Transit in Copenhagen

Transit in Copenhagen is controlled by a single operator, which is the national operator DB. As a result, tickets are valid on all modes of transport in the allowed area, which is based on zones. If you have a ticket, then you can use that ticket on intercity rail, commuter rail, metro, or bus. It is much easier to use this way. Each ticket comes with a time limit, based on the number of zones you’re traveling through. This ranges from 30 minutes to a few hours. You can also buy day or multi-day tickets. The time ranges cross days as well. Therefore, you could buy a 24-hour ticket at 2pm and it would remain valid until 1:59pm the following day. The day passes seem geared more toward tourists, but anyone can use them.

If you’re an American, you’ll probably have some trouble buying transit tickets from the machines in the stations. These machines often only take chip and PIN credit cards. Cards with chips that you still have to sign (like one of mine) won’t work either. If you card doesn’t have both, then you have to purchase the tickets with cash; however some machines don’t take cash. Luckily I found an iPhone app called Mobilbilletter Hovedstaden that let me purchase tickets with my US credit card. You set up an account and add your details. You can save a credit card if you wish, or add it each time you purchase a ticket. The ticket is stored on the phone, in the app, and seemed to work pretty well even when I didn’t have an internet connection. When asked to present my ticket, I would show the conductor the barcode in the app, and they would scan it. Above the barcode is a counter that tells you how long you have before the ticket expires.

I didn’t ride the buses in Copenhagen, but I checked out the bus stops and signs to see how they displayed information. The bus signs follow a template that allows them to be deployed in any area. They’re not specific to an individual line or stop. Route info sheets (paper or laminated) slide into a slot and the routes are displayed on an LED, usually indicating the next buses. The paper part of the sign shows the major stops that each route makes, along with a travel time indicator for between the stop and the next one. This gives you a good idea of how long your journey will take. I like this mix of lo-fi and hi-fi techniques. One downside is that the signs are not illuminated, making them hard to see at night, including the LED portion.

Having a single operator allows for this single ticketing system. I wish more American cities offered this kind of ticket integration. Without it, transit passengers are forced to cope with multiple ticketing rules and procurement procedures. It is a barrier to use that agencies should find a way to remove. The rise of smart cards is helping to alleviate this, but for the passenger to benefit the most, all agencies in a region need to support the fare methods. In the UK and other countries (as well as in some ares of the US), this is achieved by a single transport agency that coordinates these types of things among all the operators. Without such an organization, individual operators or agencies seem to see little incentive to working together on creating an easier way for passengers to use all of the services.

Another alternative would be for all operators to standardize on a smart card technology. Each agency could offer branded cards, but the underlying technology would be the same across the board. I experienced such a system in New Zealand a few years ago. I got a smart card in Wellington, which I could use on the buses and trains (as well as in some participating shops). Auckland’s smart card was from the same company, however, the website suggested that it wouldn’t work in both cities. I found that it did and was grateful that I didm’t have to figure out how to procure the card in Auckland. I just hopped on the bus, tapped it on the reader, and rode to my destination.