I’ve finally completed most of my business-related travel (at least for the short term) and have the time to get back to posting on a regular basis. I thought I would complete my posts on Public Transportation (yes, part one was a long time ago…) before switching to the topic of bicycle culture. I may throw in a post on my recent trip to Romania as I know a number of people would be interested in my experiences and observations.
Zone System: Copenhagen’s public transit system is divided into concentric zones beginning with Zone 1 in the center of the city and continuing up to Zone 10 in the outlying areas. Above Zone 2, the system is subdivided into sectors much like a dart-board. The cost of transport is based on the number of zones through which you travel. Like many things in Denmark, public transportation can be quite expensive. However, there are many ways to reduce costs and the system is quite flexible, allowing you to use all forms of public transit (buses, metro, S- and regional trains) on the same ticket.
Tickets: Individual tickets (billetter) are the most expensive option and the one most utilized by tourists. A basic ticket within Zone 1 cost 12 DKK ($2.20) while a trip to/from the airport in Zone 4 costs ~35DKK ($6.50). The price escalates the further you travel from the center of the city, up to a high of 108DKK ($20CAD/USD) when traveling to Zone 9 or higher. Each ticket is valid for 1-1.5 hours depending on the number of zones the ticket is valid for.
Klippekort: One of the most ingenious and flexible payment options for public transit is the klippekort. It is absurdly simple when you understand how it works but most tourists shy away from it (including myself when I was here as a tourist) because it is quite unique, especially for North Americans. Klippekorts can be purchased in “denominations” ranging from 2 to 8 zones (zoner) up to Alle Zoner. Each klippekort has 10 tabs (klips) which can be clipped, allowing you to travel within the zones equivalent to the klippekort you hold. In plain English, if you have a 2 Zoner klippekort, you can travel within Zones 1 and 2 for each klip. What is ingenious about the klippekort is that it is based on multiples. Thus, if you hold a 2 Zoner klippekort but want to travel within 4 zones, you simply punch your klippekort twice (2 x 2 zoner). Alternately, if you have a 4 Zoner klippekort, you only need to punch it once. If you are traveling to a zone which is an odd number, you can even combine klippekorts. Thus, if you are travelling 5 zones, you can punch 1 klip on a 3 Zoner and 1 klip on a 2 Zoner.
The other ingenious feature of the klippekort is that it can be used by multiple people travelling together. Thus, if four people are travelling from the airport to downtown (4 zones), you can purchase a 2 Zoner klippekort and punch it 8 times (2 clips/person x 4 people), leaving you with 2 klips remaining. The system really is quite simple but I can understand the puzzled looks of tourists as I too was mystified by it in the beginning.
Passes: Despite the flexibility of klippekorts, by far the cheapest form of public transit is monthly or yearly passes. Unfortunately, this system is not as flexible as the klippekort as passes are issued for the specific zones in which you travel. Thankfully, even monthly passes can be combined with…you guessed it, klippekorts. So even if your monthly pass isn’t valid for exactly where you want to go, you can at least combine it with the appropriate klippekort.
Some corporations offer employees the opportunity to purchase passes through the company. Not only do they receive a discount (~10% by my calculations), the cost of passes is deducted from gross income. I can see your eyes glazing over but, in essence, this reduces your taxable income. Depending on your marginal tax rate, this can reduce the effective cost of a monthly transit pass by up to ~52% on top of the 10% corporate discount. In my case, the cost of an Alle Zoner pass drops from 1180 DKK ($216) to 510 DKK ($94). It beats paying 180% tax on cars and gas at 12.5 DKK/liter ($2.30 or $8.68/gallon)!
Honor System: If you are expecting to have to pass through turnstiles or other barriers to enter the public transit system, you may be suprised. The entire system is completely open and it is up to you to ensure that you have the appropriate ticket, klippekort or pass corresponding with the zone(s) you are travelling in. While usage is honor based, there are blitzes to ensure people stay honest. While I did not show my pass the entire month of January, I was required to show it almost daily throughout the month of February. And I do mean blitzes. Several employees descend on the train or Metro at the same time and verify tickets in a matter of a few minutes. Failure to show the necessary ticket will result in a fine of around 750 DKK (~$140).
Conclusion: In general, I find Copenhagen’s public transit system to be one of the best I have ever experienced. While there are a few inconveniences and it can be somewhat expensive, it is extremely clean and efficient and typically runs like clockwork, in keeping with one of the most environmentally-friendly cities in the world.