Intermodal mobility: Your ticket to the future

Digitalization is transforming Swiss public transportation. In response, Siemens and Schweizerische Südostbahn (Swiss South Eastern Railway, SOB) have developed the abilio intermodal mobility platform. Thanks to abilio, passengers will in future enjoy seamless travel from door to door.

Switzerland has one of the densest and most punctual public transportation networks in the world. In no other country is the number of kilometers traveled per year and inhabitant greater than in Switzerland. Only in the frequency of use is Switzerland surpassed by Japan. The main public transportation operators are Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), Postbus (Swiss Post bus lines), and regional railways such as SOB. Together they ensure the whole country is covered, including the remotest regions and valleys. 


Today, Switzerland has an open public transportation system with single tickets issued for whole journeys and train tickets that are valid on all modes of public transportation. Operators are continually responding to growing mobility needs by extending routes and increasing the frequency of services.

“Thanks to steady investment, Switzerland has a high-quality public transportation system with coordinated timetables for local and long-distance services that covers virtually all the mobility needs of a large part of the population, be it for work, school, or leisure,” says Thomas Sauter-Servaes, mobility researcher and head of the transportation systems program at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). 


Thus, Switzerland, which is a small country (area: approx. 40,000 km2; 8.4 million inhabitants), not only has the world’s most efficient public transportation, it also has a transportation structure that provides the perfect conditions for operators such as SOB and its technology providers, including Siemens, to implement new mobility solutions. Because the growing demand for mobility and the digitalization of society make public transportation a key industry of the future.

High level of digital literacy

Since its population has a high level of digital literacy, Switzerland is very well placed to play a pioneering role in the digital transformation. According to the latest EY Digital Nations study, Switzerland ranks fifth in Europe in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI). This index measures the propensity for countries to exploit the opportunities presented by information and communications technology.


In addition to security, stability, innovation, and competitiveness, Switzerland offers a first-class digital infrastructure: 91 percent of households have Internet access. Some 90 percent of Swiss adults have a smartphone, and 80 percent have a laptop. “Digitalization will make it easier to combine different means of transportation such as cars, taxis, and public transportation in an individual way,” says mobility expert Sauter-Servaes. The customer will simply use the appropriate online platform to buy a door-to-door mobility solution.

Digitalization will make it easier to combine different means of transportation in an individual way.
Thomas Sauter-Servaes, mobility researcher, Zurich University of Applied Sciences

From door to door with just a few clicks

But which digital solution will people choose when they embark on a journey? “The technology is developing rapidly,” says Sauter-Servaes. “Public transportation is facing major disruption, and there are more and more IT players such as Google and Amazon that are entering the market on the digital side of the Swiss public transportation service.” Why should a customer buy a ticket from SBB, for example, asks Sauter-Servaes, if they use Google to manage everything else and could use the interface they know best to pay for the whole journey from door to door with just a few clicks?

This technological change offers opportunities that public transportation operators are exploiting. Various Swiss transportation companies, such as SBB, are currently testing digital mobility solutions and apps based on the “LaterPay” principle: Passengers check in on their smartphone at the start of a journey by public transportation. The journey is registered using location data. Once at their destination, the passengers check out again. The fare for the route traveled is calculated at the lowest rate.

abilio: the complete package

SOB, which has developed the abilio app in collaboration with Siemens, goes one step further. The SOB intermodal mobility platform and the associated app allow users to explore all connections and buy tickets for the entire Swiss public transportation network.


“Passengers can already use abilio for travel-related services, such as parking tickets and booking a taxi, and further services will follow,” says Thomas Küchler, SOB CEO. “abilio offers the complete package for ease of travel using public and other means of transportation.”

The key thing is to meet the customers’ individual needs. The means of transportation the customer uses is ultimately irrelevant.
Thomas Küchler, CEO, Swiss South Eastern Railway, SOB

When used in public transportation ticketing, the system automatically records the beginning and the end of a journey, also known as “BiBo” (Be-in/Be-out) or “Walk-in” – without the need for interaction with the passenger. With the app installed and activated on their smartphones, the app detects the beacons installed in the vehicle. Journeys in the vehicle are automatically registered and the cheapest fare for the trips made is calculated. The Siemens technology that makes this possible will be integrated in all SOB trains in 2018.


“The key thing is to meet the customers’ individual needs,” says Küchler. The means of transportation the customer uses is ultimately irrelevant. “The important thing is that the customer has used our platform to book the journey.”


Irena Ristic is a journalist based in Zurich who writes on business and social issues.

Picture credits: Schweizerische Südostbahn; Verband öffentlicher Verkehr Schweiz; EY Sweeney

Schweizerische Südostbahn, SOB is a railway operator in central and eastern Switzerland headquartered in St. Gallen. From 2020, SOB will begin operating national long-distance services as well as services in southern Switzerland.


Passenger kilometers:
256,972,032 km


Train kilometers:
5,719,801 km


Passengers transported:
13,410,391 people


566 full-time positions


(all data from the year 2016)

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