Hochbahn Logo

Several weeks ago I started my second work placement at the Hamburger Hochbahn, AG. The Hochbahn, which literally means “high rail,” gets its name from the very first urban train line in Hamburg, a mostly elevated rail that makes a ring around the central Alster Lake and provides one of the best views of the Harbor. (Since then, the norm is to build subways mostly underground.) Since its founding in 1911, the Hochbahn has evolved into the largest transit provider in Hamburg, operating the entire U-Bahn (subway) network and most of the bus lines. Here’s some quick facts:

  • Daily Ridership: ~1.2 million
  • Annual ridership: 438 million (almost exactly evenly split between bus and rail)
  • Subway lines: 4
  • Bus routes: 111
  • Train stations: 91
  • Bus Stops: 1,321
  • Train cars: 232
  • Buses: 803
  • Annual budget: 424.3 € (~$478 million)
  • Employees: ~5,000

The Hochbahn AG is a private corporation, but 100% of the shares are owned by the city of Hamburg. This is a typical model in Germany for services that are semi-public in nature (water, electricity, etc), with the advantage that the budgets can be more easily isolated and analyzed. The Hochbahn also owns several subsidiaries, including two smaller bus companies that serve smaller markets in less populated areas of Hamburg, the ferry service, another tourist boat line, and the Intercity bus station. A key difference is that many services that in the US would either be part of a transit authority’s standard personnel or outsourced to another company are also provided by Hochbahn-owned subsidiaries, such as bus and rail maintenance operations, security service (similar to a transit police), IT service, advertising, housing for employees, and the cleaning service. This gives these subsidiaries the opportunity to also provide services to outside customers to increase revenue. (The Hochbahn covers 90% of its own costs, receiving a very small subsidy compared to US transit agencies. This includes not only revenue from passengers, but advertising, storefront rentals, etc.)

The Hochbahn has several innovative programs, some of which go far beyond the normal scope of a transit provider.

  • Bus optimization, which is most similar to Bus Rapid Transit in US cities
  • The Innovation Line 109 a 10 km (~6,2 mile) line tests new types of engines (including all electric) in conjunction with manufacturers
  • Switchh, a program that more seamlessly connects carsharing with transit fare cards, showing Hochbahn’s proactive emphasis on helping to steer multi-modal transportation in Hamburg
  • Accessible rail stations and bus stops
  • Planning for the U5 subway line

Over the next several months, I’ll be working specifically on the Schnellbus project: what to do with an outdated collection of 5 bus lines that are no longer necessary but politically impossible (up until now, at least) to eliminate. In addition, I’m learning how German transit providers plan, provide, and fund service.