Dear SL, I love you

Usually people complain about the public transport in their city. It’s late, it’s expensive. I have probably said bad things about Storstockholms lokaltrafik (SL), the Stockholm public transportation. I would like to apologize. Dear SL, I love you.

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Because you never miss the water until it’s gone. But now that I am trying to figure out a new system, the HVV, I really realize how much I love SL. In the past week, I have gotten lost four, five times. It’s not because I am stupid (eller inte kan använda mitt lokalsinne för att det laddar ;-)), it’s because there is very little intuitive logic in HVV’s system. I was glad to hear from my friend Ingrid’s visitor that everyone who has not lived in the city for a while gets lost.

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The first thing is the zones. Usually, there is maybe three or five zones. They tend to go in circles, right? Well, not in Hamburg. A zone is like 1500 metre in radius. My ticket is only valid in zone 00 and 105. I never know where that is and if I was a good citizen, I would always check before entering the station because there it says the zones when you enter. I totally do not get it though because just because I start in zone 105 hardly means I cannot leave 105 with a train that starts from there. What if I am on the train and had planned to stay within 105 and then change my mind and stay on the train? The weirdest thing happened the one time where I was actually checked – I was checked in the very center of Hamburg, zone 00 that probably everyone has a ticket for, at the exit. Huh? The exit? I mean, I can tell the guy checking anything where I came from because my ticket only says zone 00 and not where I got on. Is it only me who does not get the logic?

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Observe the little sign to the upper right informing you about the zones

HVV also thinks it is great fun to change things. They’re really flexible in that way. When I am trying to go somewhere, they think it is awesome to change the sign for the direction (that only some trains have because it’s cool to not know where you are going). Yay, it says Altona – but we are going in the opposite direction. Not that I would notice before a few minutes because I don’t know all the stops by heart yet. When you have finally got it, let’s hope you are not at one of the stations where you cannot cross over to the opposite platform to change your direction. Because those exist. You have to go out of the station, cross the road, and go down again on the other side. At least that is the only way I have found so far. Maybe I’m stupid.

It’s also really great to change the tracks and not inform anyone. HVV really helps to keep my mind alert. I’m so thankful. It’s so German, they make you think. Not like Sweden, where everything is presented to you on a silver platter, with correct signage and everything.

Even though Germany is maybe not known for emphasizing health and movement, HVV sees to it that you get your step counter up. There are metro lines but then there is also countless other trains (S-Bahn) and they seem to never be in the same station. No, instead you have to find your way out the station and find the next station. This way, you have a greater chance of getting lost and also you always needs more than five minutes to change trains. What’s not to love?

HVV is really modern: of course they have an app for their timetables. There is only two bad things about it: in 90% of the underground I have no internet reception and the app does not know when something changes in the timetable. Like when there are busses instead of trains because they’re building something.

I really love the circle train as well. It goes in a circle. That concept is extremely foreign to me and I experience great difficulty in riding that train. The first couple of times, I had no idea where it was going. Because it was always going to where I wanted – eventually (that’s the point of a circle, I guess). But it was also going the other direction of the circle and if I found that train, my ride would be 15 instead of 55 minutes. I am sure this is a great idea and certainly done in all major cities, but even colleagues that have lived here forever tell me, “Ah, U3, not even I got that one figured out”. I am looking forward to  when my friend Emily, academically specialized in urban transportation, will hopefully enlighten me on the subject.

The general standard of HVV is sad. I find it to be very dirty and I am somewhat alienated by the fact that one needs to pull open the doors oneself. I realize now how SL is spoiling everyone. Interestingly enough for a lesser price though. HVV takes 100 euros from their customers for the adventures on the trains. I suppose you can get further with HVV than with SL, and the 100 euros apply if you decide to travel in all zones. If you’re crazy like that, wanting to go outside your own hood and visit friends or something.

If that is your wish, you buy the monthly ticket but don’t think you can just go and buy it, oh no. You need a photo for it, and no, it cannot be a print out. (And of course you can’t pay with card, silly.) The reason is that they do not want you to give the ticket to anyone else. One more piece of logic that is incomprehensible to me. If the ticket is paid for one person why does it matter which person uses it as long as it is never more than one at the same time? Isn’t that what I paid for?

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It must be me. I have gotten too used to understanding the system of SL, too used to relative cleanliness and the amazing art of putting up signs.

Last week, my protest was civil disobedience: I went out of the two zones assigned to me and did for the first time in my life feel not-so-bad about dodging the fare. Because I believe it’s a give and take – if I barely get anything, I’d rather pay little, too.

I promise this will change now. Next thing I am doing to going to invest 100 euros and try even harder to understand the system. My friends Michelle and Malin warned me to make an effort to integrate – and so I will. The first time I get somewhere with the circle train without any disruptions, I will tell you!

P.S.: On top of it all, I witnessed a scene of embarrassing (and as I believe rare) racism when I bought my first ticket in the HVV center. While I was waiting in the long queue, a black man went up to one counter and asked if the lady spoke English. She barked (!) in German, “Natürlich sprech ich Englisch!” When he said he wanted to buy a ticket, she said very unfriendly, “Ja, aber which Fahrkarte?!” and when he inquired about the different options there were she waved with the brochure and yelled – in German – “These three, is it really that difficult to get?!” Unfortunately I could not come up with a good intervention line but next time I’ll have to say something because that incident was just painful to watch. I do not understand why one works in service in a cosmopolitan city in the CENTRAL STATION if she despises foreigners and the English language, and I truly wonder if people are not worried about the impression we are making as a people. Seriously.

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