Case study: Zurich, Switzerland


  • Public transport in Zurich is provided by VBZ, a multi-modal operator of trams, trolleybuses and buses. Trams form the backbone of the system.
  • Since the mid-1970’s, the City of Zurich has committed to a strongly pro-public transport policy, giving it high priority in streets and at junctions
  • The basic concept is that the City provides an excellent operating environment, and VBZ should operate on-time services within that frame
  • ITS is central to Operations Management and high-quality, on-time services. VBZ first implemented ITS in the early-1970’s.
  • The ITS is integral to the VBZ operation, and to the organization, business processes, operating procedures, data, and management. The approach has matured over the four decades as they gain better understanding of what they can do, embed it in the organization, and evolve the technology.
  • VBZ has evolved from using ITS to just know where their vehicles are, to precision operation with on-time running and transfer assurance
  • Passenger information is extremely well-developed, prior to the trip, at stops and in the vehicles. It provides a seamless and ubiquitous guidance.

Scope of the Case Study

This case study deals with the ITS implemented at VBZ Zurich, the multi-modal surface public transport operator for the metropolitan area of Zurich and its immediate hinterland.

It does not cover the ITS implemented at the regional rail operators. It does not cover ITS implemented by the city for traffic management or other transportation services, except where it is relevant to or interfaces with the ITS of VBZ.

For the purposes of this Case Study, ‘bus’ and trolleybus’ are collectively referred to as ‘bus’, except where the difference is relevant. For the purpose of the ITS in Zurich, there is no significant difference between tram and (trolley)bus, with the systems and operations management common to all.


The Canton of Zurich has an area of approximately 1,700 sq. km and a population of 1.37 million. It consists of 171 communities.

The modal share of public transport for Zurich metropolitan area is high by international standards, reflecting both political and social support for use of public transport. The modal split in 2000 (for 940,000 persons either working or attending education) showed 36% of trips made by scheduled public transport, 39% by motorized individual transport (including private works/school buses), 19% of trips by bicycle or walk, and 6% not working or working from home.

Public transport in Zurich consists of the following:

Public transport in Zurich

  • Long-distance and regional rail
  • Suburban rail (S-Bahn)
  • Trams
  • Trolleybuses
  • Urban bus services
  • Outer suburban/hinterland bus services
  • Demand Responsive Transport

The S-Bahn and regional rail are the main means of passenger transport from the hinterland to the city of Zurich. S-Bahn operates about 950 trains per day on 26 lines with 176 stops in Zurich region, and carries about 380,000 passengers per day. Tram is the ‘backbone’ of the Zurich urban transport system, with bus and trolleybus playing complementary role. Nonetheless, the S-Bahn is preferred even for trips within Zurich where it is suitable as it is the fastest mode and well integrated with the other modes.

Plans for underground/metro were rejected by Zurich voters in 1962 and 1973, following a Master Plan was developed for transport based on excellent surface public transport and restraint on car traffic. This has underpinned Zurich’s transport policy since then, and while some underground sections have been provided to facilitate the S-Bahn and/or tram, these are to relieve specific problems and not to implement metro by another means.

Institutional Framework

Zürcher Verkehrsverbund (ZVV) is the transportation council with responsibility for passenger transportation throughout the Canton of Zurich. The governance of ZVV is by the Cantonal Government and the 171 Communities of the Canton.

The Cantonal Government has the authority for the fundamental principles governing development, services and fares, global appropriations and budget. The Communities are involved in timetabling and are consulted on fares.

ZVV has a wide range of responsibilities, including strategic marketing, transport planning, and financing. ZVV enters the agreements with the providers of the transport services. ZVV is also the responsible for the integrated fares and ticketing system.

ZVV provides agreements with 8 “transport companies with market responsibility”. Of these transport companies, 7 have responsibility for the passenger transport services in designated geographical areas of the Canton of Zurich. S-Bahn, the regional arm of the Swiss national railway company, provides rail services throughout the Canton in co-operation with these companies.

VBZ is the responsible transport company for the area around and including the City of Zurich.

Within the Canton, there is a further 43 passenger transport operators. These provide services under agreement with the responsible transport operators. They have no direct agreement with ZVV.

Operator Structure

VBZ is an integrated multi-modal transport provider, owned by the City of Zurich. VBZ direct operates tram, trolleybus, bus and funicular services in Zurich and its hinterland. Rail services in the area are provided by S-Bahn (SBB). Some bus services within the coverage area are operated by other operators, under agreement with VBZ.

