After a decade of growth, Geneva now concentrates on improving service quality

Posted: 2 November 2015 | Emmanuel Fankhauser, Network Development Manager at TPG | No comments yet

Between 2003 and 2013, additions to the local tram network doubled the offer of Geneva’s public transport system. But between 2014 and 2019, the picture will be different. Emmanuel Fankhauser, Network Development Manager at TPG, explains that no major infrastructure projects or developments are planned on the network, but concentration will be placed on optimisation and reorganisation of their services…

After a decade of growth, Geneva now concentrates on improving service quality

As in many other cities, the mobility strategy led by the authorities in Geneva was to bank on the development of transport supply, in particular on the tram network, in order to increase the capacity and the attractiveness of public transport. Extensions to the network over the past decade were designed in a ‘star formation’ radiating from the city centre in order to complement the historic Line 12 – the only tram line never to have been dismantled in Geneva – which carries passengers between the Franco-Swiss border at Moillesulaz in the east of the city, to the suburban outlays of Carouge and Lancy in the south.

Since 2002, these two rail branches have been supplemented by three more, resulting in a network spanning seven diametric lines, covering common sections and making up a web of direct connections. In 2011, at the inauguration of the sixth and final branch of the tram network – a 6.4km-long stretch towards Onex-Bernex – the system also underwent a complete overhaul; from an operating system of seven combined lines to that of three completely independent lines without common sections. These developments also marked the end of a first long period of urban extension. Whilst future extensions – especially to neighbouring France – are indeed in the pipeline, planning for these is not a priority for the years to come.

Future mobility of the Greater Geneva area

Currently, rail transport is shaping the very near future of urban mobility in Geneva. While the S-Bahn networks found in many Swiss cities are cited across Europe as textbook examples of best-practice in urban mobility, especially that of the Zürich S-Bahn which has just celebrated its 25th anniversary, Geneva is the poor relation in terms of train offering: only two lines effectively link the city centre with the outskirts. It is modest for a bi-national and cross-border agglomeration of nearly 850,000 inhabitants: the Geneva agglomeration spans across the neighbouring regions of the canton of Vaud and the French departments of Ain and Haute-Savoie. To the north, the Lausanne-Geneva rail link is one of the busiest in Switzerland, with more than 60,000 passengers a day. To the west, much less densely populated, local trains are superimposed with TGV lines to Paris and Lyon and offer an attractive service, although in a region with less potential travellers. There is no offer serving the east or south of the city, home on the French side to 200,000 inhabitants in the area around the town of Annemasse (around 7km from Geneva town centre). Surrounded by France on three borders, Geneva has historically not benefited from the type of rail development that it needs today.

As a consequence, the rail network lacks the critical density to fully complement with its regional rail supply TPG’s light public transport system made up of trams, trolleybuses and buses. Thanks to a decade of revival, the tram network has closed this gap and must now act as an agglomeration rail service on some lines, which contributes to its success but also underlines its weaknesses: penalising commercial speed for long stretches, overload of tram connexion hubs, use of high capacity service vehicles translating into lengthier convoys and shorter interval times but, unfortunately, often in conflict with individual traffic, which weakens their operation.

The Léman Express rail network

To be able to finally establish a true suburban rail network requires at least one ‘crossing’ line. This will soon be a reality with the construction (for the most part underground) of the CEVA railway line. Spanning 16km, including 14 across Swiss territory, the route will run between Geneva’s main train station (Cornavin) and that of Annemasse. CEVA will also connect five main activity hubs at the heart of the agglomeration and will be the main axis of a true agglomeration network which will go by the name ‘Léman Express’. The route will also be of historic importance as it will connect the Swiss SBB and the French SNCF networks, its future operators. If this network represents an extraordinary modal shift vector, it also represents a significant challenge for TPG: they will have to adapt their operation of surface transport modes to the presence of a new, high capacity transport supply. A reorganisation of existing TPG networks – tram, trolleybus and bus – will therefore be necessary.

