Where culture and bus coincide.
Although many areas of France have focused in recent years on developing tram systems, Strasbourg is taking a new approach and redefining its own local public transport network for the future: with the Mercedes-Benz Citaro G and BHNS – “Bus à Haut Niveau de Service”. The Compagnie de Transports de Strasbourg (CTS) has taken the system operated in the city of Nantes, a European variant of the extremely successful Bus Rapid Transit systems that have long been an established part of life in cities such as Istanbul or Mexico City, a step further for its introduction in the capital of the Alsace region. “Reliability, comfort and the speed with which passengers are transported – these are the benefits of the system for the customer. But the city authorities also benefit from the system, as they are able to offer these benefits to their customers at a very modest price, considering the volume of passengers carried”, explains Jean-Philippe Lally, Managing Director of CTS, highlighting the particular challenges for the French market.
Appropriately enough, Jean-Philippe Lally travelled to his interview with us in a Line G bus. It has to be said that the Citaro G that draws up along the specially built lane is somewhat unusual in its appearance – covered wheels and very deep windows. The 18-metre bus is a distinctively individualised Citaro G. The decision in favour of the Mercedes-Benz bus was one that was taken very consciously – and jointly by CTS, passenger associations, disability organisations and, not least, by the company’s drivers.
'I drive on other routes, but the Line G with the Citaro is my favourite. It is, quite simply, the most comfortable of them all - and the BHNS system is also much more convenient for us as drivers', according to Patrick Klein, who after all should know, as he has been driving for CTS for 25 years now.
But there are a number of much more important aspects, as the 54-year-old reports: 'People like the Citaro! The design is much more attractive, people have more space, it's comfortable and it's very quiet. And, most importantly, the buses on the Line G arrive punctually, thanks to the separate lanes and the way the traffic lights are programmed.'
Indeed, 80 percent of the full 5.2-kilometre route of the Line G is operated using separate lanes. A tremendous advantage for the eight Citaro that can be under way at any one time. It means that, each day, 250 journeys of between six and 30 minutes take place, carrying 9000 passengers.
The traditional and the modern.
And the concept sits happily with the traditional flair of Strasbourg as a centre of European culture. For CTS it was particularly important that the appearance of the buses would allow them to blend harmoniously into a city that has managed, time and time again, to find a balance between the traditional and the modern, between technological and ecological considerations. Each new line in Strasbourg, for example, shows the influence of a different artist. For the Line G and the Citaro G, this has been the Dutch artist and architect Theo van Doesburg. “Design influences from inside the Aubette have played their part in the interior design and even the exterior look of the buses”, explains Camille Janton, Commercial Director for CTS, during a tour of what was once the guard house of Strasbourg’s Garde du Corps.
And indeed, the geometrically abstract, puristic but colourful flair of 'De Stijl' artist van Doesburg is instantly recognisable in the buses - the design from the Aubette brings a flavour of Strasbourg to the ceilings and side walls of the buses.
In this way, the Line G and its driving force, the Citaro G, have created links in more senses than one – the design taken from the heart of the city both binds the citizens of Strasbourg to their home city and, on the other hand, links the centre to the new business quarter, the Espace Européen de l’Entreprise. “The bus gives us a direct route to our companies. The existence of this shortest possible link is an important factor. The efficient and fast links to the local public transport network bring benefits for the whole quarter, so the BRT line enhances both its attractiveness and its competitive potential”, explains Vincent Tripanel, the representative of Strasbourg’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, highlighting the economic importance of the Line G. The way the intermodal concept links in well with regional as well as major national transport routes, with a Park and Ride car park and with bike as well as car-sharing schemes, makes the new system all the more attractive.
BRT or BHNS systems exist so far in 10 French cities and have done so for more than 10 years. The key factors in Strasbourg: a sophisticated traffic concept that gives priority to buses, coupled with the outstanding quality of the Mercedes-Benz buses, as recognised in particular by the citizens of Strasbourg.
And so as the CTS drivers steer a key part of the future of urban mobility, in the form of the Citaro G, through the streets of the cultural capital, the European Parliament in its turn steers the destiny of a whole continent from its idyllic location on the banks of the river Ill.