Imagine you could go to some rural area, maybe a national park, and you had a guarantee that you could get from the mainline station and get around, not just the odd bus now and then, but by all sorts of ways – bikes, e-bikes etc.
Ta-dah! It’s called “Guaranteed mobility” and places like Werfenweng and Mallnitz in Austria – both part of the Alpine Pearls network – are close to just that.
Here’s what our last few days in Werfenweng looked like. But before I get going, I’ll admit that I am not normal; seeking out “best practice” in this stuff and trying it out is something I do. On this trip my wife and 10-year old daughter are my real-world eyes… if something doesn’t work or is just too much effort, I might hide in denial, but there is nowhere to hide from them.
Our gorgeous “normal” big-windowed clean electric Austrian train picked up and dropped off all sorts of people along our route from Salzburg to Werfen… kids with bikes, older people, families, people packed ready for a day in the hills or a serious ride. Each station was a case study in station design & mobility hubs – shelter, seating, information and as far as I could tell, completely accessible. I spied loads of bike racks, carshare bays and bus stops at the stations; in this mobility landscape (overlay also a wide array of mobility passes), and why wouldn’t you use it all? Am I all dewy eyed (again)? Yes – but Austrian trains do have capacity issues at busy times, and some of their trains are getting a bit long in the tooth.
We took a side-trip as unashamed tourists to Werfen’s ice cave, then turned our attention to making the trip from Werfen mainline station in the main valley the 7km up to Werfenweng. We’d spotted the pillar at the station for Werfenweng’s W3 shuttle and one phone call led to a taxi-bus that wiggled its way not just to the village, but to our front door – for free. I guess this is what “last mile” looks like. If we’d have been organised, we could have sent out big bags ahead with OBB’s national luggage service – one for next time.
As we were staying overnight, we had a basic Werwenweng pass – that gave us the free W3 shuttle access to and from our accommodation at the start and end of our trip, and discounts on things like the main cable car and local swimming lake.
We could have bought a Werfenweng card. This is built around “soft mobility” and provides access on a points system to a variety of ways of getting around. It’s a great example of how to reconcile the different per-passenger-km differences in cost of different modes.
Werfenweng has led the way on providing “fun mobility” options – ten types of modes including Twizys, velo-taxis, Jetflyers (bit like jetskis with wheels).
These – plus the shuttle network – are provided so that visitors can explore the local quiet lanes without their cars. Indeed, the whole set-up is designed so that people can either not come by car at all, but if they do, they don’t need to use it once they have arrived. It works. The roads were quiet and seeing smiling faces swooshing past is fantastic. The Werfenweng fleet also includes four 5-seater plus two 2-seater EVs, again available via the card. These allow people to arrive without a car, but access one if they want to explore further afield – beyond the reach of the other mobility options. They are also available for local residents and business users as car club vehicles.
Our (too) short trip ended as it began – the shuttle picked us up (for free) at our door (at 08:15 on a Sunday morning) to get us to the mainline station in good time to get our onward train.
If we use Werfenweng to shake the 6-component model (and vice-versa) what does this show us?
Firstly, they have a really great solution to the “last mile” problem (component 1b) in the W3 shuttle. Not only does it work, but it gives a real sense of arrival and welcome that is quite different from by car; our driver had cracked the use of live Google translate-to-voice to make us all smile. It links Austria’s clean, efficient rail system (component 2) right into the heart of the destination – and it’s free. We could have forwarded our bags (component 5) but just didn’t get organised. It certainly would have made our ice cave side trip a lot easier.
Getting around (component 3) focusses on fun mobility (component 3b) plus the W3 shuttles. Even with all of this, we decided to walk to a valley head partly to be entertained by swarms of landing paragliders and the soundtrack of cowbells. This was to get to a cable car to access a long walk back via postcard-ready huts serving gorgeous just-made local food.
Werfenweng’s marketing of “soft mobility” is very attractive. I admit though, that I am not sure that the rest of my family would have cracked what was possible before we had arrived – it’s one of those things that is all perfectly clear once you’ve been there – however good a website is. There is a separate blog waiting to be written on this.
Werfenweng definitely shows what’s possible, but the majority of visitors still arrive by car – even if most cars stay put until they leave again. Could the system be scaled, and if so, what does the scaled system look like – in terms of service frequencies, variety and economic model? I kept coming back to the same question of how it might all be if car access was restricted from the main valley for visitors – to shift revenues into the scaled services, but also to shift approach travel behaviours – but that’s for when I get to Zermatt, Wengen & Murren in September. Would anyone really mind (if it was done equally as well as the existing services), and might it be an attractor for other types of visitors?
And finally, what about us being “Wenged”?
I am very grateful to Sandra Dohr (Werfenweng tourismus / Alpine Pearls) and Carolyne O’Brien (Werfenweng tourismus Chair) for spending time getting under the lid of Werfenweng and for the discussions around all these issues. When we were discussing levels of repeat visitors, Carolyne introduced me to the idea of being “Wenged” – people just keep coming back (as will we).
This sounds familiar in relation to places like the Isles of Scilly (or Glastonbury) – people just get hooked and develop a real affinity for the place (and perhaps more than “place” at Glastonbury). Looked at through decarbonisation goggles, this opens all sorts of opportunities for getting over that problem of unfamiliarity that we had when planning how to get there and around. (Yet) another blog in that sometime – familiarity breeds… decarbonisation?