An open letter to SL, Stockholm’s Local Traffic Heroes

I was thinking on blogging, on, of all things, coffee, just as I got off the bus at Danderyd to change to my other bus home.

I was on the 676, one of the few double deckers here and a joy to travel on, especially those with the free wifi too.  As I got off, I stumbled down the stairs, managing to fail to catch my iPod.  My wallet also must have stumbled out at that point and just as it sailed past me again had this dawned upon me.

I had the obvious panic of what the hell do I do.  I considered chasing it into town, but the next tunnelbana would be 10 minutes away and I might have missed it.  Thankfully, Danderyd is a manned station thanks to the tunnelbana below, so I went downstairs and, in a combination of bemused and befuddled English and Swedish, asked and pleaded for some help.  We cobbled together a phone call to the service depot, with word that they would find it for me and get in touch.  It was a bit confusing and still not really sure what was happening.  I got a number to my mobile almost immediately.  Somebody from customer service rang me just to explain what was going on, to make sure I was ok and I understood.  How stunningly efficient.

I had a nervous wait for the next step, the bus getting to terminus (in Stockholm) for the driver to check.  A phone call back from customer service explained that it was found successfully.  I this point I was still worried that some official protocol and paperwork would need to be filled in, but all I had to do next was find the same bus driver on his return journey and he would hand it to me.

It was a super super service, helpful, kind, quick, supportive and good honest work.  Frankly, I could have sang and shouted across the entire land how amazing Stockholm’s public transport was before tonight, but I’m writing this letter now for the entire world to see what I truly think.

The first thing I want the world to do (and SL themselves, who I will send this too) is to personally thank everybody involved who helped me at around 22:00 at Danderyd on Tuesday 18th December.  From the man in the tunnelbana station to the friendly, prompt and honest bus driver to the excellent customer service man who rang me with amazing clarity and care, they all deserve a huge pat on the back and a well done.

As a city size, Stockholm is smaller with population than Manchester by a long long way.  The transport though is completely unable to be compared.  One can go pretty much anywhere from anywhere.  Buses travel the length and breadth of the county, going everywhere even the smallest village lives.  It is superb.  A hobby of mine living here is just on a free day to take google maps, find somewhere that looks fun and then work out how to get there.  Journey planning on their website is fully reliable – better software in the future may make it completely live from anywhere you are to take it to the next level – but the software is world class even now.  Timings are more accurate than I recall in the UK and the sheer volume of traffic it carries shows how important it is to the Swedes.  Furthermore the variety of options of types of train, tram, bus and so forth is stunning – granted a more linked up system would be preferable in a design and efficiency point of view, but to link these in some cases old and previously isolated systems even under one roof is a special political statement.  The luxury of having a card that can take me anywhere on any public transport I like without having to think about the payment on a day-to-day basis is lovely, and stunningly reasonable value in a city with high standards of living like here.  I genuinely believe that the rest of the world may struggle to compare itself to this.

Plus, they are building more all the time.  I don’t think I can think of an already developed nation that is building and investing in transport so much.  Stockholm is a city with a minor but rising risk of being terribly underhoused and building is flourishing, and the geology of Stockholm makes it relatively cheap to build tunnels, however this level of infrastructure is never done in UK cities.  In fact, our local bus route to Manchester, quite frankly the only bus back home I have ever used, has now been pulled out of service by the contractor, and our much promised Metrolink service will arrive…’soon’ and will take double the time the train does to get into Manchester centre.   Much needed and sensible work, such as building a city centre tunnel to increase capacity, and a ‘normal’ (i.e. not an expensive express service) train to the airport, is being done (although, on the latter, the whole idea of extra costs for the journey is very very confusing and just the most tiny bit offputting – could a better method be either to increase overall price for everybody a fractional amount as so many of us go to the airport anyway and would support the extension).  For a city, yes a capital, but still relatively small, and to be full of difficult to navigate islands to cope so very well puts it top of the ladder for me and I can’t think of anywhere else that comes close.   Buses going on boats are awesome.

And of course, being Sweden, it is clean and super safe.  And of course, people don’t say hej back when I sit next to them on the bus.  I’m anti-social quite often on the 06:52 but that’s always going to be the polite thing to do in my world.

There are a couple of things I would like to ask though.

Firstly, some of the tunnelbana stops have only one exit (Duvbo is the one I know best), but the tunnelbana stops at the end of the platform furthest from the entrance.  I am sure there are signaling reasons for this, but I would like to ask if SL know about this and if it is intentional, why, as it is a bit silly and frustrating to walk that extra 20 seconds (and could make some people late too).

Secondly, I love the clarity of the maps that are available online of all the different bus routes.  http://sl.se/sv/Resenar/Planera-resa/Kartor/ – all the major transport stops have these maps and they are so useful and accurate.  Are these ever printed out for people, and, if so, how can I get them?  They would make a lovely Christmas present for someone I know.

Thank you if you are the poor soul working for SL who got this far and is still reading my lovely English letter about the transport – I am a huge fan.  I do not understand when the Swedes complain about transport infrastructure here.  Roads were clear a couple of hours after the biggest blizzard I had ever seen, many buses have good accesses for wheelchairs, and all can be used easily by prams, and finally it all works with stunning reliability.  When I first moved to Sweden, getting the bus to work was a big question mark for me, being stranded waiting for a bus was not an option to enthuse about.  However, they are so reliable and you really can pick your time to leave to arrive on the minute and know you will make the bus.

Thank you for the support,

Ben Robertson

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