange. The Metro appears to be reasonably well-used, and it is certainly rapid transit. I wonder if my graffiti-strewn carriage is an unlucky one-off or representative of the system as a whole.
At Beurs, I can swap Metro lines, and decide to head south of the Nieuwe Maas river to Zuidplein.
This journey is much more agreeable. The hard green plastic seats feature again, but this Underground train is newer, quieter and graffiti-free. It’s only 4 stops and I’m soon alighting at Zuidplein.
Newer generations of Metro train are far better!

This bit of Metro has been above ground, and I have to descend to the bus station below. I had planned to catch a 44 back to Rotterdam Centraal, but the map actually doesn’t distinguish between what is a bus or a tram, and it turns out that a 44 is a rubber-tyred variety.
The 44 turns out to be a bus...

As the song goes, this could be Rotterdam, or even Liverpool. This is because the first bus that catches my eye would be in a livery readily identifiable to scousers – the aquamarine of Arriva!
This could be Rotterdam....or Liverpool!

This of course, should come as no surprise – The DB subsidiary has cast its net far and wide across Europe, including this Rotterdam suburb. RET’s silver vehicles are still in the majority, and I haven’t seen Arriva in the City Centre yet, but it’s still interesting for even hardened bus fans like me to spot something wearing the same colours as a vehicle in the middle of Shrewsbury, for example!
The 44 appears to be a high-frequency service, part of the “642” marketing campaign, which I decipher to mean 6 buses per hour during the peaks, 4 off-peak and 2 evenings & Sundays.
So I take off around the bus station, snapping pics of aquamarine, silver and any other coloured buses I can find, much to the bemusement of the locals, and indeed the bus drivers, who give me some very strange looks. It’s not every day to get an English bus enthusiast in a Rotterdam suburb.
Not every day you come across a huge rolled-up newspaper...

Having got my fill of bus shots, I join the jolly queue of mainly OAPs waiting for the 44. I get the impression they want to ask me what I’m up to, but they’ve probably decided on the “keep quiet” option....
The driver of the 44 seems pleased to see me - or perhaps just bemused...

RET’s smart silver Mercedes single decker duly arrives. The livery is functional, but in complete contrast to the Arriva colours. Much of Europe has yet to experience the delights of a Ray Stenning brand image!
At least the seats aren’t hard plastic, but they’re also not the most luxurious either. The vinyl offerings remind me of my schooldays aboard West Midlands Daimler Fleetlines. Recorded announcements and visual displays are all working, as is the real-time display at every stop, which is working faultlessly at every stop.
The 44 winds its way around the suburban streets of Rotterdam, before finally arriving at the rear of Centraal station, where I hop off, confronted by many other silver beasts, where I rapidly fill my camera’s memory card with more piccies, avoiding, as I go, mad cyclists, who I swear have an evil plot to run me over.
Bikes are everywhere in Rotterdam!

My transport hopping is over for the day, as I have my meeting to attend, save for one more evening bash later on tram line 8 to the Euromast – a 185-metre high observation tower, where we’re having dinner, which comes highly recommended if only to observe the City’s trams looking like models as they weave along the streets.
The "Euromast" observation tower & restaurant

Next day is a full day at the meeting, but come tea-time I have one last evening to go riding again.
Armed with my day ticket, I’m again zipping north to south, east to west across Rotterdam’s trams and metro.
I stumble at one point across the Metro depot near Kralingse Zoom. Here I can witness in the fading evening light rows of Metro trains, many of which are plastered in graffiti. I haven’t come across a carriage so badly defaced as the one yesterday, but clearly there is a problem here with this sort of vandalism.
Out in the suburbs, I’m struck just how much meaningful provision there is for cyclists. There are proper reserved cycle roads here, not just bits of differently-coloured tarmac like in the UK. To be fair, much of Rotterdam fell victim to heavy bombing raids in the 2nd World War, so rebuilding the City with effectively a blank piece of paper can afford such planning. Nevertheless, it feels good. Cycling seems such a natural way of life here, and I for one would feel much more likely to use a bike than I would on the crowded roads of the UK.
I end my evening ride in the fading light outside my hotel at the end of tram route 7 in Willemsplein.
Just time for a quick visit to the hotel bar, which disconcertingly has TV screens containing David Cameron’s face discussing the UK’s position in Europe! The locals don’t seem bothered. There is only one choice of beer at the bar. Heineken it is then.
A typical Rotterdam tram...

...Do's and don'ts...

...always tap in and tap out...

Impressive segregated cycleways in the suburbs...

Large-scale building work at Rotterdam Centraal Station. When completed, trams will be able to access the station much closer. 

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