Geneva cruise

Mulling over mobility in Switzerland

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — We often hold up North America as the ideal when it comes to highways, motoring, and public transportation.

But how about if we study the transportation model of Switzerland? After all, it’s often highlighted as the gold standard in efficient public transportation and timeliness of services. What could be among their secrets, aside of course, from the glaring fact that the country is extremely wealthy, and the standard of living of its constituents is extremely high? Could it boil down to a culture of discipline and mindfulness, where tardiness is generally frowned upon, and the values of peace and serenity are held up so high that there actually exist laws that prohibit people from making any noise in residential neighborhoods past 10 p.m. — including any toilet flushing or water splashing noises from taking a shower in the middle of the night?

I’m not quite sure. Inherently, culture will certainly always play its part — but was the culture cemented in the first place, because of the high (financial) penalties set by the government for disobedience, combined with the strict enforcement of its laws? Clearly, that plays a part, too.

One of the most striking differences Switzerland has from the Philippines — no, I’m not thinking Alps versus islands here — is its population density. Heck, the entire country’s population is far less than the population of Metro Manila alone. And this is probably why it’s a lot easier and more straightforward to make mass transportation work, because the inhabitants are still within the capacity of the infrastructure. But yes, we of course need the infrastructure in the first place.

Switzerland is undoubtedly one of the top-ranked states in mobility efficiency in all of Europe. That says a lot, considering that it is still a relatively small country whose economic might does not match those of the likes of Germany and the UK. And yet, its public transport network boasts a total of about 24,500 kilometers of length, supported by over 2,600 stations and stops.

The money used to fund its road networks comes from vehicle taxes and road tolls. But the way their toll system works is by having motorists pay an annual fee (starting at 40 Swiss Francs per annum, depending on your vehicle type), which is acknowledged by a car sticker that has to be displayed while using the highways. It makes the collection system simpler, and removes the potential for traffic buildup at toll booths. Don’t you think the Philippines might benefit from a similar model? What if we had a special lane for vehicles who paid an annual subscription so that they would no longer have to enter any queues along the way?

But one of the greatest strengths of the Swiss transportation network is its ever-reliable, albeit extremely expensive, Swiss National Railway. We must not forget that the tenacity of this railway is the kind that traverses the mighty Swiss Alpine mountain ranges that divide Northern Europe from the South. Imagine the economic value of that. The Alpine railway routes began with the Gotthard Railway in 1882, and was later expanded via several more tunnels built, cutting through the mountains.

We, Filipinos, have long acknowledged that Metro Manila has become more than gruesomely overpopulated and congested in the last few decades, and many have chorused that the only true way out of this is via expanding economic centers far outside of the city.

Perhaps people and companies will more easily warm up to the idea if only it were a tad bit easier to travel from NCR to other key economic centers, such as the fast-rising economic center of Clark.

So, yes, it does make a lot of sense to invest and build more transportation infrastructure (Mindanao Railway, do I hear you coming soon?). But that is with the assumption that our tax money will not be compromised, and that the build quality of our country’s investments will be of an undeniably high standard. Is this determination or plain old daydreaming? Who knows? I just wish I get to see and enjoy a more connected Philippine archipelago in my lifetime.