The key metrics for the VBZ operation are:

  Tram Trolleybus Bus (urban and suburban) Total
  13 6 60 79
Vehicles 313 80 261 654
Network length (km) 113 54 628 795
Passengers (million) 202 55 61 318
Passenger-kms (millions) 369 119 143 631

The network has a total of 451 stops in the urban area and a further 330 in the region, total 781 of which 553 have waiting rooms and/or shelters.

VBZ has a total of 2,371 staff of which 1,366 are in direct operations.

Total income for VBZ in 2008 was CHF 467 Million (c. USD 520 million). Cost recovery is approximately 64% across all modes.

VBZ has a total of 5 depots. Two of these are solely tram, one is for trolleybuses and one is for buses only, and one is mixed.

Basis of Service/Route Award

The operating rights for the passenger transport in the Zurich region is granted to VBZ by direct award.

Permits or Contracts

VBZ has an agreement with ZVV for the provision of the transport services. There is a single consolidated ticketing system for the Canton of Zurich, operated by ZVV (“eine ticket für alles”). ZVV reimburses VBZ for the services provided.

Motivations to implement ITS

VBZ has utilized ITS since 1971. At this stage, ITS is a completely integral part of

the VBZ business processes and means of operation.

The motivations for utilizing the ITS include the following:

  • To provide a reliable service that operates according to the schedule at departure and along the route
  • To provide priority for public transport at traffic signals, and thus minimize delays at junctions and variations in travel time
  • To ensure that planned transfers can be achieved (‘connection protection’)
  • To have the capacity to deal with events, disruptions and emergencies
  • To provide real-time and other information to passengers before the trip, at stops and in vehicles
  • To achieve integrated and seamless travel across modes
  • To gather, analyse and utilise extensive data
  • To optimize the resource utilization and maximize efficiency

The requirements have evolved over time as VBZ have become familiar with using ITS, and with the data it provides, and as they have built their organization around it.

Operations Management – Organisation

On average, each day VBZ will operate about 90,000 vehicle-kilometres, carry 800,000 passengers, and deal with 6 street blockages and 4 collisions.

All lines on all modes operate based on precise schedules. None of the routes – even those with highest levels of service – operate on a headway basis. The basic philosophy is that:

Operations Management

  • the line and schedule are well designed with appropriate running time
  • the City traffic control centre provides good running conditions and priority at signals
  • VBZ organizes its service and staff to operate the schedule to time
  • the support systems are designed around keeping the service to schedule

Control Centre

VBZ has a centralized control centre at the main depot and maintenance works in Tremli. The Control Centre has a total of 5 workstations, of which 4 are used for regular operations control. The fifth is available both for incident/emergency management, and for training.

Services are operating from 0420 through to 0145, Control Centre coverage is required for this period. A total team of 20 dispatchers provides this cover.

Each dispatcher manages about 10-15 lines, which can be a mix of tram, trolleybus and bus routes.

Normally the dispatcher is responsible for his/her assigned lines. In case of an incident or emergency, the system allows other dispatchers to call up relevant screens and to share the tasks. For example, in case of an accident, the core dispatcher will continue to talk with the driver, while another dispatcher calls the police and emergency services, and a third dispatcher (if necessary) can deal with the rest of the line or other lines assigned to the first dispatcher.  

Dispatcher selection and development

It is a requirement that dispatchers have previously been drivers. This is considered essential, both to be able to relate properly with the drivers of the lines they are managing, and to understand the line characteristics. They are required to drive for a minimum of 100 hours annually to retain their awareness. VBZ consider that this is important to the drivers, and that the turnover rate would be higher if the dispatchers did not fully understand their task and situations.

Normally dispatchers should have been drivers for at least a year on each of tram and bus modes. The normal progression route is to be a driver, then to become a ‘troubleshooter’ (mobile unit) and then be selected to be a dispatcher based on suitability. Dispatchers receive one month of theoretical training, and then a further month under the supervision of an experienced dispatcher.