Taking stock: from the unprecedented growth of the TPG network…

As fate would have it, with complicated planning, reports, appeals and popular voting, works for CEVA kicked off at the same time as the final extension of the tram network was inaugurated, in late-2011. The Léman Express is planned to enter into service in late-2019 and now, in 2015, we are exactly halfway through a period of eight years during which there will be no new network infrastructures, either for tram or train. This is a good time to take stock of the first four years of this period of transition and set guidelines for the next four years.

Let us first study the impacts of the extensions to the tram network. Between 2003 and 2012, TPG’s tram network routes increased from 12km to 33km. Now, with intervals of 4 to 5 minutes on each of the six branches, tram kilometres have tripled in nine years. Although trams have replaced buses on some routes, pneumatic transport modes (buses and trolleybuses) have also continued to grow. An overall growth in supply of 7% per year was accompanied by an average growth in usage of 5%. The network has thus well adapted to changes in population and employment in the region and it has also helped to significantly increase the modal shares of public transport: the share of the latter among motorised transport increased during the same period from 23% to 30%.

Stabilisation came between 2012 and 2014. First of all, because after a decade in which supply and demand had evolved in equivalent proportions, with offer stimulating demand and vice versa, we experienced a real leap in supply in 2012. Following a near doubling of supply in 10 years, as shown in Graph 1 on page 00, we indeed ended up with some reserve capacity to absorb the evolution of demand, without even immediately following through with extensions.

Secondly, the reorganisation of the tram network across three independent lines stirred some discontent from users: On one hand, the regulation of the new network in urban traffic did not instantly run as smoothly as a finely tuned Swiss watch, and on the other hand, some customers (10%) had to adapt to a new way of using the network, with more transfers than before, after having been used to direct connections. As a result, 2012 was not the easiest year in terms of customer relations. During 2013 and 2014 TPG thus stabilised operations across its transformed network and customers adjusted to the new way of getting around. It wasn’t easy for either party, but doubling the transport supply in such a short time cannot be done without conceding some previous gains. TPG, working hand-in-hand with cantonal authorities, had to observe, communicate and correct, which notably resulted in the re-introduction of a direct connection that had disappeared on the tram network – Line 18 between Carouge and Meyrin – which partially recreated the previous concept of combined lines.

Recent times have seen the new public transport master plan for 2015-2018 come into force. This document, mandated by the State of Geneva, is updated every four years and defines the desired changes in supply and network according to the mobility requirements of the region. It clearly differs from its predecessors by the modesty of its ambitions. The economic situation of the canton has deteriorated; TPG must face adverse political pressures: reductions to tariffs imposed by a public vote and a ceiling on cantonal subsidies with the inevitable consequence of a modest development of the transport supply. Population growth remains strong though. In August 2015, cantonal government statistics clearly set the tone: ‘…the growth of the population within the canton of Geneva continues in the second quarter of 2015; the number of ‘frontaliers’ (foreign cross-border workers) in the canton is growing faster; the employment growth in the canton of Geneva is clearly accelerating in the second quarter, etc.” This situation is not new: the attractiveness of the region makes the Greater Geneva area one of the most dynamic urban areas in Europe. We must therefore continuously adapt transport supply in accordance with the new shifts in urbanisation. Traffic conditions in Geneva pay the price of this dynamism, which is detrimental to our commercial speed and thus increases operating costs per kilometre.

…to the conscious optimisation of services

Despite this context, the public transport network remains dense and efficient, well-suited to customer needs and still benefits from a comfortable margin between supply and demand to ‘hold up’ until 2019. The degree of customer satisfaction has never been as high as this year, which shows that public confidence has been won back. For want of major supply developments, the company’s strategy is to maintain this trend and work towards qualitative development in collaboration with our local authority, the State of Geneva.

Network and timetables

Thanks to a fleet of vehicles 100% equipped with an automatic passenger counting system, TPG has a statistical database of rare value in Europe. Analysis of this data helps identify saturation points, evolution trends and thus enables us to better adjust supply to demand – whether by increasing it or by diminishing it when it proves too generous and when a tweak allows savings on operations costs. Timetables are being harmonised for a clearer reading of frequencies (between urban and regional lines, between peak and off-peak hours) and a better connection system.


