Transit in U.S. Can Look to Swiss for Economic Vision, U.S. Rep. Beyer Says

Rep. Donald Beyer

Over the past 41 years, U.S. Representative Donald Beyer’s business has sold 75,000 new and used cars.

But the first-term Virginia Democrat deeply loves transit. Huh, you ask?

“My real consciousness breakthrough came from living in Bern, Switzerland for four years [as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein]. The Swiss are the number-one train riders – more train miles per person per year – than any other country in the world,” he told a room packed with transportation experts and officials Friday at an event called “Transit Means Business” held by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in Tysons Corner.

1024px-Panoramic_TrainHe noted that Switzerland has 2,596 villages and they’re each served by a bus, train, or trolley – “with a printed schedule on a big yellow board outside, and on time.”

Beyer then reeled off an impressive Top 10 list of how “transit means business” for Switzerland’s humming economy. He suggested that similar efforts throughout the U.S. would create an economic windfall for the country.

10. In Switzerland, “the air is crystal clear and breathably clean. The carbon footprint per person in Switzerland is one-third what ours is, with at least as high a standard of living.”

9. “The roads are uncluttered. Many fewer cars per person. So you can speed if you like,” he joked. “The problem is that the fines are based on your net worth rather than your speed.”

8. “I got a great deal of reading done on all those trains back and forth to Geneva and Zurich. It was much faster to take the train to Zurich than to drive.”

7. “The Swiss can live wherever they want – alpine village, valley farm, big city – because everywhere is close with trains, buses, and trolleys that are present, fast, and reliable.”

6. Transit is “always on time. If a train is late, the conductor apologizes profusely. How many times this week has one of us called to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m gonna be late, I’m stuck in traffic.’ We live in a constant state of anxiety over the unpredictability of movement in [one of the worst-congested metro area in the country]. Seventy hours of delay per year per person.”

NVTC panel

A panel at NVTC’s “Transit Means Business” event

5. “The Swiss get more sleep than we do. In our family business, most of our employees get up at 4 or 5 o’clock to drive in to work before the traffic gets too bad. And then they sleep in their cars. They sleep in the customer lounge. We’ve been talking about converting the lunch rooms into bunk rooms. But transit allows for healthy schedules.”

4. “The Swiss have no road rage. Just compare the stress of a comfortable ride on the new 7000-series [Metro] cars to creeping forward at 5-miles-an-hour, blood pressure rising, as equally frustrated drivers cut you off.”

3. “With transit, you have much more time with your family. You can have dinner together. You can help with homework. You can watch Game of Thrones. The Swiss work very hard but they’re always home for dinner.”

2. “In the U.S., our two top personal expenses are our mortgage and our parking. In Switzerland, the two top personal expenses are food and vacation. Now, I mean, I appreciate car payments, but wouldn’t you rather spend your hard-earned money on [a trip or a good dinner].”

1. “Transit in Switzerland leads directly to a much healthier economy. Businesses thrive. The employment rate today: 3 percent. The top federal tax rate: 11 percent. A budget surplus every year. And everyone, regardless of income, has equal access to every part of the country through its transit system. And this leads to much less poverty and much more buying power.”

Beyer concluded that we need bold and long-term commitment throughout the U.S. to connecting our geography and economy by transit. He said progress needs to be aggressively made on individual projects that have stalled or are not improving and a vision needs to be in place for our transit future.

Photos by AFGE, Ttrainer, and NVTC

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