Tasks and Priorities

The tasks of the Control Centre and the dispatchers are identified as:

  • Supervise the operations of the public transport lines
  • Adhere as much as possible to schedule
  • Manage incidents
  • For minor delays of a few minutes, aim to resolve the delay and quickly bring the services back on schedule
  • For collisions, accidents, etc. organize assistance and mobilise police and emergency services as required; manage the line service and minimize the disruption
  • For major incidents – e.g. damaged catenaries or rails, route blockages – implement detour strategies, liaise with the relevant internal and external support services and manage the line service
  • Process information, including sharing information with radio stations and others in case of disruptions
  • Co-ordinate internal information, including information with drivers, street inspectors/mobile units (‘troubleshooters’)

Operations Procedures and Support Tools

The basic operations management strategy is to operate the vehicles according to the schedule, and to maintain that schedule throughout the day. Vehicles should be not more than 30 seconds ahead of their scheduled position, and not more than one minute late. The first-line responsibility rests with the driver, who should maintain his/her position compared to schedule, and has an indicator of relative position displayed in the driver’s console.

The dispatcher has different supporting information displayed on multiple screens. The principle screens include:

  • Overall status of all routes assigned to the workstation
  • Schematic view of individual lines, showing actual and scheduled locations of all vehicles on the route, colour coding of on-time status
  • information workstation
  • Listing of all vehicles including vehicle number, location, time relative to schedule, recovery time remaining, next departure). Vehicles requiring intervention are colour-coded.
  • Full day schedule for individual duties, to assist plan interventions
  • Status message, alerts and alarms

The dispatcher intervenes to bring the vehicle back to schedule where required, so that subsequent trips are not disrupted in case of delay. Normally, schedules have 6 minutes of recovery time/layover time built in to each trip. The dispatcher has an indication of the amount of the recovery time remaining, where the vehicle is in delay, and hence whether the vehicle can perform the next trip on-time without intervention. If not then the dispatcher selects from a number of operational strategies to restore on-time running. Colour-coding and other forms of alert are used to highlight vehicles in risk of delay.

The dispatcher can either speak to the driver or send a message which appears in the driver’s console. The dispatcher also options on whether to speak to an individual driver, selected drivers, all drivers on a route or a cluster of routes, etc. In a typical day, there are about 1,000 voice calls, in busier days (e.g. heavy snow) this can increase to about 4,000 calls in the day. The dispatcher can also make announcements direct to the bus internal speakers, or to speakers at stops.

There are standard operating procedures for lines disruptions – especially where track or catenary is unavailable for trams or trolleybuses. There is a master diagram of the entire network showing all track segments, switches, turnaround points, deviation options, etc. For every segment/switch or possible cluster of segments/switches, a strategy has been prepared for when the segment/switch/cluster is not available. The strategy identifies how the services should operate, including detours, truncation, etc. These have been standardized so that all operating personal respond in a consistent way to events, and customers also become familiar with the alternatives.  

When a situation arises, the driver or troubleshooter advises the Control Centre, and gives a judgement call whether the event will be cleared sufficiently quickly not to warrant intervention, or whether it will take some time. If the latter, the dispatcher calls up the relevant operating strategy on the screen and applies it. This includes calling all vehicles on relevant routes, advising the passenger information channels, and advising the police and traffic control centre.

Applications for which ITS is used at VBZ Zurich

The scope, functionality and devices for ITS have evolved over about 40 years since ITS was first utilized at VBZ.

ITS is used for the following applications at VBZ Zurich:

  • Automatic Vehicle Location
  • Operations Management, including Incident Management
  • Traffic Signal Priority (limited ITS content)
  • Fare collection
  • Real-time passenger information pre-trip, at stations and in vehicles
  • Automatic Passenger Counting
  • Timetabling
  • Vehicle and driver scheduling

ITS supports and/or exchanges data with the following:

  • Driver rostering
  • Maintenance planning
  • Travel and traffic information

Evolution of ITS at VBZ

ITS at VBZ has gone through three phases, and is now entering a fourth generation, which can be summarized as:

1974: Initial computer-assisted AVL, voice and data communication with the vehicles

1982: Full AVM with ITS-assisted Operations Management

1993: Extension to passenger information

2011+: Integration throughout the Canton of Zurich, seamless travel, ‘connection protection’

Each phase has reflected a maturing of the functions, requirements and utilization of the ITS.

