Among European cities such as Helsinki, Copenhagen and Freiburg, Switzerland’s north-eastern city of Basel ranks as having one of the continent’s most visionary approaches to public transport. It is one that the Lake Geneva region would do well to heed if it is to deal with rising car traffic in a more imaginative and environmentally friendly manner.
Despite significant expansion of their public transport networks in recent years, the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, which, together with neighbouring France, constitute the nearly 2,000km2 “Greater Geneva” area, still have far to go in comparison. As the Tribune de Geneve recently reported, Genevans did not help themselves by myopically voting in the 18 May referendum against the funding of three P&R car parks to help reduce frontalier motor traffic into Switzerland. Traffic jams, primarily commuter-based, along the autoroutes have worsened significantly along the Geneva, Morges, Lausanne and Montreux axis, while congestion on feeder routes from the French side has increased by 30% over the past five years.
Basel, on the other hand, does not seem to have any particular concerns about its 34,400 frontaliers. It very much considers them as part of the overall vision by making funding available towards improving cross-border parking. It also vigorously incorporates the French and German border zones – as well as four Swiss cantons – as part of its “Greater Basel” vision, a region similar in size to “Greater Geneva”.
Basel was the first to incorporate simple, regional ticketing for its trains, trams and buses. “Today, it makes absolutely no sense to drive into Basel, when you can take the tram,” said Dieter Manger, a Swiss pilot living on the outskirts of the city.
While Geneva, which first introduced horse-drawn trams in 1862, may have enjoyed Europe’s largest network by the 1920s, it then virtually abandoned it by 1965. Today it is Basel that is standing out as the example to follow. With a philosophy that has sought to promote the best form of transport for its population ever since the Basler Verkehrs-Betriebe (BVB), or Basel Transport Service, was created 120 years ago, its green trams and buses have become firmly part of the city’s traditional landscape.
Not only is the BVB highly popular, with more than 132 million users in 2013, but it is moving firmly ahead with plans to incorporate even more sleek and highly modern trams and buses as part of its network, currently 180km of lines. These will constitute new-generation versions, such as low CO2 buses. The network will also expand even more across the border.
Such development goes hand in hand with a constantly growing cycle network, which comes across as both safer and better planned than what is offered in the Lake Geneva region. This is despite concerns by some local politicians that cyclists are overstepping their rights by slipping into the car lanes when their own circuits are too crowded.
Even though Basel – as other European cities – is increasingly favouring trams, buses and bicycles over motor vehicles, the idea is not to penalize drivers but rather to make it easier to leaves car behind. “We want to persuade people that it is far more enjoyable and practical to take the tram or bus,” said one BVB official. As part of this policy, the BVB guarantees a bus or tram every 7.5 minutes, 365 days a year.