This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson

Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg

What do these three cities have in common?

  1. In my view a real “sense of place”.
  2. Very efficient public transport systems
  3. They all had my wife and me as visitors in the month of July. We spent roughly a week reacquainting ourselves with each of these cities during our recent journey to the Baltic countries and northern Germany. For the record, not once in the six weeks we were away and touching eight northern European countries, did we travel in a private motor car. This was independent travel and our modes were bus, train, boat, river ferry boat, light rail, taxi (twice) and lots of walking.

Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.



This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.

One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.


Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.

Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.

Gothenburg tram

I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.

Goteborg Nil Ericson Station

Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.

Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.

Goteborg Station Interior

Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.

It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.

Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.


Hanover Square and Regent Street aerial view, London

As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.


They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.

Toshiba Exif JPEG

If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!

I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.


Hamburg Hafen City

I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.

Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.


What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:


It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development.  This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.

What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;

  • More City in the City
  • Internal Development Before Expansion
  • Good Quality Open Space Even As The City Becomes More Compact
  • People Are Already Increasing Their Use Of Street Space And Public Squares
  • Hamburg Will Not Become A City Of High Rises – The Ideal Height For Urban Density Is Six To Seven Floors
  • When The Port Operations Were Moved To Their New Location Hamburg Is Accepting The Challenge To Create New Residential Areas, Work Places And Attractive Places
  • Improving Urban Quality Including – Constructing a new S4 Train Line to the East of Hamburg.                      
  • Roofing Over A7 Motorway Cuttings to Reconnect Severed Parts of the City in the West.


Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:

  • The car is losing its importance as a status symbol
  • Various modes of transport are to converge and link up at mobility service points in order to make private travel superfluous
  • Hamburg must not be allowed to lag behind comparable big cities which are considerably expending their Metro systems

And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –

“ The core conflict in the town planning debate of the last century – the battle between car friendliness and urban life in the city – is now drawing to a close. The city of the future will be liveable and allow mobility also.”

This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.

Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.

The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.

For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.

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  1. I can second the Gothenburg findings as I visit at least once a year. BRT is on the same map as the trams so they all a single rapid transit network. They are open boarding but they run blocks on trams and buses backed up by the police to prevent or at least issue large fines to fare dodgers.

    From my experience of staying at the end of what was the 515 (got turned into a BRT recently), they are punctual and transfers are pretty darn good between routes of any mode.

    1. I visited Miniatur Wunderland last month, the back stage tour is amazing!

      Also you can get an authentic railway quality currywurst to eat in a replica DB dining car cafe.

        1. Go watch the James May toy story rerun on the German vs British trains and that will feed any addiction to model trains. Features the owners of the Hamburg model railway miniature wonderland along with Captain Slow

  2. I also like the reassuring nature of trams and light rail, and the obvious visibility of the tracks – here in Melbourne, and in a few other cities around the world where I’ve used them.

    Do you think painting colour-coded lines on the road for major routes could help do the same for buses? (slightly off-topic, I’m sorry, but the thought just struck me)

  3. Interesting – I’ve just completed a 7 week trip with partner and 12 & 14 year old kids. We traveled 95% of the time by Public transport; trains, planes, trams, boats, buses and cable car from Istanbul to London. It really is a pleasure being in a city where the transport systems are efficient, have good coverage and no need for a time table. The big surprise for me was being back in London after leaving it 15 years ago – the lack of traffic in the west end and the City, the additions to the Undergound, Overground, DLR, the River boats and the Emirates Air line. (didn’t use the Tram)

    And Yes, if you’re in Hamburg, Miniatur Wonderland is a must see – its Hamburgs No 1 attraction

  4. @ Daniel – Roma was the exception to the tram rule of “reassuring” the stop we tried to get on wasn’t a stop, looked like a stop, raised platform and all, driver shouted at us and waved his hands a lot, but still let us on. Then the tram terminated early and it took us a while to figure out that there was a replacement bus service running. So just because it looks like a stop and just because there is track in the road… Don’t be fooled. All good fun

  5. It would be nice to see more tram lines in the CFN. I think there is a theory that buses are just trams with no tracks, but a bus will never be as good as a tram. If Gothenburg had a buses instead of trams would it be anywhere near as good? The CFN map looks good at a glance until you realise that most of it is actually buses, they will be loud, fumey and slow.

    1. There has been talk of ripping out the trams in Gothenburg but yet to happen. Yhe lines are generally inside the Gothenburg city council boundaries where as the current BRT goes past the city council limits. Also a few years ago there was a congestion charge introduced but only after new high frequency trains from park and ride locations and other points. Airport rail is now being talked about but have to admit the air bus does a good job to a point. The current bus wins on direct city centre access but rail will introduce a speedy 2 stop run from the airport to central station.

