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Transporting passengers efficiently and dynamically

Posted: 11 November 2008 | Urs Hanselmann, CEO, Basler Verkehrs-Betriebe (BVB) | No comments yet

The Basel tramway network is a result of a merge between the city network in 1895 and the later integration of suburban metre gauge lines. A significant event was the integration of the important railway line from Leimental in 1986, together with its conversion from railway to tramway in its rolling stock and operation. This metric network is the most important public transport system in northwest Switzerland – transporting 120 million passengers annually.

The city of Basel, with its three main areas of interest (the downtown area in Greater Basel, the Swiss railway station, and the German railway station in Lesser Basel on the right-hand side of the Rhine River) is served by a total of 11 tramway lines. The tramway lines are operated by two companies; BVB (Basel Transport Works) with eight lines and green as its corporate colour and BLT (Basel-Land Transport) with three lines and yellow as its corporate color.

The Basel tramway network is a result of a merge between the city network in 1895 and the later integration of suburban metre gauge lines. A significant event was the integration of the important railway line from Leimental in 1986, together with its conversion from railway to tramway in its rolling stock and operation. This metric network is the most important public transport system in northwest Switzerland – transporting 120 million passengers annually.The city of Basel, with its three main areas of interest (the downtown area in Greater Basel, the Swiss railway station, and the German railway station in Lesser Basel on the right-hand side of the Rhine River) is served by a total of 11 tramway lines. The tramway lines are operated by two companies; BVB (Basel Transport Works) with eight lines and green as its corporate colour and BLT (Basel-Land Transport) with three lines and yellow as its corporate color.

The Basel tramway network is a result of a merge between the city network in 1895 and the later integration of suburban metre gauge lines. A significant event was the integration of the important railway line from Leimental in 1986, together with its conversion from railway to tramway in its rolling stock and operation. This metric network is the most important public transport system in northwest Switzerland – transporting 120 million passengers annually.

The city of Basel, with its three main areas of interest (the downtown area in Greater Basel, the Swiss railway station, and the German railway station in Lesser Basel on the right-hand side of the Rhine River) is served by a total of 11 tramway lines. The tramway lines are operated by two companies; BVB (Basel Transport Works) with eight lines and green as its corporate colour and BLT (Basel-Land Transport) with three lines and yellow as its corporate color.

Nearly all the lines are classified as being diametric, linking areas and suburbs on both sides of the city and connecting those to at least two of the three areas of interest in Basel. Other common characteristics are low-floor access on all trams (at least one entrance per tram), a standardised timetable (eight trams per hour during the day) and the use of long trams (up to 46 meters) to supply the required capacity. Only with this system is it possible to operate as many as seven lines simultaneously on the same pair of tracks through the narrow historic main downtown axis.

Optimal public transportation for the city’s population via the tramway is supported by a well-developed bus network. The BVB has adapted its bus network step-by-step according to the changed transportation requirements since 1998. At the same time, some lines were successful – especially those which were linked together across the Rhine. They connect important suburban communities of Basel and they satisfy the transportation needs of often-frequented neighborhoods in the city. This offensive bus strategy, despite a decrease in the population, has led to a 20% increase over 10 years in the number of passengers transported by buses and today it amounts to 33 million passengers.

Beyond the national borders

Basel is the economical centre of the so-called triangle region of Germany-France-Switzerland. The fact that Switzerland does not belong to the European Community is hardly perceived negatively in this triangle; all three regions profit from each other. For this reason, the construction of the first cross-border tramway extension to Germany did not fail due to political hurdles – on the contrary! The Swiss Confederation is paying a large portion for the construction of this tram extension from a foundation which is available for the agglomeration policies. Construction will begin at the end of 2008, and the operation of the extended tram line will be started in 2012.

The politicians who were involved on both sides of the border have demonstrated a clear vision with this project. The tram has gained fresh impetus in all of Europe. In France, one can call it a renaissance, since more and more French cities are re-establishing the tram. Basel often plays a significant role as a model for these cities. For this reason, it is not surprising that a tram extension to St-Louis in Alsace (F) is being considered. At the beginning, there was skepticism on the French side, but it has since vanished. Preparations for this project have just begun with the first contacts on the political level.

The rolling stock

The BVB tram fleet is well staggered age-wise, which means that the greater part will never need to be replaced all at once. Nevertheless, the most modern vehicles are, of course, extremely popular with the passengers. The most modern vehicles are the Combinos, which are distinguished by a 100% share of low-floor access entrances and single-level aisles from front to back. Their introduction in 2001 was, unfortunately, overshadowed by damage to the vehicle bodies, which resulted in the overhauling of the entire Combino fleet (28 vehicles). This overhaul will be completed in December 2008. In the meantime, passengers have again declared the overhauled Combinos to be their favourite vehicle.

Modern and environmentally- friendly buses

Part of the bus fleet was recently up for replacement, among them the last trolley buses. While it is true that trolley buses have large popularity, the trolley concept was never able to really gain acceptance in Basel. Basel has always been a tram city and has harvested praise for this from all of Europe.

With the latest acquisition of 30 biogas buses, the BVB will contribute to the reduction of the expulsion of CO2 gas. The buses are very environmentally-friendly since their exhaust pollution standards are far below the values of the strict EEV-norms of the EU. With these buses, the BVB is once more playing a leading role by using environmentally-friendly buses, as they have for years, with the consistent use of particle filters.

