What makes for a good transport experience? Well, if you need a bit of inspiration turn to page 99 of this issue and you’ll find a neat little story about South Tyrol (and there will be plenty more from the region in our special travel issue) where they have been building themselves nice new bus and train stations and some bike racks too. We have a couple of pictures that show their handiwork. When I first saw them they stopped me in my tracks. Alpine larch has been used in place of the plastic moulded seating that we have come to associate with these settings. The benches are long and lean – there are no armrests strategically placed to prevent homeless people daring to lie down and they are wide enough that you wouldn’t get a numb rear if you had to linger for your train. And the bike racks! They are sheltered, nicely lit and the actual racks are spaced generously apart so that you can lock your beloved two-wheeler without rubbing against a neighbouring oily chain.
Who was the genius in city planning who thought that they would ignore what everyone else considered adequate and instead build something that was actually kind of wonderful? The materials and execution are not lavish but the result makes you shudder at the thought of what we are asked to put up with every day.
And this small story is about so much more than aesthetics. It’s a story about big thinking and ambition. As cities wonder why they cannot get the hordes to leave their cars at home, here’s an example of how to create a seamlessly joined-up public-transport experience (take bike to station, hop on bus, come back to bike not fearing thieves or someone lurking in the gloom). How come so few people – whether in aviation or car manufacturing – look at the transport experience and think, “I am going to up the game, I am going to improve what’s gone before”?
So this month we have discovered the people trying to make things better and you will find them throughout our Transport Survey, from Spanish woman María Sánchez Palomo, who is charged with getting Saudi Arabia to ride on high-speed rail, to the students at Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden who are trying to create the updateable car.
I’d also recommend that you check in for another story in this issue that heads off on a different transport theme. Robert Bound, our culture editor, swapped a museum ticket for one on African Express, an airline that takes you back to the days when crossing that continent was always an adventure. We sent him on one of its hub-hopping flights that started in Nairobi and ended up in Dubai, taking in Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Berbera along the way. He flew over shark-infested waters, banked to dodge potential rocket launchers and came back thrilled.
Whether you are sitting on a larch bench or an old African Express seat, these are both memorable transport experiences. And we could all do with more of them in a world dominated by the bland. Come on. Let’s go.
Fifty years ago people in Italy, Germany and the US took pride in buying cars made in their nations. Then the world changed and everyone just wanted a car that was reliable and matched their bank balance, no matter where it came from. But things are changing. Many fast-industrialising nations have become home to foreign-owned car plants and now want to build models that say something about their nation and aspirations. Turkey is one of these countries and in our report on Bursa (see page 79) we meet the people keen to develop a new all-Turkish car brand.
Every year that we run this survey we end up admiring how Japan has ambitiously invested in track and stock to become the ultimate rail nation. Companies such as JR East are also skilled at considering the role of the station, from retail centre to dining spot. As we encourage people to use trains over cars, all nations need to devote more to the experience and put urban and inter-city rail routes at the heart of our economic and social policies. We also need to get Japan to sell us some of their comfy train seats.
It has been a period of terrible tragedies for passenger ships and there needs to be a rethink of the safety of vessels we are asked to sail in – and the training of the crew and captains. But let’s not give up on the idea of the cruise. Indeed, as you will see on page 122, there’s a strong case for repitching the experience for a broader (ie, younger) demographic.