Public transport keeps economy on track
Switzerland’s public transport sector is preparing to defend its funding in parliament, as the threat of budget cuts loom.
A new study shows that public transport plays an important role in the economy and is one of the country’s biggest employers.
The independent study released on Monday says public transport generates 7.8 per cent of Switzerland’s gross domestic product, and that 303,000 full-time employees – about one in ten in Switzerland – depend on the sector for a job.
Max Friedli, head of the Federal Transport Office, said it was important to move the debate away from questions of cost and efficiency alone. “For once, we can talk about the economic usefulness of this sector,” he added.
The study, carried out for the Office, the Public Transport Union, the Swiss Federal Railways and the BLS Railways, found that the public transport sector generates SFr10.9 billion ($8.7 billion) every year, or around 2.5 per cent of GDP.
“This shows that public transport doesn’t just cost money; it also generates revenue,” said Peter Vollmer, director of the Public Transport Union. “Cutting services would weaken all the economy.”
Beyond the revenue generated directly by the sector, the study estimates that public transport is worth about SFr33 billion to the economy, taking account of knock-on revenues in related areas.
The same applies to jobs. While public transport employs 93,000 people directly, a further 210,000 rely on the sector for their livelihood.
In recent years, cost-cutting measures have seen the number of transport-related jobs fall by 36,000, improving productivity at the same time.
While Friedli admits that these measures were necessary, he warns that politicians should be wary before taking the knife to the budget again.
“They have to realise there is a social cost involved,” he said. “Besides, pushing for more efficiency or cutting jobs will not solve the government’s budget problems.”
The government is planning to trim subsidies for public transport by a further SFr120 million next year.
Friedli believes these cuts can be partially absorbed by increasing some fares and/or running fewer trains. “This might mean more expensive tickets during peak hour, or more people travelling standing up at those times,” he added.
The study also shows that all regions of the country benefit from the economic advantages conferred by public transport.
Mountain regions such as those in cantons Uri and Graubünden, with little in the way of infrastructure, have benefited most.
Friedli said these regions must now expect to take a back seat in favour of urban centres, which need to alleviate major traffic problems. “We have had every reason to help peripheral areas, but we have to focus on the right priorities now,” he added.
swissinfo with agencies
Public transport generates 7.8 per cent of Switzerland’s GDP.
One in ten jobs is linked to the sector.
One job in public transport helps create 4.1 others.
Railways generate SFr23 billion ($18.4 billion), bus services SFr6.8 billion, and other transport services SFr3.4 billion.
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