Innovations in buildings

Basel’s oldest tram depot urgently needs to be refurbished and renovated. The renovation and refurbishment will commence in the autumn of 2008 and is expected to be completed within two years. After completion of the renovation and refurbishment, the BVB will have a modern, efficient and environmentally-friendly depot at its disposal.

The new operational concept enables those trams that used to be shunted outside, to drive into and through the building. In addition to greater efficiency, this also means less noise for the residents. The new roof will be a real eye-catcher since it will be Basel’s largest roof planted with grass. The rain water will be collected and used to wash the vehicles.

Model and strategy

The BVB became an institution under public law in 2006, having before been a part of public administration. The purpose of the process of independence was to become a market-oriented enterprise in the service sector. In order to reach this objective, a five-year strategy with a corresponding model was established. All of the employees will be familiarised with the model in 2008, in order for them to realise the values in their daily work. Only in this way can the BVB reach its objective as an enterprise.

The strategy is arranged on three pillars:

  • Outstanding public mobility service as a market achievement
  • Employees as the heart of a customer-oriented service
  • Healthy finances thanks to efficiency in the operative business

Expressed in other words, the BVB wants to be competitive, not, however, at the expense of the quality of service, but rather with the customers at the centre. This requires the BVB to be able to grow with the expansion of public transportation, not only in the city of Basel but also in the agglomeration. Spectacular possibilities have arisen recently with the extension of tram line eight from Basel to the German city, Weil am Rhein.

Chances for growth have also ensued on the Swiss side, however, because the development in the region is considerable. A well-developed public transport system for local traffic is of significance for an attractive place to live and/or work. This is why development and optimisation of the tram network are currently important topics between the cantons of Basel-City and Basel-Land (the political system in Switzerland is federalist, the cantons, themselves, having great responsibilities). The area surrounding the city of Basel has positively developed in terms of its population, but the figures of the city’s population, on the other hand, has been showing a downward trend and it is important that not only the enterprises outside the city of Basel profit from future growth in road performance.

Infrastructure

The infrastructure for tram and bus stops also includes shelters. The bus stops which were formerly standardised were getting on a bit and were no longer being produced. A new standard shelter was chosen in a competition and is presently being installed at the first stops in Basel-City.

Trams which run through a narrow city always cause annoyance because in the tight curves the screeching sounds in certain weather conditions are considerable in spite of various measures to reduce the noise. Not only there, however, but also in residential areas with a high quality of living, the demands for a quiet environment continue to grow. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula anywhere in the world to completely avoid the squealing that results when wheels moving on tracks. The BVB has set itself the goal to make a positive contribution in order to improve the wheel-track system, not only regarding noise but also with regard to economic efficiency. For the time being, the noise issue is being addressed with lubricating facilities which are being built into the especially critical spots whenever renovation work is performed.

Figures

The BVB has approximately 1,000 employees. With eight tram and 12 bus lines, the BVB covers over a total of 153.6km in length and transports more than 120 million passengers per year. The BVB handles approximately 300 rides per resident of the Canton of Basel-City and suburbs.

The rolling stock consists of 129 tram motor units, 78 trailers, as well as 81 buses. The entire returns of the works came to 188.6 million Swiss Franks in 2007, and of this figure the transport returns (income from ticket and subscription-ticket sales) amounted to 110.5 million Swiss Franks. The cost-covering percentage of the most successful tram line comes to more than 80%.

Further returns come, among other things, from the compensation from the canton of Basel-City, the federal government, as well as from the services. Personnel expenses amount to 105.6 million Swiss Franks, depreciation amounts to 24 million Swiss Franks and the remaining company expenses amounts to 56.6 million Swiss Franks.

Communication

As has already been mentioned, Basel considers itself to be a tram city. The population loves their trams and does not perceive them as simply a means of transportation. The trams are given affectionate names; the general expression is “Drämmli,” which is a diminutive form of the word, “tram”. The BVB considers this solidarity to be a part of the success of the enterprise and offers various possibilities of communication in order to be able to maintain direct contact at almost all times.

Company customer communication functions mainly via DFI (Dynamic Passenger Information) displays, which are part of the electronic company traffic guidance system. The DFI displays are extraordinarily popular, and the passengers would like to have them at every stop. The additional information space on the displays is used for situations when something happens that is not according to plan and which involves the company. In such cases, there is an additional verbal announcement with a brief indication of the reason and information on what the BVB will do to accommodate the passengers (such as rerouting). These announcements can be heard both in the vehicles and at the stops. Not only the announcements, but also the additional information on the displays, are coordinated from the control centre.

Everyone is interested in what the BVB is doing; hardly a day goes by that there are not a few lines about the BVB in the press. The BVB has a press speaker who is situated directly in the company management. This ensures that the external communication is well channeled. Further commercial communication is situated in the marketing department. That is where all passenger information is produced (such as the timetables), the home page attended to, and the advertising materials marketed (the BVB vehicles are considered to be an attractive means of publicity). There is also a complaint office available to the customers, and each complaint is dealt with.

The in-house communication is also gaining ever greater significance. The employees have a right to transparent information and they appreciate the fact that the BVB places more importance on dialogue than on one-way communication.

A modern service company

The BVB now looks back at two and a half years of independence. The company has developed dynamically into a service company which deals entrepreneurially. From this standpoint, the canton profits as a customer because it gets the mobility service which it needs for an attractive business location. The latest population survey from 2007 demonstrated that the satisfaction of the population with the public transportation is very high – higher than with any other area polled (such as, for example, education, culture, or health). The BVB is playing a central role in this, today and in the future.

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