ITS Equipment and Devices

In-vehicle ITS-related equipment consists of:

  • On-board computer
  • GPS
  • Radio (voice, data)
  • Wireless LAN (in-depot data transfer)
  • Driver console
  • Display screens for RTPI
  • Voice announcer (interior)
  • Voice announcer (external, some vehicles only)
  • Transponder to interface with roadside detector (trams only, both for traffic signal preemption and for point switching)

There is no fare collection equipment on board the vehicles used in the City of Zurich. There are ticket issuing machines and card validators on some buses that operate suburban services in the hinterland.

CCTV is not used within the VTZ vehicles.

Station/stop equipment ITS-related equipment consists of:

  • Displays for RTPI
  • Self-service ticket vending machines

Depot ITS-related equipment consists of:

  • Wireless LAN/Ethernet for data exchange with vehicles

AVL and Operations Management

The ITS for AVL consists of four main elements:

  • In-vehicle integrated computer
  • In-vehicle driver console
  • Control centre workstations
  • Control centre software

The in-vehicle integrated computer is an IBISPlus unit. The unit has evolved over time as technologies change, but is essentially the same concept of an on-board unit linked to a driver’s console, various in-vehicle devices and a radio.

It comprises a 19” rack with the following integrated elements:

  • Computer/core processing unit
  • GPS/Location Unit
  • Wireless LAN
  • GSM Unit
  • Reference data store
  • Transaction store

The unit is the central hub of all the on-board ITS devices, except for ticket issue and ticket validator units on buses where these are installed.

Driver’s Console

The driver’s console is now an extremely versatile unit. It consists of a high-definition, multi-function, touch-screen display. The console is a display unit, providing a user interface to the on-board applications, all processing and data storage functionality is in the on-board computer.

When the driver turns on the engine at the start of the shift, the console is activated. The on-bus computer resumes from sleep mode, and the in-vehicle display units are switched on. The driver enters his/her driver number and the route/duty data. The on-bus computer retrieves the trip information associated with that duty and displays the next scheduled trip. The driver confirms that this is the correct trip, or can manually select another trip if necessary. After that, all route and trip information updates automatically.

The normal display mode on the driver’s console shows the following:

  • Top line: Route/duty; time, destination, position relative to schedule (+/-, in colour box)
  • Right side bar: Tools including Request to Speak, Alarm, message request, other menu options
  • Main body of screen: Route shown vertically, with current stop at the top, next three stops with their scheduled arrival time, and indicator of whether there is connection data available
  • Bottom of screen: Destination/terminus and scheduled arrival time

The driver’s console can display other information on the screen, including:

  • Real-time information on connections at current and subsequent stops. This allows the driver to check and decide whether to wait for other connections, and also to answer any queries from passengers.
  • Messages from the Dispatcher/Control Centre
  • Message menu, from which one can be selected for communication to the Control Centre
  • Visual of bus occupancy options (empty through to full with passengers left behind) which can either be initiated by the driver or prompted by the Dispatcher

The driver’s console can also be the interface for fare collection (this is only used for the bus services outside the city where fares are collected on board). Any fare collection equipment is logically independent of the IBISPlus on-board computer.  There is a network linkage, allowing the driver’s console to service as the interface or display for the fare collection system.

Voice communication is restricted, and is controlled by the dispatcher. The driver has three options to request voice communication:

  • Press a ‘Request to Speak’ icon on the driver’s console. This is shown on the dispatcher’s screen, the dispatcher will decide whether and when to initiate a voice call with the driver
  • Press an Alarm icon on the driver’s console. This is shown on the dispatcher’s screen with a flashing sign and an audible alarm. The dispatcher will initiate the voice call with the driver.
  • Press a hidden emergency button. This will show with a special flashing sign on the dispatcher’s screen, and with a loud alarm sound. Voice communication is automatically opened up, allowing the dispatcher to hear what is going on in the vehicle.

In addition to the request to speak, the driver can select from a menu of status, situation and other messages, and send this to the dispatcher.


The primary communication for operations management is performed by private analog radio. Radio communication is full duplex, which is rare in the public transport industry. VBZ has an extensive network of base stations, both in the city and outside. This allows all radio communication to be performed on the analog radio system in the city, and along the main service areas outside the city. There are some rural areas where it has not been cost effective to establish their own base stations, so they either lease space on other utilities’ masts, or they supplement the analog radio with GSM.

