Why do some airports hide their buses?
FREE Looking for a bargain, Gulliver is proud to use public transport when traveling abroad. Journeys between airports and city centers are no exception. Most of the time finding the cheapest route takes no more effort than logging into airport websites or opening a navigation app like Google Maps. Sometimes, however, airports are not cooperative, trying their best to move visitors to convenient but overpriced transportation links. Arlanda Airport near Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is Gulliver’s worst offender.
Passengers arriving at Terminal 5, which handles most of Arlanda’s international flights, will be clearly signposted to their train and bus stations. The train station is served by the Arlanda Express, a high-speed rail link that covers the 40km stretch to Stockholm Central Station in just 20 minutes. Many business travelers swear by the service for its speed and ease. But with standard one-way fares costing 295 SEK ($31), those paying for their own ticket may not be so happy about the price. Another option is offered by Flygbussarna, a private bus company, which travels by road in 40 minutes. One-way tickets bought from his drivers cost 119 SEK – not much, but not exactly a steal either.
A quick visit to Arlanda’s website gives the strong impression that these are the only two options. But of course there is more to it than that. Three commuter buses also connect the airport with Märsta Station, 20 minutes from Arlanda. From there you can take a 40-minute train to Stockholm Central. Since the entire trip can be made within a 75-minute window, passengers only need to purchase one ticket. That costs just 32 SEK if you invest in a prepaid swipe card, or 45 SEK if you don’t.
That person can reach Stockholm city center for almost a tenth of the price of the Arlanda Express for nothing special. The price difference is roughly comparable to that at London’s Heathrow Airport between the Heathrow Express, Britain’s most expensive train per mile, and the London Underground system cheap-as-chips. Local buses are also well signposted at their destinations. What makes Arlanda special, however, is the lengths it went to to hide the cheapest bus services for passengers. As well as being excluded from its website, the airport takes passengers away from its own bus station.
Instead, people arriving at Terminal 5 must ignore the signs and go up the stairs to the departure level before waiting at an unmarked stop. (The actual sign has been placed so far from the airport doors that bus drivers ignore it and barely stop there.) Alternatively, local buses also stop at the terminal nearby office – another option for travelers who have to give up everything. airport signs to find the buses there.
Gulliver understands that the public-private partnership that built the Arlanda Express in the 1990s – at a mind-boggling cost of SEK 6bn – wants to recover at least part of its investment. That’s why passengers are also hit with a 120 SEK “station access fee” if they try to take slower commuter trains to Stockholm. But free competition between different modes of transport is good for passengers as it encourages efficiency and helps to keep a lid on fare levels. Both Arlanda and the City of Stockholm are in danger of losing visitor numbers to other cities if their visitors feel ripped off every time they arrive at the port – air