A strike by Geneva tram and bus drivers over planned budget and job cuts has paralysed public transport. Industrial action is uncommon in Switzerland – the most recent public transport strike in Geneva was in 1982.
Thousands of commuters were forced to find other ways of getting to work on Wednesday in Switzerland’s second-largest city.
There was no service on at least 31 tram and bus routes and disruptions on another seven, Geneva Public Transport (TPG) said in a morning bulletin on its website.
Several bus routes were still operational, including some connecting areas in neighbouring France with the city centre, but only those belonging to sub-contractors whose employees are not taking part in the strike. Although many car owners took to the roads on Wednesday, there were generally fewer traffic jams than originally expected in the centre.
"We did not observe a big difference compared to a normal week day," said Jean-Philippe Brandt, spokesperson for the Geneva police. According to him, there was an increase in pedestrian traffic and taxis did brisk business but people had anticipated transport problems and prepared accordingly.
Valérie Solano, secretary of the SEV, the union representing the workers was pleased with numbers mobilised for the strike and the show of force by workers in front of the TPG depot in Bachet-de-Pesay.
Geneva public transport workers voted earlier this month to hold a one-day strike in protest at budget cuts and planned reduction of up to 100 jobs. The SEV union wants to put the spotlight on retirement benefits and to fight an increase in labour outsourcing.
The unions argue that cutting jobs makes no sense, especially as Geneva's population is expanding and the authorities plan for a 7% increase in the number of public transport journeys between now and 2018.
The decision by Geneva voters in May to lower public transport fares from December has left TPG management under pressure as it expects CHF14 million ($14.6 million) less in annual revenues.
Geneva's transport minister, Luc Barthassat, said while he respected unions, he felt strike action meant the Geneva people had been taken hostage, especially as the contested measures had not even been decided upon.
In an interview on Swiss public television RTS, Barthassat promised sanctions against those who prevented trams and buses from operating. He also warned that the strikers could face a deduction in wages.
swissinfo.ch and agencies