Transportation Observations Abroad 🇫🇮 🇸🇪 🇪🇪

My family took a quick trip last week to Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. Not work related, but of course transportation made its way into my sightseeing and there were lots of interesting little things to see. Here are a few key things I observed:

Parent-friendly design:

As a relatively new parent, I’m biased in my observation of stroller-friendly environments when navigating a new city. However, Helsinki and Stockholm really made it easy. Stroller parking on trains and buses, and special stroller stop request buttons that specifically indicated that one might need a little more time to get off the bus.

Commuter trains had ample and clearly marked space for stroller parking

If we needed to take the elevator (or the occasional transit station funicular), a small, but obvious thing is the buttons were placed in the middle of the elevator, not the front or back where it might be difficult to reach if crowded. All of the buses, trams, and trains we rode had low-floor sections that made rolling on and off a snap.

Nearly all transit vehicles were low-floor, making rolling on and off simple and easy

While making life easy for a stroller, I wouldn’t necessary extend that ease across all mobility devices. Similar to other parts of Europe, narrow widths, cobblestone streets, and lack of curb ramps were common sights.

Bike infrastructure was common, although not perfect.

Paying for Transit

Both Helsinki and Stockholm have smartcards and mobile payment. We used the latter in both cities. However, if you had not heard already, Helsinki is also known for pioneering bundled mobility options. For example, you can purchase a package that includes transit, taxis and car rentals. When I say pioneered, I’m not kidding. MaaS or “Mobility as a Service” is just coming of age in the US but its already an exhibit in Helsinki’s Museum of Design.

Buy the right bundle of mobility!

Related to more practical matters, taking transit in Stockholm wasn’t cheap, but making decisions around day passes (which would encourage me to use transit) was simple. A 1-day pass to ride transit in Stockholm is 120 SEK (a single ride is 43 SEK) a multiplier of about 3, meaning I just need to ride the system 3 times for it to break even (encouraging me to ride more!) Compare that to San Francisco where a 1-day pass is $21 where would need to ride more than 8 times in that time period.

Helsinki’s bikeshare system was also impressive in both its usage and ease of payment. Their system included a docking station model. However, payment and electronics were on the bicycle itself, including the ability to use a smartcard to unlock/pay for a bike.

Smartcard readers for transit cards were built right onto the bike

Passenger Information

When delivering transit, passenger information and wayfinding can be the easiest place to skimp. To do these things right, it’s not necessarily complex, but it takes time, money, and someone to spend time thinking what the customer needs. Sharing a few examples of what I saw below from both Tallin and Stockholm.

Without question, this blew me away. When leaving the train station in Stockholm, the taxi queue included a public information board which automatically synced information about taxis in queue with their on-board amenities. Information about taxi capacity, baby seat options, pet-friendlyness and more. It’s a small thing, but seemingly light-years away from what we experience in the United States.

The image above represents vehicles and their onboard amenities, lining up with the vehicles in the actual queue (below)

In Tallinn, bus schedules were laid out in an hourly format which is a clear way to represent services that are not on a regular frequency. However, I did like the line information which helps provide clarity on line direction and destinations.

Showing a daily timetable in a simple, easy to understand format.

If you’re going to build a trampoline gym proximate to a commuter rail station (which already is quite parent/kid friendly), naturally it makes sense to put train arrival information information there as well.

The trampoline gym even had real-time arrival information so parents and kids could catch their train home.

Little Details

A great transportation experience relies on getting a few big things correct. However, there are lots of small details that seem insignificant, but clearly reflect deep thought into making things better for the customer. One thing I noticed was that advertising boards (perhaps privately owned/maintained) also occasionally had bicycle air pumps for passing cyclists.

Notice the air pump built right into this sidewalk signage

Stockholm’s subway system was impressive in many ways and their focus on underground art installations is internationally renown. On a smaller scale, I thought their attention to detail on navigating complex stations was impressive. For spatial people like myself, having this type of visualization (below) was really helpful to understand getting from Point A to B. In addition to the diagram, they even coordinated having photos of key junction points to ensure that I’m on the right track.

Until the next visit

There are always great things to learn from visiting cities abroad. I feel like the small details and attention to users stood out most to me on this visit. If you have the opportunity to travel here, I hope you’ll experience the same and more!