When one first arrives to Europe, the first thing that might be surprising and interesting is the abundance of public transit. European countries have had a long time to implement their transit systems, and the scale of the cities allow for some very efficient and inspiring methods of transit.
Studying abroad in Europe is quite the treat if you are a frequent San Diego Trolley rider like I am. The stark difference is quite alarming. Passes and tickets are easier to use and cheaper than our Compass Card. While there is light rail and buses in San Diego, in Europe one can also find underground rail and trams. Smaller cities in Europe will have both buses and access to railways, while large cities like Berlin or Paris feature complex transit systems.
To give some examples, I’ll talk about some transit systems that I’ve experienced thus far.
Paris has one of the largest systems in the world, I would argue one of the best in the world. The transit system (the RATP), has everything in the modern arsenal of transit — buses, commuter rail, underground rail and trams! The system requires that you put your little ticket in the turnstile when you enter and often when you leave. You can also buy weekly or monthly passes to save money. For people under 26, there is a weekend ticket that is half the price of a regular day pass. What a bargain!
However, one has to keep in mind that Paris has several tariff zones; you will not be allowed to leave if you go outside the tariff zone, you’ll need another ticket. However most of what Paris has to offer is in the inner 3 zones.
Germany’s transit system is quite different, in that it runs on trust. You can board without a ticket! However, be wary: There is a high fine for Schwarzfahren (dodging the fare!). The transit authorities usually just ask that you validate your ticket before you board. Germany also offers group tickets as a good way to save money when you travel, up to 5 people can split the cost of a ticket! The U-Bahn (Metro) is high frequency and often on time.
Even in the smallest of towns, buses and trains work to stay on schedule. The national transit authority, the Deutsche Bahn, offers service in the regions where there is no municipal transit authority. In addition tickets from the DB will work everywhere.
Overall, public transport is the key to getting around like a European. Cars in Europe are quite expensive to use and maintain. For students who study abroad, it can be the easiest way to get from point A to B. It can also be much cheaper and it helps put less stress on the environment and your mental health (road rage anyone?)
Eduardo Santiago is a German major with a minor in international security and conflict resolution (ISCOR). He is be studying in Tübingen, Germany for an entire academic year.