Traveling south from Stockholm, following the UITP Global Congress in the city in early June 2019, on one the new market entrant rail services — “Snalltaget” — one arrives at Malmo in southern Sweden. Malmo is Sweden’s third city with over 300,000 residents.
Malmo was historically a major manufacturing center particularly for ships. From the 1970s onwards, the city was hard hit by deindustrialization. This led to unemployment and eventually a range of social problems. The Swedish government intervened in a number of ways over the last few decades, and the city is now known for its reinvention. It should be noted that overall Sweden remains a very prosperous and well run country.
Malmo’s reinvention includes integration of the city’s economy into the wider regional economy with nearby Copenhagen, which is eight miles away across the Oresund Strait via a newly built bridge/tunnel crossing. The regional population is over four million.
The Oresund bridge/tunnel opened in 2000. It is composed of a five mile bridge followed by a 2.5 mile tunnel across the Oresund Strait. A highway is on the upper level of the bridge and railway on the lower level, which is used by both passenger and freight services.
The Oresund crossing by rail is impressive. From a newly built rail station under Malmo’s historic station, trains cross every 20 mins throughout the day and take 20 minutes to travel between the two city centers. The dedicated “Oresundtag” trains have been developed for the service and directly connect locations north of Malmo in Sweden via the city and bridge crossing with Copenhagen’s international airport, the city center, and locations north and west of Copenhagen in Denmark.
This, however, even with the removal of most international border controls within most European countries remains and international border and security controls are in place. During the recent “Migrant Crisis” in Europe, Sweden chose to reintroduce identity controls on Oresund trains coming from Denmark. These generally remain in place. Nevertheless, the service has a sense of a “mini-Eurostar” experience — the cross Channel rail service between the UK and France. It is impressive in scale, service, ease of use, and the impact of the connectivity it delivers versus earlier transport options.
The Oresund bridge/tunnel is one of the major recent engineering achievements in Europe and is part of a larger plan of improving connectivity across the continent and, in particular, improving the linkages between northern Scandinavia and the rest of the continent via Denmark. This has led to the construction and planned construction of a series of bridge/tunnels.
Redefining regions within Europe and growing strong inter-regional economies that may often cross existing borders is a key goal of the European Union. This aims to bring people and societies together as well as increase economic efficiency. This can be seen in other global regions, such as the Pearl River Delta around Hong Kong, Macau, and Shenzhen in China or in the regions adjacent to Singapore in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The bridge is also interesting for its wider impact on the economic development of the Oresund Region, which includes Copenhagen in Denmark, Malmo in Sweden, and the surrounding areas. This is a region of four million people and has a robust economy particularly centered on Copenhagen. The bridge has enabled a regional labor market to develop and for workers in Copenhagen to take advantage of lower living costs in southern Sweden, as well as the resulting boost to economic activity in Malmo, in particular. This increased labor market has enabled further growth in Copenhagen’s economy.
The bridge has also lowered costs and significantly increased the efficiency of freight movements and particularly rail freight between Sweden, Denmark, and the rest of Europe. Along with the 11 mile Great Belt Fixed Link completed in 1998, it is now possible to drive, or move by rail, along the entire route from Scandinavia to key markets in Germany, The Netherlands, and other parts of Western Europe. In fact, a further tunnel is under construction between Denmark and Germany that will further reduce the travel time and allow movement directly south from Copenhagen to Germany. This 11-mile Fehmarn crossing is expected to be completed in 2028 at a cost of approximately $74.3 billion.
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and continues to see substantial economic growth. Like, Stockholm and Sweden, Copenhagen and Denmark have very high global living standards and see themselves as leaders in sustainable living. Thus, issues such as clean environments, recycling, sustainable transport, equity in society, etc., are high in the public discourse.
Public transport in Copenhagen is a most remarkable experience. While many aspects are unique, so much can be learned from observation in this city and region.
