Using the example of the SBB ticket sales offices we can show up well how the “digital strategy” works – and without regard for interpersonal, democratic and law-based rules.
Last year the Swiss voters voted on the referendum “Pro Service public”, which wanted to oblige the Confederation not to make profit in basic services, but to prioritise the good supply of the population throughout the country. On 5 June 2016, roughly two-thirds of voters rejected the initiative, not least because the Federal Council had declared: “Switzerland has a very good, reliable and affordable public service. The supply of all regions of the country is ensured. Keep it that way, the companies concerned need good conditions and entrepreneurial freedoms.”7
Shortly after the vote in September 2016, the executive floor of the SBB demonstrated how they intended to take advantage of their entrepreneurial freedom. They announced that they will close 52 so-called SBB third point of sale in the country in short-term (until 1st January 2018). These are shops and post offices in the vicinity of unattended stations where railway and bus tickets can be purchased. In the affected municipalities, cantons and the population this intention understandably met with protest. In addition to political initiatives in the Confederation and the cantons also a petition was launched and signed by 30,000 citizens within a short time.
In order to support the affected population, National Councillor Jakob Büchler (CVP St. Gallen) filed a motion on 30 September 2016, immediately after SBB’s anouncement, aiming to prevent the closing of ticket sales centres in the countryside.8
The motion required the Federal Council to prepare a draft bill to facilitate “a five-year moratorium for the continuation of third party SBB ticket sales centres”. This motion is unusual in that it was co-signed by 38 members of the National Council from all political fractions and from a large number of predominantly rural cantons.
In its statement on the initiative, dated 16 November 2016, the Federal Council declined to legally require SBB to delay their plans because it didn’t want to interfere with their operative activities. This could potentially incur costs for the Federal Government. It’s worth noting that both SBB and the postal service used to be federal services whose activities – while geared towards the common good – were decided on by the government and paid for by taxpayers’ money. Today, they are profit-oriented corporations under the operational management of a CEO and its administrative board. The SBB and postal service shares are (still) in federal hands, but, as is well known, that can be changed.
On 21 March 2017, the Federal Council’s statement prompted the National Council’s Transport and Telecommunications Committee (TTC-N) to issue the afore mentioned second, contentwise more moderate motion that had been agreed to in the two councils in the meantime.
In the Büchler motion’s justification, the proximity to the citizens established by a good public service becomes apparent: “Predominantely in rural regions, sales centres offer customers, especially the elderly ones, a much valued service regarding ticket sales and information.” By closing the ticket sales centres, easy access is lost to a lot of rail customers.
The Federal Council counters this argument with numbers: At those 52 ticket sales centres concerned, only 1% of the entire ticket supply is sold and consequently, SBB commissions given to those third party sales centres cannot be covered with these revenues. On the other hand, today, almost 80% of tickets are requested through “self-service channels”. That’s why SBB’s decision was deemed “understandable”.
Both motions counter this argument by stating that the service has to remain operating in all regions of the country, as was promised by the Federal Council prior to the vote on the initiative “Pro-Service-public”. The justification of the National Council Commission reads as follows: “East Switzerland is especially affected by SBB’s decision to close ticket sales centres as it effectively cuts off bigger train stations with currently significant sales volume from serviced ticket sales. The saving of 5 million Swiss francs by closing 52 of the serviced SBB ticket sales centres is not specifically mentioned. Furthermore, costs related to the improvement of the sales centres in the cities and the investments tied to that aren’t made transparent.”9
In plain language this means that while the very good supply of SBB sales centres in the cities is being developed even further, sales centres in the countryside have been closing down for years. Now, around a quarter of the third party sales centres are meant to be closed. For the elderly people who prefer communicating with an actual person to talking to a ticket machine, SBB offers – according to the National Council’s answer to Büchler’s motion – seminars to familiarise the elderly with the ticket machines in collaboration with Pro Senectute.
Luckily, parliament extended the tight allocated deadline for another 3 years during which a solution that specifically caters to the customers needs has to be found. This solution cannot and may not exclusively consist of access to ticket machines and the internet. We, the people – not only the elderly! – are not robots. Within our daily life, we inevitably depend on our relationships with other people, be it at a ticket counter. •
1 Motion 17.3258 of the Transport and Telecommunication Committee from 21 March 2017.
2 Swiss Confederation. Federal Office of Communications OFCOM. “Digital Switzerland Strategy”. April 2016
3 “Digital Switzerland Strategy”, p. 16
4 “Digital Switzerland Strategy”, p .21
5 Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication, headed by Federal Councelor Doris Leuthard
6 “Digital Switzerland Strategy”, pp. 23 and 25
7 Vote of 5 June 2016. Voting booklet, p. 10. Cf. Current Concerns No 9/10 from 4 May 2016
8 Motion 16.3866 filed by Jakob Büchler from 30 September 2016, CVP SG. The closing of SBB ticket sales points in the countryside
9 Motion 17.3258 by the National Council Commission for Transport and Telecommunications (KVF-N) from 21 March 2017.
“The ‘Digital Switzerland Strategy’ is therefore a measure of the Federal Council within the legislative planning 2015 – 2019.” (p. 3)
“The Federal Council is aware that the digital transformation of existing structures requires rethinking on all levels and challenges traditional forms of co-existence and economic activity.” (p. 5)
“[…] requires regulatory coordination on a national, and where necessary international basis, in relation to access to data and digital content as well as data processing and security.” (p. 10)
“Civil society and the private sector can conduct official transactions digitally throughout Switzerland.” (p 14)
“Political rights can be exercised by electronic means […] The objective of the Confederation and cantons is to introduce e-voting throughout Switzerland as a third complementary method of voting.” (p. 15)
“Progressive digitisation is transforming the context in which teaching and learning takes place. The anytime, anywhere availability of knowledge is leading to an adjustment of learning processes and changes in the roles of teachers and students.” (p. 16)
“Since cyber risks are international in nature, Switzerland must also be involved in the relevant international and European structures and processes for collaboration in the field of network and information security.” (p. 18)
“Switzerland exploits opportunities in relation to the virtual international economic area. In 2015, the EU adopted its strategy for a Digital Single Market. […] The objective here is to conduct a dialogue with the EU and coordinate Switzerland’s activities in order to ensure that the opportunities associated with the Digital Single Market are exploited in a way, which also benefits Switzerland and averts the risk of exclusion.” (p. 21)
“The dialogue on ‘Digital Switzerland’ will be managed by DETEC. All relevant and interested stakeholders will be integrated into the dialogue process (multi-stakeholder approach). The highlight of the process is a national conference on selected aspects of the information society.” (p. 25)
(Translation Current Concerns)
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