Is this the world’s best public transport?
April 11, 2011, 16 Comments
Forget about the trains in Switzerland! Yes, they are super-punctual, (usually) clean and extremely well-used, but everyone expects that even before stepping foot on the Intercity from Bern to Basel. What was the biggest surprise for me was realising that the whole Swiss public transport system is just as efficient, right down to the last detail. It’s as if the entire country revolves around public transport rather than being obsessed with cars. What a great idea!
Take Bern, for instance. Leaving aside the slightly embarrassing squealing tram trauma, the network of trams and buses that covers almost every square inch of the Swiss capital is excellent. So what – that’s no different from Paris or London. The big difference is the attention to detail. All the trams (and most buses, I think) now have info screens dotted along the inside, giving you all sorts of useful information. The one pictured above shows up first, so that you know which stops are coming up and which other lines you can change to.
As you approach the next stop, the screen changes to show connection times for all other lines. How fab is that! You can see if you need to run to make the 12, or if you can take your time for the 20. Of course the screens are a customer service, but they also help the system work efficiently: informed passengers are usually happier and quicker ones. To make sure, there are also loudspeaker announcements, though with less detail – roughly a verbal version of the first screen.
That latter part is the same on the trains. There’s nothing more satisfying than gliding into Zurich main station while the conductor announces all the main connections (in various languages and with platform numbers) so that you know exactly where to go. And in case you missed that announcement, it’s repeated on the platform loudspeakers. So efficient, so helpful. And especially compared to last time I caught the train home from Paris. Horrendous. Sitting in Gare du Lyon, waiting for SNCF to decide which platform the Bern train was leaving from, I longed for Swiss efficiency. It’s a daily service so surely they could have some degree of planning instead of giving passengers five minutes to sprint across crowded halls to catch the train? Moments like that make me love SBB and love living here.
I think that’s the secret of Swiss success. Attention to detail. And a certain degree of control freakery, but when it produces results like the public transport system, I can live with that. If all countries had public transport like this, maybe the world would be a better (and less polluted) place. Thank you Switzerland!