Organization of Public Transport in Austria Focusing on Functional Urban Regions (City Regions)

Alexandra Schantl, KDZ Centre for Public Administration Research Austria

Relevance of the Practice

A good example of the different challenges for urban local governments (ULGs) and rural local governments (RLGs) in delivering public services is public transit. Traffic is currently the most emitting sector in Austria with a share of 46 per cent of total CO2 emissions. Since 1995 the total traffic volume in Austria has increased by 33 per cent and the availability of cars has doubled from 28 to 62 per cent. Only in Vienna automobile transportation has declined in favor of public transport and cycling.

In order to achieve the EU climate and energy targets by 2030, Austria’s CO2 emissions in the transport sector must be reduced by approx. 30 per cent or 7.8 million CO2 equivalent in the next 10 years. This means that 25 per cent less fossil fuels should be used at Austrian petrol stations. At the same time, a shift towards environmentally friendly modes of transport (walking, cycling and public transport) has to be carried out in order to save a further 50 per cent of CO2 emissions in the transport sector.

The nationwide mobility survey Österreich unterwegs[1] reveals major differences in the mobility behavior of the Austrian citizens, depending on the size of the municipality: Public transport only plays a crucial role in ULGs with more than 25,000 inhabitants. In smaller ULGs and RLGs the share of public transport is around 7 per cent, which corresponds to the share of cycling. In municipalities with low population density the private car determines the mobility behavior. In these areas automobile transportation needs to be redesigned in the direction of alternative drive systems or, in the case of shorter distances, a trend reversal towards ‘active mobility’ (cycling, walking) is required. To switch from private car to public transportation would mean to offer better and more public transportation. However, and from an economic point of view, the expansion of ‘classic’ public transportation in RLGs with low population density is hardly justifiable due to low cost recovery rates.

Description of the Practice

Public transit in functional urban areas plays a crucial role due to strong commuter flow between the city region’s municipalities. On the border between the core cities (Kernstadt) and their surrounding municipalities of the Austrian city regions, three different transport systems with a multitude of actors from different governmental levels and from the private sector are coming together:

  • rail transport as important element of regional transport services;
  • urban public transport (provided by both rail and bus transport);
  • regional bus transport for services outside the cities and in the surrounding municipalities of the city regions.

This requires coordinated planning and provision of public transit in order to guarantee citizens tailor-made public transport. Due to insufficient legal framework conditions and ambiguities in organization and responsibilities, the cross-border public transport between core cities and their neighboring municipalities, which are often RLGs, are more single projects than common and sustainable transport solutions embedded in joint mobility strategies.[2]Another stumbling block is the public transport financing. Regional and local traffic is primarily financed by the federal government and the Länder. Urban public transport instead, is financed almost solely by the cities itself (e.g. City of Linz or Graz). In some Länder, the municipalities are obliged to make financial contributions for the provision of regional and local traffic (e.g. in Vorarlberg, where public transport is provided by local authority associations). Other municipalities order additional public transport services both from public and private carriers at their own expense (e.g. the Municipality of Ebenthal in the City Region of Klagenfurt). Overall, the current public financing of public transit in Austria is quite complex, which often impedes a demand-oriented public transport in Austria’s city regions.

City Region of Klagenfurt (157,980 inhabitants, Carinthia) In the City Region of Klagenfurt there are also two organizing authorities (Aufgabenträger) for the provision of public transport: the regional transport association VKG(Verkehrsverbundgesellschaft) of the Land and the City of Klagenfurt. Unlike to St. Pölten, the City of Klagenfurt does not only plan and finance the urban public transport; it also operates public transportation (bus traffic) with its communal utility enterprise Stadtwerke Klagenfurt AG. The regional transport association is liable for the regional rail traffic in the city region (S-Bahn) as well as for providing public (bus) transport in the other city region’s municipalities. As in Lower Austria the regional transport association in Carinthia is in charge of tariff setting, ordering and support in planning.  
City Region of St. Pölten (93,663 inhabitants, Lower Austria) In the City Region of St. Pölten there are two organizing authorities (Aufgabenträger) for the provision of public transport: the regional transport association VOR (Verkehrsverbundgesellschaft) of the Land and the City of St. Pölten. The City of St. Pölten is responsible for urban public transport planning and finances the urban transportation with subsidies from the Land. The regional transport association, instead, is in charge of tariff setting, ordering and support in planning, both in the core city and the surrounding municipalities.  

