Public transportation in Switzerland is something of a cliche, considering its transportation companies have taken the stereotype of ultraprecise clockworks – Switzerland’s second-largest export industry, by the way – and quite simply turned it into reality.
Switzerland’s rail system is one of the most punctual in the world and even local public transport is incredibly reliable. Now, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) are teaming with system integrator T-Systems Switzerland to take it one step further in creating NOVA, a new local transit system that is the first of its kind in Europe. Wherever travelers want to go in Switzerland, the goal of NOVA is to make it all possible in one trip and with one ticket. And here is the kicker: Any mode of public transportation can be used.
This is because Switzerland is not only a land of trains, it is also a land of ships, cable cars, and buses. All of these are now integrated into NOVA, with more than 200 mobility providers between lakes Geneva, Constance, and Lugano having connected their sales systems, including ticket machines, online stores, and mobile apps, to the platform. And that number is growing. Now, when a user enters a query, NOVA calculates prices and routes in the occasionally complex fare system. The traveler needs to purchase one ticket only to travel seamlessly and easily, even when combining entirely different transit types. Even car sharing is integrated.
Here is a specific example of the benefits of NOVA: Before NOVA, passengers in the town of Zug in the canton of the same name looking for a connection to Luthern in the canton of Lucerne would be given a complicated route with a travel time of up to one hour and fortyfive minutes. And that is just travel time, since the timetable had no sensible connection for this route. Now, NOVA calculates the optimal connections, switching between train and bus, to ultimately produce an actual travel time of one hour and twentynine minutes, including sensible interchanges.
"NOVA immediately proved its worth as a tangible contribution to digitalization.“ Urs Richert, Project Manager at Swiss Federal Railways (SBB)
“Customers want efficient mobility, not stressful complexity,” said Daniel Röder, NOVA project manager at T-Systems, in summation of the benefits of the new platform. And apparently the innovation in IT is exactly what customers wanted: With NOVA, up to 300,000 tickets are sold daily and 5,000 price queries are received per minute. From its inception, NOVA has totaled 1.4 billion Swiss francs in ticket sales. In SBB’s opinion, “With NOVA, we have now launched a central, nationwide sales hub that has already proven itself today and will fully guarantee certainty in the future – a stalwart contribution to digitization,” summed up Urs Richert, contract manager for the company’s Future Pricing System.
The new system is also impressive from a technological standpoint. NOVA is entirely cloudbased, naturally replacing countless legacy systems and backend connections at, as of today, nearly 200 companies who connect their transit services, ticket sales, and information to NOVA. From the various pointofsale solutions, the hundreds of backend applications and inhouse developments to the offline terminals of bus conductors in the farthestflug valleys, this means every system critical to the sale of tickets is now seamlessly integrated without any media discontinuity. This also includes other systems, such as those for billing and for ticket inspectors. And it all is anything but selfevident: “Where and how a transportation company places the QR code on its ticket alone needs to be clarified with all of the transportation companies, which takes time and resources,” said Röder, illustrating the effort needed for the platform.
NOVA also won over the panelists for the Digital Economy Award, one of the most significant IT awards in Switzerland, with SBB beating out 18 other finalists. NOVA was nominated for the categories “Digital Innovation of the Year” and “Highest Digital Quality”, winning in the latter. The award recognized how the project has masterfully integrated the different public transit ecosystems and players in a complex, heterogeneous landscape. “It can serve as an example beyond our borders and gives customers enormous value in combination with a simple customer experience. This is highly relevant to customers in everyday life. Integrating the multitude of local transit providers into a single joint enterprise requires an extreme need for coordination and ability to reach consensus. All of that is only possible if the platform meets the strictest requirements of quality,” the panel found. Switzerland is once again an example of utmost reliability, the Swiss clockwork more than just a cliché, but rather a role model for the rest of Europe and beyond.