A while ago, I wrote a posted entitled “Do Me a Solid“. It was a passing tribute to those products that just work. It seems there just aren’t enough of those around these days.
I’ve always been a fan of public transit. Here in Ottawa, it works fairly well if you live in the west end of the city and work downtown. There are bus lanes on the highway and bus-only transit ways to speed you on your way. During rush hour, buses run every few minutes. Parking downtown is very expensive. The bus, while not cheap, is cheaper and it gives you an opportunity to get some fresh air and see new faces. And, given rush hour traffic, you can often reach your destination faster than by driving.
So, public transit in Ottawa works fairly well, but those who live in the east end, or those that live in the city and work in the west end wouldn’t exactly describe it as “solid”.
This summer I spent a few days in Zurich, Switzerland. Now there is a public transit system that is solid in every way. Their public transit is based on trams that connect to the central train station. At each tram station, there’s an automated ticket dispenser that supports English, German, French and Italian. A series of on-screen choices guides you to the ticket you want. Frequently requested tickets, such as to the Zurich airport, are right on the home screen. You can pay with credit card, or, since Switzerland widely supports tap-and-pay, you can use your smart phone. Overhead displays count down the minutes until the next tram’s arrival.
Trams run frequently and efficiently and on time. Just like a Swiss watch. So do trains. It’s surprisingly easy to find your way around the Zurich train station and it’s 30+ tracks. Yellow schedule boards, valid for twelve months, give you all the information you need, sorted by time. So, you can look up the next train for Lucerne that leaves on or after 10 AM, for example.
We had Swiss travel passes that gave us access to trams, trains and some museums and tours. We just had to show up and board. Once in a while, inspectors show up to verify your passes.
To sum up, the Swiss public transportation system is a joy to use. It just works.
Oh yes. The scenery’s pretty nice too.