    2. Jimbo there are three issues with returning trams to Auckland. One is physical, our roads are are few cases wide enough to easily return trams without both seriously restricting current uses and having the trams then constantly held up by other traffic. The second is economic, light rail is a high capex system, ie it costs a lot to install and buy the vehicles. Sure once in the routes have lasting value but still the amount spent on just one line can cover the bus infrastructure for a whole region. Which brings us to the third which is political. The current government has a prejudice against anything with steel wheels, focussing only on the capex cost, and scoffing at the other side of the ledger. Which, to be fair, is all economic rather than financial and therefore extremely hard to realise. Although if they supported bus infrastructure instead that would be more sincere, as it is it looks more like they just don’t understand cities at all.

      Do note that in the case of Hanover above that considerable sums have been spent of undergrounding the trams in the centre so they get over the first problem, and in melbourne, which I’ve just returned from, many of the lines have great stretches out of the traffic on extremely wide boulevards of the type we just don’t have. It is also true that they run pretty well in mixed traffic say down Brunswick St, but are even better in Bourke and Swanston where they have removed all other traffic. What a joy.

      That is one of the two reasons the CFN only has one LTR line; we have it running up Queen St with all other traffic removed from the main section. The other being that it then connects with the extremely high capacity, and also more separate right-of-way, of Dominion Rd. Which is to say a route that already has enough uses to justify the high installation costs, and to therefore more fully reap the benefits of electric drive, no emission system [and the rest- high route certainty etc].

      Essentially we see much more value in spending the big capex dollars on the grade separate rail system, for that is truly ‘Congestion Free’. And will be even more so once the remaining level crossings are sorted.

      1. I think the answer is pretty simple, it would add around four billion dollars to do the CFN BRT routes as LRT. Or in other words, for the same budget you get one tram line instead of several BRT lines.

        Remember the CFN is about reprioritising the budget to save money, not about spending billions of dollars we don’t have to build a dream network.

  6. We found the Airport Bus into the centre of Gothenburg operated very efficiently for us. Wasn’t aware of any congestion charge but car traffic was very light considering the number of people around.

    1. The congestion charge gets dropped in July and August when demand is light – the Swedes all head to their summer houses out at the seaside

  7. If rail ever gets to the North Shore, then a light rail/tram option would probably be the best fit, or even along the NW motorway to Westgate one day. Pipe dreams… Saw it shoehorned into Florence and it seems to work well.

      1. Patrick, this is outstanding work by Nick and in my view light metro provides a huge opportunity to derive substantial economic benefits from a more compact Shore and also to provide better transport options for people moving around the Shore. Weekend trips to Albany mall is one journey that comes to mind.

        Good public transport options can convince even the non believers. My wife is solidly amongst the non believers. Until yesterday! We walked to Takapuna and within a few minutes were on the way to the Wynyard Quarter for a look at the St Marys Bay Promenade- world class infrastructure with huge tourist potential stamped all over it. Then to breakfast on the foreshore and the bus home. All with no parking hassles or aggravation with traffic. Wonderful.

        One can only imagine how busy this area will be when it is complete given how many walkers, runners and cyclists were around at about 8.45am.

        It is interesting to see that roading simply does not feature when people have been asked about important issues in this election. Why then is it almost an obsession for National?

  8. “Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!”

    That’s assuming they get elected back in.

    Otherwise it’s time to forget the National Government and move on. They have had 6 long years of opportunity to come to their senses regarding transport policy and have utterly blown it. Most appropriate for them now is a long stint on the opposition benches where they can purge the damaging idealogues from within their midst and re-think how to be relevant in the 21st century.

    1. You mean they wouldn’t just spout “MOAR ROADS” that lead to yet “MOAR HOUSES” built all over “EVER MOAR PRODUCTIVE LAND”

  9. Hamburg also has a very active and radical citizenry, something Auckland seems to lack. There are heated debates about what the city should be like, I’d wish for the people in Aucks to be more voiced and outspoken.

  10. Gothenburg’s public art is excellent as well. We could do well to look at how they install it quickly and without fuss. Malmo also has exciting public art for all ages to enjoy.

  11. A very well & intensively written article. NZ has a crises on its hands. I don’t for one thing accept the excuses of ripping up rail for the sake of trails. I condon such a practise. For a small dig under ground will become the jewel in the pacific. Aucklands underground rail network will be a show stopper for the rest of the country.

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