Trains like the RhB’s “Bernina Express” fire-engine red state-of-the-art panorama cars give tourists every opportunity to film these scenes of natural splendor as they wind through the eastern Swiss Alps.
From a rail-transit marketing viewpoint, Unesco’s nod comes at a timely moment. STS head Furrer admits as much. Even though the “World Heritage” Albula-Bernina stretch lies in RhB territory within Canton Grisons, he knows that his parent firm, the SBB, will profit greatly from its links with the RhB in Landquart and Chur. All rail travelers heading for these cities from Zurich must transfer to the RhB at one of these points. “All-in-one” ticket holders can make the change by simply crossing their platform to an awaiting train.
This raises an overriding question: How do the Swiss manage to design such quick-and-easy “body transfers” from one carrier network to another? And why do countries with high-tech barrier systems so often fail this test abysmally?
As advocates of “barrier-free” fare collection point out, Switzerland became a pioneer in this approach during the 1970s and now ranks alongside Germany as the world leader. In cities, transit authorities vend tickets off-board with the help of self-service machines.
Furrer says some 300,000 Swiss opted for annual passes last year, and 2.3 million more bought half-price passes and use them intensively. A half-price pass, normally marketed with a one-, two- or three-year purchase option, requires the rider to buy a discounted ticket or a multi-trip card. Before each trip, the bearer validates this card at a canceling device built into the ticket vendomat at bus, streetcar or subway stops.
Roving inspectors may spot check the card and half-price pass with photo ID. If the rider cannot show such “proof of payment,” inspectors can assess a stiff fine of up to 30 times a normal ticket’s price. This policy keeps “free-loading” at a minimum.
By contrast, metropolitan centers with older subway systems — say, the London “Tube” or the Paris Metro — have built costly automated barrier systems at each station’s entry and exit points. Critics say local users soon grasp the system of buying swipe cards to enter and exit the barriers. But foreign tourists, who may not have mastered English or French user instructions, find these fare blockades baffling and normally prefer open systems.
Swiss bus riders have it far better with their “open system.” It lets them board at any door — normally at least three on articulated buses — speeding up trips greatly.
Meanwhile, city bus drivers — freed from the task of riding shotgun at a farebox — can focus on the demanding job of maneuvering buses safely through city traffic.
There’s but one exception: the famous apricot-yellow Swiss postal bus. Drivers of these hybrids do collect fares and make change if needed. But their routes usually favor picturesque alpine roads with few stops in urban lowland areas.
Postal buses excepted, the Swiss “all-in-one” ticket for tourists fits hand-in-glove within the country’s barrier-free fare collection system.
Lyn Shepard is an American freelance writer living and working in Switzerland.