Tanum Station is a real place, though it’s not necessarily a bustling transportation hub. It’s actually a nondescript train station with no shelter and nothing in relative walking distance. For how much I discuss mobility and other policy issues in metropolitan settings (after all, this website’s tagline is “Musings about mobility, maps, and metropolitan living”), Tanum Station is actually quite rural. It’s not in the U.S. either. It’s on the west coast of Sweden, in a region known as the Bohuslän Coast. But it’s also where I observed great efficiency in multi-modal transportation.
Located about two-and-a-half hours (by train) north of Gothenburg and relatively close to the Norwegian border, Tanum Station is the local stop for Tanum Municipality and is located close to the town of Tanumshede. The area is known for its Bronze Age rock carvings, which are a UNESCO Heritage Site, and the scenery of the Bohuslän Coast, a stunning archipelago that attracts cyclists, fishermen, divers and kayakers. And jellyfish, lots of them. I also have some ancestry from the area.
A few years ago, my wife and I took advantage of a very generous SAS spring sale and visited Scandinavia. After reading about and seeing pictures of the Bohuslän Coast, we decided to head up in that direction for a few days. We were staying in a small town called Grebbestad, which is in Tanum Municipality. We didn’t have a car, but we read you could do a train/bus combination to get there. By train, we departed Gothenburg (which we actually arrived to earlier that day from Copenhagen by train) and headed to Tanum Station. As we arrived at the station in mid-afternoon, a southbound train was coincidently arriving at the same time, but I didn’t think anything of it. I thought we’d have to wait a while for the 878 bus to arrive. But nope, the bus was there waiting, and we arrived in Grebbestad shortly thereafter.
After a couple of days admiring the scenery as well as getting caught in the wind and rain while kayaking and unexpectedly navigating around hundreds of yellow jellyfish at the surface, it was time to head back to Gothenburg. We waited late in the morning at the central bus shelter in Grebbestad, and the bus came on time. I was thinking that the headway for the bus was somewhat tight given that the train was to arrive only about 20 minutes later, and it would take at least 10 minutes to get to the station. What if there were traffic? What if the bus were late? Yet, here came the bus as scheduled, and we arrived at Tanum Station with a few minutes to spare. As the southbound train (our train) arrived, so did a northbound train.
I then realized that these tandem arrivals from a couple of days ago was no coincidence; it was coordinated effort by Västtrafik, the agency that manages public transportation service in Västra Götaland County, which includes Gothenburg and Tanumshede. Passengers who were on the bus boarded both trains, and passengers on both trains boarded the bus, which was waiting for them, as it was for us a few days earlier. I later looked at the bus and train schedules and saw that this coordinated effort occurs throughout the day, which made sense as we traveled at different times of day for our “to” and “from” trips.
I was in awe of this efficiency. The trains arrive from both directions within a few minutes of each other, and the bus is already there to pick up and drop off passengers. No waiting. Everything was on-time. People could depart from one mode of transportation and board the other and head to their destination within minutes.
For the record, I only witnessed this twice (when we were arriving and departing Tanum Municipality). Also, other factors, such as weather, may contribute to delays, whereas it was sunny both days we were traveling. And this was a rural area with fewer than 10,000 people, not some bustling urban center, where transit service may encounter a variety of headwinds, such as traffic, sick passengers, equipment malfunctions, and weather again.
Still, I loved how the transportation service was planned in such a minimally populated area. In addition, I loved how there was bus service throughout the day in such a minimally populated area.
Prior to this, there have been a number of notable times when I revered the local transportation service in many U.S. and European cities. But these other instances have been in densely populated areas.
Tanum Station was the first place I experienced such transportation efficiency in a low-population area. (Apparently, this level of service is common in many small European communities.) And it stuck with me. Was it just good transportation planning by the agency? Was it part of a broader public policy? Was it a residential acceptance of having good train and bus service no matter the area? Was it a combination of all three? Regardless of the reason, the experience was different to me. Generally in the U.S., having quality bus service in small towns isn’t the norm because the expectation is that everyone would own a car. The same could be said for regional rail service.
Having efficient transit service like in the Tanum area is something that I think every municipality and transportation agency can aspire to, as it reduces car reliance and benefits local economies by connecting people in rural areas to larger cities and vice versa (something that was common across the U.S. 100 years ago).
To hammer the point home: my wife and I were able to travel to this relatively rural area without a car at all; something that is unheard of in the U.S. Not only that, it was two modes of transit: bus and train.
Although I write about topics aside from transportation on this website, it is my infatuation with the socioeconomic impact of public transportation systems worldwide, as well as the public policies that contribute to the impact, that drove me to launch this site.
Tanum Municipality revealed to me that you don’t need a bustling metro region to have efficient transportation service. And I witnessed this at Tanum Station.