Does Switzerland really have the best public services in the world?

23rd May 2016, Comments 0 comments

According to the Swiss Transport minister Doris Leuthard, no other country in the world has public services as good as the ones in Switzerland. swissinfo.ch did some fact checking.

“We have the best public services in the world. With the Swiss Railways or the Post buses you can reach even the most remote areas of Switzerland,” Cabinet member Doris Leuthard claimed on May 12 in an interview with the German-language free newspaper 20 Minuten. Grand words and great praise for the Swiss public services.

According to the head of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (UVEK), this would no longer be true if the People’s initiative "Pro Service public" is passed at the ballot box on June 5. "This initiative offers false promises. It would weaken our public services and burn a hole in the federal budget,” she said in the same interview.

But what makes Leuthard convinced that Switzerland has the best public services in the world? Since there is no international index that measures the performance of public services in various countries, we could only partially check Leuthard’s assertions, and only in selected sectors.

Swiss Railways come out on top

In March 2015 the Boston Consulting Group released a report in which it compared the performance of federal railways in a variety of European countries. The experts at the multinational consulting firm analysed three elements: how often the trains were used, the quality of service (including punctuality) and safety. As in the last evaluation in 2012, Switzerland earned a score of 7.1 out of 10 and occupied first place, before Sweden and Denmark.

An extensive post office network

Evaluating the performance of the federal postal service is a difficult task. Data from the Universal Postal Union at least made it possible to get an idea of the coverage provided. In the past 15 years the Swiss Post has significantly restructured its services. There were 3,383 post offices in the year 2000, but by 2014 there were only 2,222. In numerous villages alternatives were introduced, such as the handling of some postal services in other types of shops.

Whereas in 2000 there was one post office location per 2,146 residents, that ratio was reduced to one location per 3,500 residents in 2014. The following graphic shows that coverage by the Swiss postal network remained more or less the same over the 14-year period, even if the country’s services are not among the best.

When punctuality of delivery is considered, however, Switzerland is again among the leaders. In 2013, according to a release from the Federal Postal Commission 97.6% of all letters sent by priority mail (A Post) were delivered on the following business day. Even if the differences in the European Union were minimal (most countries delivered more than 90% of their priority letters on time), only Luxembourg came close to Switzerland’s high note.

A further interesting figure is the average area covered by a single post office. In this case as well, the Swiss postal network could be described as outstanding: on average there is one post office per 18.5km2 (7.14 square miles). Only Germany and the Netherlands are better.

Does Switzerland have the best public services in the world, as Doris Leuthard claims? We wouldn’t say that categorically. But it has certainly earned a place among the best.


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