A Canuck expat in Geneva on the virtues of light rail

from Now Toronto


In the flap over Torontoai??i??s transit future, we have to recognize that few have had any kind of exposure to light rail. For most of us, subways are our only experience of public transportation that works well and doesnai??i??t get bogged down in traffic.

I can see why thereai??i??d be a tendency to associate light rail with old-fashioned, slow and unpredictable streetcars. But believe me, light rail is nothing like that.


As a Canadian expatriate living in Geneva, Switzerland, Iai??i??ve experienced first hand the wonders of a light-rail-based system thatai??i??s fast, efficient and dependable. In fact, I take a light rail ai???tramai??? to work every morning.

When I arrive at the stop where I change connections, a convenient automated screen shows when the next tram is coming and where itai??i??s going. When the vehicle arrives, the doors open only briefly. You hurry on and they automatically lock behind you. This results in some dramatic scenes of frustrated people rushing to the tram, banging on the doors and making hysterical gestures, but it definitely speeds things up.

Thereai??i??s no turnstile at the front; instead, you buy a ticket or a monthly pass. ai???Controllersai??? make random checks and impose hefty fines on those who canai??i??t produce a ticket. Once you board, your tram flies past cars; itai??i??s in its own lane.

Everybody from young families to bankers, middle-class professionals and visiting diplomats takes the tram. If you live downtown, itai??i??s much easier and faster than driving.

In Geneva, public transit isnai??i??t something you use only if you canai??i??t afford a car or want to make a green political statement. Itai??i??s a practical way to get from A to B. Everybody does it. People depend on it, and they donai??i??t accept bad service. It has to work well, and it does.

Waiting more than five minutes for a tram feels like an eternity, and people complain loudly to the city when this happens. This winter, unseasonable cold caused a water main break and a two-day transit meltdown. People were incensed. It was front-page news locally; waiting 10 minutes was simply unacceptable. I canai??i??t imagine what this population would make of the TTC.

Of course, this is Switzerland, the gold standard for transit. But it proves that a workable system is out there. Perhaps Torontonians have been living so long with transit mediocrity that they simply canai??i??t imagine anything better.

Trust me, it exists, and Toronto deserves it.

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