Close range communication is performed by wireless LAN, which is integrated into the IBISPlus on-board computer. Wireless LAN coverage is available throughout the depots, so vehicles can exchange data wherever they are (e.g. parked, at maintenance, at washing/fuelling). Wireless LAN has also been placed at a few key locations. Data exchange takes place on an ‘opportunistic basis’, including for some vehicles if they are passing by the depot. The system keeps track of which data packets have been successfully transferred, and if the data transfer is not complete, it resumes at the next opportunity.

Data transfer includes:

  • Upload of reference data (routes, stops, schedule, …)
  • Download of transaction data, statistics, logs, etc
  • Software upload and configuration changes

Data can also be transferred through the radio system if necessary, but this is generally avoided as it uses up the more scarce capacity.

For the trams, the transponders communicate route information to enable automated point switching.

Real-time Passenger Information

Passenger information consists of multiple strands:

  • How to use the transport system
  • Journey planners
  • Real-time passenger information
  • Incident information and alerts

Real-time passenger information is based on the AVL system. RTPI is provided through four main channels:

  • Internet and mobile channels, delivered to personal devices
  • At-stop displays
  • In-vehicle displays
  • Displays at 3rd Party locations

There is increasing interest in internet and mobile channels of providing RTPI, as information provided before the customer arrives to the stop allows the customer to either choose a better trip alternative, or to manage their time better.

RTPI at stops is provided on pole-mounted displays. The units are based on LED displays, and normally provide four lines of information, indicating the next fours vehicles to arrive at the stop. pole-mounted display

The information shows:

  • line number
  • destination
  • minutes to arrival
  • wheelchair symbol, if the vehicle is accessible

The data is transmitted wirelessly to the individual stops from the AVM system.

RTPI in the vehicles is provided on high-definition display screens. The unit has a light sensor, and varies the luminance level depending on the ambient light (i.e. turns it down at night, increase in bright sunlight). This reduces power consumption and generated heat where possible.

Relevant baseline information (line, stops, schedule, transfer information) is stored in the on-bus computer and is updated periodically as required. The real-time information is provided by the AVM system.

There are three main display modes for the on-bus RTPI

  • Normal mode, showing information for the next stops
  • Connection information at transfer points
  • Messages and alerts from the VBZ Control Centre

In normal mode, the following is displayed:

Real-time passenger information

  • The route number
  • The current stop
  • The next three stops, with the number of minutes until arrival
  • The destination stop, with the number of minutes until arrival
  • The current time
  • For each stop, the routes with which connection can be made

This display is updated each time the vehicles departs from a stop.Real-time passenger information

When the vehicle approaches a stop where connections can be made, a different set of information is presented:

  • The current route number
  • Name of the next stop
  • The connections at/near that stop, including the scheduled time, route number, destination, and current status of the connecting route

Real-time passenger information

This information is packaged from the data stored in the on-board computer, and supplemented by the real-time status of the individual routes (the two right-hand columns).

When required, information and alerts can be displayed on the in-vehicle screen.

The messages are generated at the VBZ Control Centre. The Dispatcher can choose from:

  • Preset messages
  • Message templates into which context-specific data can be added (e.g. route number, time, date)
  • Free-form text generated by the Dispatcher.

The message may be accompanied by a prerecorded voice announcement. The Dispatcher also has the option to make a voice announcement.

Traffic Signal Priority

A very high level of priority is given to public transport at traffic signals in Zurich. This is managed through the Traffic Control Centre of the City of Zurich. There is no direct interaction with the foreground or back-office ITS of VBZ.

The basic principle is that the Traffic Control system manages the general traffic to minimize congestion, and then gives as much priority as possible to public transport according to the specified rules (see below).  It does so regardless of whether the vehicle is on-time, early or late.  From the Traffic Control Centre perspective, it is the task of the transport operator to operate services to schedule within this favourable operating environment.

Traffic Control system

The Traffic Control Centre has comprehensive traffic status information - at network, link and junction level – various analysis routines, and has CCTV coverage of key points.

Traffic signal priority is triggered by detection of public transport vehicles. This is based on the traffic management devices, and it does not receive any location information from VBZ’s AVL system.

Zurich has about 400 sets of traffic signals, and about 4,000 traffic detectors, most of which are induction loops. The induction loop detects the vehicle presence, and is able to identify if it is a public transport vehicle. Detectors are located in the lanes used by tram and by bus, assisting the vehicle type and direction logic.

