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o-bahn

You know you’re in Adelaide when the nightly news bulletin is headlined by yet another story about a moronic, drunken European backpacker destroying the undercarriage of their hire car by accidentally entering the O-Bahn Busway at Hackney.

Not only is the entrance clearly sign-posted, but there’s a special ‘second chance’ exit for cars that fail the first ‘DO NOT ENTER’ test.

Yet the O-Bahn calamities continue (on average 4 per year) to the amusement of all South Australians — except of course the poor north-eastern suburb commuters forced to find alternate transport home as the recovery crane is called in.

But the pros far outweigh the cons.  The O-Bahn Busway is the shining light of South Australian transport infrastructure, in a state that a) still operates diesel commuter trains; b) thought building a one-way expressway to the burgeoning southern suburbs was a good idea, and c) chose to rip up all its tramways, only to start putting them back in decades later.

Opened in 1989, the O-Bahn (‘O’ is for the Latin ‘omni’, which means ‘for all people’; ‘bahn’ is the German word for ‘railway’)  is based on a similar system developed by Daimler-Benz in the German city of Essen. The system allows standard road buses to travel on a guided concrete track — which incidentally is not navigable by cars.

Spanning 12km from the north-eastern suburb of Tea Tree Gully along the River Torrens corridor to the inner city suburb of Hackney, the O-Bahn was Australia’s first bus rapid transport system and was among one of the first such systems to operate in the world. Buses can enter or leave the busway at either of the two interchanges along the route, at Klemzig (an old German settlement where they understand what ‘bahn’ means) and the aspirationally-named suburb of Paradise.

The O-Bahn is capable of carrying 18,000 commuters every hour and, with buses travelling up to 100km/h, it has passengers disembarking in the Adelaide CBD just 15 minutes after commencing their journey at the Tea Tree Plaza Shopping Centre.

Perhaps the navigationally-challenged European backpackers are attracted to the O-Bahn’s promise of speedy passage to ‘paradise’. Someone needs to explain to them that it’s just like any other suburb.

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