The following two city-region-examples indicate the complexity of providing public transport in Austria:[3]

Assessment of the Practice

The provision of public transport in both ULGs and RLGs is not just a question of affordability. The impact of financial inter-linkages and shared competencies in the Austrian public transport sector hinder efficient public transport supply at the local level. This applies in particular to functional urban regions, where urban and regional transport should be well connected. Hence, further development is needed in order to achieve better modal split solutions in favour of public transport and to improve both the supply and the quality of public transport without undermining the budgetary objectives of regional and local authorities. A common project[4] of the Unterarbeitsgruppe stadtregionaler öffentlicher Verkehr (UAG)[5] in 2017/2018 elaborated possible solutions and suggested various scenarios to address these challenges. The recommendations include in particular:

  • clarification of responsibilities;
  • establishment of processes and mechanisms for improved coordination and collaboration;
  • financial planning security.

In this context it is worth mentioning the example of the Nahverkehrs-Errichtungs-Gesellschaft m. b. H. (NAVEG), a former company of the Land Upper Austria and the City of Linz, which was responsible for the development, coordination and financing of local transport projects in the greater Linz area. A contractual shared responsibility and commitment of the parties involved, as in the case of NAVEG, may lead to purposeful and efficient development of municipal cross-border transport projects. However, the successful further development of the current public transport system in Austria requires both the pooling of expenditure and task responsibilities for public transport and the implementation of the measures at all federal levels.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Innovation, Technologie, ‘Österreich unterwegs 2013/2014. Ergebnisbericht zur österreichweiten Mobilitätserhebung Österreich unterwegs 2013/2014‘ (2016) <>

Mitterer K and others, ‘Stadtregionaler öffentlicher Verkehr. Organisation, Steuerung und Finanzierung im stadtregionalen öffentlichen Verkehr am Beispiel der Landeshauptstadt-Stadtregionen‘ (KDZ 2016) <>

—— Hochholdinger N and Valenta A, ‘Finanzierungsströme im ÖPNRV‘ (KDZ 2017) <>

Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ‘Kleinräumige Bevölkerungsprognose für Österreich 2018 bis 2040 mit  einer Projektion bis 2060 und Modellfortschreibung bis 2075 (ÖROK-Prognose)‘ (2019)        <> Pasold S and Schaaffkamp C, ‘Weiterentwicklungsansätze der Organisation, Steuerung und Finanzierung des stadtregionalen öffentlichen Personennah- und Regionalverkehrs‘ (KCW GmbH 2017) <>

[1] The survey was conducted in 2014 by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, <> accessed 12 November 2019.

[2] The competences for the provision of public traffic that crosses city limits are not clearly regulated by law.

[3] Karoline Mitterer and others, ‘Stadtregionaler öffentlicher Verkehr. Organisation, Steuerung und Finanzierung im stadtregionalen öffentlichen Verkehr am Beispiel der Landeshauptstadt-Stadtregionen‘ (KDZ 2016) <>.

[4] Karolina Mitterer, Nikola Hochholdinger and Andreas Valenta, ‘Finanzierungsströme im ÖPNRV‘ (KDZ 2017)
<>; Stephanie Pasold and Christoph Schaaffkamp,    ‘Weiterentwicklungsansätze der Organisation, Steuerung und Finanzierung des stadtregionalen öffentlichen Personennah- und Regionalverkehrs‘ (KCW GmbH 2017)      <>.

[5] The UAGconsists of representatives of the capitals of the Länder (heads of the transport planning departments or staff members of the departments for financing public transport), the managing directors of the communal utility enterprises for municipal transport, the Länder Vienna, Lower Austria, Vorarlberg, Upper Austria and Styria (heads of the transport departments) and a representative of the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology.