The Alps – crossed by a road network with narrow curves, unpaved streets and bordered with yawning abysses. Every single day buses of the public transport pass these roads. These buses are the Swiss post vans and they are no usual means of transport. The yellow buses are run by the PostBus Switzerland Ltd. They are true icons and almost legendary. But in any case they are solid institutions with a long tradition.
Back in the days, when horses pulled the stagecoaches over the mountains, they didn’t only transport letters and packages but also people. Since 1846 a wide network of these transportation means existed. According to the timetable, the last travel, driven by quadruped, took place in 1961. The route guided from Avers to Juf in Grisons. In the year 1906 the route, with a length of 18 kilometers, connected Bern with the village Detlinen. From 1919 the first pass route led over the Simplon Pass. Already three years later, the buses also passed the 2,065 Meters high San Bernardino Mountain.
The striking triad horn exists since 1923. It refers to the old horn of the former stage-coachmen. Nowadays the Swiss post has a special permit for the usage of the horn. Also the fire brigade, the police and the rescue service are allowed to make use of it. This shows the importance and significance of the buses. After World War II the first touristic routes, a three and four pass trips, were established. Finally in 1970 the first woman was sitting behind the steering wheel of a post bus.
The PostBus Switzerland Ltd. employs 2,800 drivers. The transport system comprises 812 routes and 14,356 stops. Covering a network of 11,000 km, 2,000 buses transport around 124 millions of passengers. All vehicles together manage an operational performance of 100 millions of kilometres per year. The Swiss law enables that villages, counting more than 100 inhabitants, have to be connected to the bus network.
In 1995 the company has provided a specific service for smaller villages with low population: a call-a-bus service. Minibuses like a Vario or a Sprinter drive to remote houses on request. An advantage of this service is the reduction of empty drives. However, the country side is still an attractive living area even if these areas are not connected with the local transport network. Another point is that smaller vehicles are more flexible in such sparsely populated regions than the bigger ones. Even the rural roads in Switzerland are too narrow for oncoming vehicles like lorries and buses. Exterior mirrors are frequently crashing and drivers need good route knowledge and a lot of driving experience.
The touristic routes are very popular for drivers and passengers, especially the route between San Nazarro to the Lake Maggiore. It guides in a zigzag course through the high mountains and offers breathtaking views. From Reichenbach to Griesalp, in the Bernese Oberland, the vehicles drive on one lane with a gradient of 28% including endless switchbacks. If there is oncoming traffic the only thing you can do is to back off. “Usually the vehicle, that is closer to a passing area has to back off”, comments Kurt Bürgisser, driving instructor for post buses. “But when a lowlander, as pale as ashes and paralyzed by shock, is in front of us, then of course the bus driver backs off. The drivers are ordered not to get too close to other vehicles and they shall try to stay calm in such situations. The drivers are true heroes of these narrow pass routes and they often like to call themselves “premium class drivers”.