Switzerland takes up the mobility challenge
The Swiss authorities are developing a range of mobility solutions to try and handle the sharp increase in traffic expected over the next 20 years due to strong population and economic growth.
From now until 2040, passenger and freight transport are forecast to rise by 25% and 37%, respectively, according to a study by the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). The reason for this is an estimated 28% surge in the population over the same period. Switzerland needs to expand its mobility services in a hurry.
Mobility pricing, one possible solution
The first task is to improve the often congested road network. Extension projects are difficult to put in place due to space issues, mountainous terrain and a political commitment to protect the countryside. A full 90% percent of the Swiss are commuters. Every day, 3.9 million people drive or take public transport to get to work. By 2030, the Swiss government plans to spend CHF 6.5 billion on national motorway and urban projects. It also intends to introduce new solutions, such as a potential two-level highway in Zurich and the use of emergency lanes on major roads during rush hour to improve safety and ease traffic.
In certain cantons, the authorities are testing a fee-based mobility pricing system as a way to alleviate road congestion and train crowding during peak hours. Users are charged based on their transport use, according to the polluter-pays principle. The system still requires committing substantial technological resources since it needs to record the number of kilometres travelled by type of transport, as well as location and time. Other solutions under study include urban road tolls and peak fares.
A 51% increase in public transport use by 2040
Switzerland has an impressive track record when it comes to public transport use. One out of two Swiss owns a travel card. In Bern, the percentage is 81%. In big cities, more people use public transport than drive. And the Swiss love affair with mass transit isn’t about to end any time soon. According to the DETEC study, ridership is expected to grow 51% by 2040. Broadening its already extensive transport service offering, Switzerland has begun introducing autonomous bus shuttles. Since 2016, two driverless shuttles have been plying the streets of Sion at an average speed of 9 km/h and a maximum of 18 km/h, from Tuesday to Sunday, from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The same autonomous prototype minibus was rolled out in Geneva last summer.
The country’s rail system is in high demand as well. Every day, 1.26 million people use the train. In fact, Switzerland holds the world record in terms of kilometres travelled by train per person per year. The country’s national network, Swiss Federal Railways (CFF), even makes a profit. To meet a projected increase in rail traffic between now and 2040, particularly in freight transport (estimated to rise 37%), the country has launched a wide-ranging CHF 6.4 billion investment programme to upgrade the system by 2025. One plan, Léman 2030, aims to modernise the Lausanne-Geneva rail line, which is the most heavily used route in western Switzerland and whose ridership is expected to double by 2030. It calls for the construction of a rail-over-rail grade separation, or viaduct, which would considerably free up traffic. Later this year, the authorities will unveil the Léman Express, a commuter line network for border residents. Connecting 45 train stations within a 60-kilometre radius of Geneva, the system will operate around 40 trains, at a rate of one every 10 minutes, and accommodate up to 50,000 passengers a day.
Cross-border mobility, a key challenge
Cross-border mobility issues represent a key challenge for Switzerland, as the number of daily travellers continues to grow. Discussions are under way to extend two tram lines from Geneva to France and develop a rapid transit bus system between France and Switzerland. A pilot bi-national car pool lane opened in October at the Thônex-Vallard customs point for a period of one year. A first of its kind in Europe, the one-kilometre lane between Switzerland and France is reserved for vehicles carrying at least two people. The objective is to reduce congestion on the A411 motorway, which is used by 17,000 cars every day; mitigate environmental impacts; and raise average vehicle occupancy. To encourage use of the lane, a five-euro reduction will be offered to motorists who sign up for a monthly toll pass.
Green mobility solutions are also being explored as an answer to growing traffic levels. The Grand Genève transborder greenway, a 37-kilometre stretch of road reserved for “soft mobility” solutions, is already a success story. In September 2018, the status of the bicycle was considerably enhanced when a proposal to incorporate cycling into the Swiss constitution was approved by 73.6% of the population. Thanks to this vote, bicycle use is set to rise even further. Two-thirds of Swiss households already own a bicycle, and electric bike sales have doubled since 2010.