For each junction and approach, a set of priority rules is established. This needs to consider both the priority action to be taken when there is a one public transport vehicle, and the allocation of priority if there is more than one public transport vehicle detected. The underlying concept for these rules include normally giving tram priority over bus, and peak direction traffic gets higher priority. The junction configuration is also taken into account. If there is no applicable rule, then it is ‘first come, first served’.

The normal means of giving priority is to truncate the current phase (if required) and to give an early green. This is normally done by adjusting the phase time without altering the phase sequence, with some tolerances about when the current green phase is completed. There are some background rules, including that the total cycle time cannot exceed 72 seconds, and maximum pedestrian waiting time is 30 seconds.

In some cases, especially for the tram routes in dedicated lane, it is programmed to give zero-wait, meaning that the traffic signal will always be green when the vehicle reaches it.  The vehicle can approach the junction without reducing speed, confident that the light will be green by the time it gets there. This has implications for driver training and safety, since there is not the same level of priority at all junctions.

Detector reliability is very high, with just 1 to 5 detectors requiring to be dealt with each day (out of a total of 4,000). The central system can detect faults, and will trigger an alarm if no signal has been received within a specified period of time.

The Traffic Control Centre will co-ordinate with VBZ’s Control Centre for events, road closures, disruptions, etc. They do not interact in relation to the normal public transport operations. For example, the Traffic Control Centre workstations to not have access to the VBZ service information or route displays.

Outside the City of Zurich, where the traffic signals are not part of an integrated urban traffic control system, traffic signal priority is activated by the VBZ AVL system sending location/arrival data directly to the individual traffic signals. The local signal processor deals with the requests and grants the priority as appropriate.


VBZ uses the DIVA scheduling package. This is used for the full sequence from timetable generation, vehicle scheduling and driver scheduling. The initial timetable is developed directly within DIVA (i.e. it is not done manually and then entered). All of the detailed timetable and scheduling development is done by the software. The exception is the transitions (e.g. from 7.5 minute to 10 minute headway at the end of the morning peak) where some smoothing may be done manually.

The timetable is developed entirely according to the customer requirements. While there are working hour, shift and layover constraints, these are a matter for the driver scheduling and rostering functions, and the timetable is never manipulated to suit such driver-related constraints.  

Fare Collection

Normally there is no fare collection equipment within the VBZ vehicles. All tickets are purchased and validated before boarding. There are neither ticket issuing machines nor validators.

There are self-service vending machines on the platform at which customers can purchase tickets. These offer tickets throughout the Canton of Zurich, users select how many/which zones they wish, how many trips, any applicable discount, etc. The machines accept cards and cash.

All tickets are currently paper. Journey and day-related tickets must be validated prior to travel. A mechanical punch removes part of the ticket and makes a time, date and location stamp. No further validation is required, and the ticket can be used on all VBZ modes throughout its validity.

There is discussion about migrating to smart cards, but no firm commitment has yet been made.

System Integration

The ITS systems are deeply integrated. This has evolved over the four decades of ITS at VBZ, rather than being implemented from a master template.

The on-bus computer unit provides the primary integration of all on-board ITS-related devices (except fare collection, where they are used). It hosts the on-board network and holds the reference data required by the various devices/systems.

Within VBZ, the ITS is fully integrated across modes. For ITS purposes, trams, trolleybuses and buses are treated as equal, being the vehicles assigned to public transport lines. The ITS equipment and functions are the same, although some aspects of the configuration and the number of devices on-board may vary.  Key interfaces between the AVL and other systems include:

  • Scheduling (DIVA)
  • S-Bahn (SBB) to exchange real-time information and transfer information
  • RTPI for smart phones
  • Integrated ticketing system
  • SAP, for maintenance scheduling (including unplanned work)
  • 3rd party / external systems

Currently, VBZ is working with the other Responsible Operators in the ZVV framework to achieve full passenger transport integration across Canton of Zurich at network, operations, customer-facing services and ITS levels. Many of the other Responsible Operators have only recently implemented ITS, especially for operations management and passenger information. VBZ anticipates that it will take time for them to reach the same level of understanding and utilization of the ITS. Hence, integration at the technical level may be achieved faster than integration at the full utilization of the ITS capabilities.

Management and Oversight of the ITS Systems

All management and oversight of the ITS systems is done by VBZ themselves.

None of the ITS roles have been delegated.

