EPFL paves the way for PostBus to grow

© PostBus Switzerland Ltd.
© PostBus Switzerland Ltd.

A study commissioned by PostBus Switzerland Ltd. and carried out in three EPFL laboratories identifies the needs and expectations of the Swiss public regarding “combined” mobility, which currently exhibits the strongest potential for growth in transporting passengers in Switzerland’s metropolitan areas. The yellow PostBuses have a bright future in front of them if they manage to adapt to the requirements of contemporary society.

The emblematic yellow Postbuses have been roaming the Swiss countryside for more than 100 years, serving even the country’s most remote valleys. Changes in rural development, in the distribution of populations, and in their accompanying mobility needs, however, have meant that PostBus Switzerland Ltd., a subsidiary of Swiss Post, has had to continually adapt its service.

The results of “Optima,” a long-term study – three years of work done by twenty researchers – commissioned to EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) by PostBus Switzerland Ltd. are being published today. PostBus Switzerland now has additional tools in hand with which to direct its strategic development in the most pertinent manner possible. Three laboratories participated in the study, which was done under the aegis of EPFL’s Transportation Center ( TraCE ): the Urban Sociology ( LASUR ) led by Vincent Kaufmann, the Transport and Mobility laboratory ( Transp-or ), led by Michel Bierlaire, and the Urban and Regional Planning Laboratory ( CEAT ), led by Martin Schuler.

These intermediate results show that PostBus has significant growth potential. Nearly two-thirds of the population lives in the suburbs (neither in the city center, nor in a rural area), and this group is an ideal target for PostBus service. The services provided for leisure and shopping passengers could be further developed. In addition, the Swiss population already has a heightened sense of “multi-modality” – the use of several different forms of transport over a single route – as well as one of the most well-developed rail services in the world. Its car-sharing system, Mobility, which has just celebrated its 100,000th customer, is one the best in Europe.

Several avenues to explore
Qualitative studies (detailed analysis of 20 people’s travel over a 10-day period) and quantitative measurements (a survey filled in by 2,000 people from all over Switzerland) done by EPFL reveal that more than 80% of the population would be, under certain conditions, likely to use PostBus services or increase their usage. The researchers made several observations that could lead to targeted actions:
• There is a “threshold” of 12 return-trip journeys per day, below which PostBus service does not attract users;
• Good coordination between bus and train schedules is crucial; an improvement in “feeder” services to the train stations is one of the population’s biggest expectations. An lack of coordination between schedules is one of the most serious shortcomings noted in certain PostBus lines, and it penalizes the entire public transport chain;
• Public transport users do not cover ground in the same way as those who drive private vehicles. The former tend to make “clusters” of routes around their centers of interest (activities), and the latter tend to weave “webs” of routes over large areas;
• The “holes” in the PostBus service in off-peak periods during the day or on weekends heavily penalize its success, because this doesn’t permit people to be spontaneous. Original solutions such as providing taxi or free bicycle service during these periods could be an inexpensive way to address the problem;
• The image that people have of the PostBus system is still heavily influenced by tradition: leisure activities, hikes in the mountains, etc. Many of those who don’t use the PostBus are not aware of all the existing services and tend to overestimate how long a trip will take. Information campaigns and communications efforts should thus be carried out to convince new users – particularly by integrating Publicar in the online SBB planning tool (www.sbb.ch). In addition, the difference in service in the German speaking regions (much more complete) and French-speaking regions of Switzerland has a measurable impact on the image that the local population has of the services that the PostBus provides.

The avenues for action suggested by EPFL at the end of the study were deliberately left quite broad. It is now up to PostBus to analyze them with regards to their efficiacy and profitability. “Our collaboration has been very fruitful,” says Grego Ochsenbein, innovation specialist with PostBus Switzerland. “It allowed us to better understand the mobility needs and patterns of our current and potential customers, as well as those who don’t use public transport at all. PostBus will now be able to improve its services even further and put in place targeted campaigns to encourage combined mobility.”