Both in financial terms and passenger attractiveness, it is essential to work on commercial speed and regularity of travel times. Several projects are underway, including the creation of dedicated bus lanes, new traffic lights control systems, the merging of stops, the optimisation of operating procedures, etc. This is a lengthy process that involves many public partners and which will bear fruit slowly.


Fleets of trams, trolleybuses and buses have recently been partially completed with new vehicles, including 33 articulated ‘Exqui.City’ trolleybuses from manufacturer Van Hool delivered in 2014, and 32 44m-long Tango trams from manufacturer Stadler delivered in 2011. This makes the Geneva fleet one of the youngest in Switzerland. New acquisitions are not planned for the 2015-2018 period, with the significant exception of vehicles equipped with a new traction mode, namely those constructed within the TOSA project which already makes partners of the consortium behind it proud, namely TPG (operator), OPI and the State of Geneva (coordinators), local energy company SIG, and technology provider ABB.

TOSA is an articulated, 100% electrical bus powered by a flash battery recharging system spread over a limited number of stops equipped with this automatic energy transfer system. Thus, TOSA carries more passengers and fewer batteries than an autonomous electric bus, yet offers operating performances identical to that of a trolleybus. After a test conducted in 2013 on a short commercial route, an entire urban belt line will be operated with this ‘technology of the future’ from 2017.


With no major changes since 2011, Geneva’s public transport network won’t benefit from new infrastructures over the coming years either. Large projects such as connection hubs, tram network extensions, new routes equipped for trolleybuses or lanes for buses with high level service (BHLS) will be developed later. However, with regard to fixed installations, works are well underway for the construction of a third depot and maintenance centre. The new depot, named ‘En Chardon’, will, from 2019, accommodate 70 trams and 130 buses to adapt our parking and maintenance capacities which are currently too tight following the supply growth in recent years.

Sales and services

Contact channels with customers remain under constant development: with physical and virtual ticketing, passenger information in all forms, and personalised contact etc., TPG is anticipating new developments in all these domains in order to remain at the forefront of new technology. We are also actively working to ensure that our fare community, known as ‘UNIRESO’, can integrate SwissPass – the new national RFID card that gathers on a single support several services connected to mobility: national or regional public transport passes, car sharing schemes, bike-share schemes, ski passes, etc.

As a consequence to this whole programme, the next quantitative leap in transport services is set for late-2019 with the Léman Express and the reorganisation of the TPG supply to connect with this network that will ensue from it. For TPG, this period of stabilisation is viewed as an opportunity for optimising projects, with the goal of continuously improving the quality of our services. For the years beyond 2019, discussions are underway with the authorities around which plan of action to deploy to meet the strategic ambitions of Geneva canton, as defined in the transport master plan, ‘Mobility 2030’. Reviving the extensions of the tramlines with cross-border routes into neighbouring French urban areas, developing BHLS routes with trolleybuses or with TOSA technology are as many development leads to explore. Projects exist but their prioritisation and final design shall still be studied at length.

About TPG

Geneva Public Transport (TPG) is the public transport operator for Greater Geneva. It operates a network spanning 33km of tram, 30km of trolleybus and 360km of city and regional buses across the entire territory of the Canton of Geneva and beyond into neighbouring France and the canton of Vaud. TPG operates as part of a service contract renegotiated every four years with its local authority, the State of Geneva, with whom it works closely in planning developments pertaining to the supply of public transport. TPG is part of the ‘UNIRESO’ fare community that brings together eight public transport companies – including Swiss and French national railway operators SBB (CH) and SNCF (FR) – offering single travel tickets to travel throughout the France-Vaud-Geneva agglomeration on their networks. As a key player in mobility, TPG carries over 90% of public transport journeys in the France-Vaud-Geneva region.


Emmanuel Fankhauser has worked within TPG since 2012. He is responsible for the unit in charge of developing the network and planning supply in collaboration with cantonal authorities and other mobility partners in the Greater Geneva area. This unit is attached to TPG’s Customer division. Prior to that, Emmanuel trained as a Transport Engineer at the Swiss Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich, and worked for 12 years as a Consultant and Project Manager in a transportation planning agency.