Implementation and Operational Challenges

This section is not covered as ITS has been in place for such a lengthy period at VBZ. Relevant items are covered in the Experience and Lessons Learned section.

Capital Costs of the ITS

This data is not available.

Operating Costs of the ITS

This data is not available.

Revenue Generated by or through the ITS systems

There are no revenues generated by the ITS systems.

The various RTPI displays have the capability to display messages and external information. To date, VBZ has decided not to forego commercial revenue opportunities from advertising on the RTPI channels, although other transportation agencies in Switzerland (e.g. Luzern) do so.

Benefits arising from the ITS systems at VBZ

Quantified benefits of the ITS are not available.

VBZ has used ITS for operations management for almost forty years, and has made real-time information available to passengers for almost twenty years. It is an integral part of their business and operational processes, and it is inconceivable that they would operate without such systems.

In the course of four decades, VBZ has moved far beyond trying to know where their trams and buses are, whether they leave on time, or looking for data about the day’s performance – all these things have long been treated as baseline. VBZ works on the principle of operating their service according to the schedule, optimizing the resources to do this, and guiding the customer through the trip.

The focus now is on:

  • Maintaining service quality as general traffic in Zurich approaches the limit of what can be managed
  • Integration of the passenger transport services beyond the City of Zurich to the neighbouring areas
  • Ensure closely defined connections so that passengers can make seamless, reliable travel

The expected benefit chain has evolved beyond immediate tangible operational gains (which have been achieved and need to be retained). The expected benefit chain is that achieving integrated, seamless travel chains increases customer satisfaction, which makes passenger transport more attractive, leading to both increased usage and customer retention, and to the broader strategic objective of modal shift from private to public transport. This is required not only at the policy level, but also at the practical level as traffic in Zurich approaches capacity. The high quality of service and reliability will become increasingly difficult to maintain if traffic conditions become less free-moving, thus leading to a downward spiral in the public transport usage and mode share.

Experience and Lessons Learned

Four key lessons are learned in relation the deployment of ITS at VBZ (there are many other excellent lessons learned about public transport in Zurich, but these are beyond the scope of this Case Study):

  • Evolution of ITS over time. VBZ has utilized ITS for almost 40 years. The way in which VBZ utilizes the ITS capabilities has evolved and matured over time, to the extent that it is now embedded in the organization and the many organizational aspects have evolved around it. Over time, VBZ gain a better understanding of what they can do with the ITS – both actively in operations and background with the data – and evolve both their processes and the technology to harness this. They consider that they are now ‘fourth generation’ ITS, and the evolution continues.
  • Ability to operate precision public transport operations. VBZ has demonstrated that it is possible to operate precise, on-time operation with trams and buses, even with limited degree of dedicated right-of-way. This has been achieved by a combination of the city providing good operating conditions, and VBZ developing excellent ITS-based operational management. The urban passenger transport in Zurich is sufficiently reliable to form part of complex regional and inter-regional travel chains.  
  • Supplier relationship. VBZ has developed very effective working and technical relationships with its suppliers, and consider this to be of very high importance. At the baseline level, VBZ are not interested to purchase ITS equipment or software from suppliers who have no further interest or obligation. On one hand, VBZ is now highly dependent on excellent functioning of their ITS, so they cannot afford to have technical problems with such a fundamental business system. They have made very significant investments in ITS over the decades, and need to protect these.  On the other hand, they are aware how their own requirements evolve, and they need a practical, co-operative relationship in which they can add functionality, assure interfaces, and develop the ITS as they require. Their supplier has an extensive customer base, deals with most other suppliers and is familiar with the interface specifications and issues (e.g. with VBZ’s current radio supplier), thus avoiding incompatibility problems.
  • Innovation risk. VBZ do not recommended technological risk for ITS systems, and believe that the technology used should be reliable and proven. Implementation and extension/enhancement of functions are better done in a step-wise manner.

Three other ITS-related lessons are noted:

  • Zurich has decided that it was not necessary to integrate or otherwise link the AVL with the traffic control centre system. As the public transport is based on the principle of on-time operation, priority is always given, subject to the individual junction rules.
  • The focus for RTPI is prior to the trip on personal devices (internet, mobile devices) and in the vehicles. RTPI at the stops is relatively simple
  • The supplier of the AVL system (Trapeze, formerly Siemens) operates a ‘release’ approach for their software. Customers receive updates which often have additional functionality or known problems resolved.