First, cycling in Copenhagen has become dominant. Over 50% of work and school journeys are completed by bicycles in this city. The city also has over a million residents and so the number of daily cycle movements is extremely large. One of the immediate impressions of Copenhagen is the resulting space and street infrastructure that is devoted to cycling — in terms of lanes and parking. Many global cities are attempting to (re)turn to a cycling supportive city landscape as part of a broader agenda of sustainable mobility. Copenhagen provides a context for the number of compromises that are needed when this strategy has reached a substantial outcome. There are many types of sub-markets in the cycle experience and in the range of ways in which bicycles can be used given the opportunity — from personal commuting, to child transport, shopping trips, deliveries, and more. This reinforces the need for city authorities to consider robust and flexible infrastructure. Pedestrian sidewalk space is in many cases restricted to allow for cycle lanes and cycle parking. Cycle parking in residential areas can make the sidewalk space in fact very hard to navigate and encourage pedestrian movement into the streets. General roadway space can also be limited, not only for cars, but also for buses, due to the number of cycle movements. And, pedestrians need to be acutely aware of the movement of cycles in attempting to cross any road. While cycle etiquette is very good in the city, pedestrians without good situational awareness abilities would likely find the environment very challenging.
Nevertheless, the cycle culture in the city provides a very active, healthy, and refreshing experience of what an urban experience can be, and in a large city. Cycling and the cycling culture has become a significant part of the tourism experience in the city, as well, and there are numerous visitors who are taking part.
Copenhagen also sees the widespread use of other micromobility solutions such as e-scooters, but they are probably not as widespread as in many other European cities due to the pre-existing cycling culture.
Another impact of the cycling culture in the city is its impact on other modes of public transport. Again, Copenhagen is a large and diverse city and a national capital. It includes an economy based on services as well as industry. There is a robust and very comprehensive regional railway system — S-Tog — based on central Copenhagen’s main railway station — which is located on the west side of the main city center. The service uses a shallow tunnel in the central area to route the frequent trains through the heart of the city and uses a number of underground stations. However, in the last few decades, the rest of the city’s public transport has been provided by city buses, following removal of trams in the 1950s. The current bus network is comprehensive, but not what one would expect from such a large city and simply doesn’t cover or promote itself to access the range of expected locations in the city center.
It is unusual, in terms of a European city, to see such a gap in local public transport — particularly, in what is otherwise such a wealthy city. My view would be that the cycling has filled such a substantial role in local transport that along with the regional rail network, a limited bus network had been sufficient for many years.
This is now changing and the city is rapidly progressing with the implementation of a full Metro system within the inner city. This is again unusual for a European city. The first phases of the 13 mile, 22 station system opened in 2002, connecting a western suburb with newly developing southern areas and the airport via underground running in the city center. Thereupon, a second and third phase were approved, which are due to open in July 2019 and then in phases through 2024, which is to double the length of the system. Effectively in 20 years, the city will move from no intercity Metro service to an extensive 30-mile network covering most of the key activity locations and integrated with the other public transport modes. This is a huge undertaking and is again redefining the movement geography of the city and the sustainable transport options.
Copenhagen has also chosen the fully automated train system originally developed by AnsaldoBreda for its Metro. This business is now owned by Hitachi. All trains are fully automated and driverless and use platform edge doors. The system runs 24 hours a day and is remarkably modern and efficient.
An orbital light rail scheme is also under construction in Copenhagen.
In summary, Copenhagen illustrates the on-street compromises that are required to embrace large scale cycle use in a metropolitan city, yet delivers these in a way that still creates an engaging and pleasant street atmosphere. It is now retrofitting an inner city rail service that would be typical of many other European cities, but hasn’t proved necessary up to this time.
My travel ended via a journey to the city’s Kastrup airport. In fitting with the rest of the week’s travel, the airport was reached by walking from my hotel to the Metro and traveling a remarkably short journey of 20 minutes directly to a Metro station within the airport terminal, which sits above a rail station that provides an alternative means to access the airport from the city center as well as regional, national, and international rail links. An efficient and effective transport story.
The next UITP Global Congress will be in Melbourne in June 2021.
Giles K. Bailey is a director at Stratageeb Ltd., a London-based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation.