Each January, the biggest event in Switzerland takes place high in the blue-gray peaks of the Swiss Alps when the World Economic Forum holds its flagship meeting. During the five-day meeting, thousands of VIPs from all over the world descend upon the scenic city of Davos to discuss matters of international policy, including issues like poverty, illness, and environmental concerns. The invitation-only guest list is long: speakers, CEOs from the Forum’s 1,000 member companies, world leaders and heads of state and government, non-governmental organizations, religious scholars, and members of academia—not to mention the throngs of media and staff.
The event is also the largest for Swiss transportation providers like Astro Limousine Service Ltd. The corporate company has been driving guests of the Davos conference—nearly two hours from its headquarters in Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich—for over 25 years. Ralph-Martin Trummel, whose parents founded Astro in 1985 and who is soon to be its president, has been handling the event for the last 9 years for the company. He’s used to the months of preparation and hard work that is required.
Astro and companies like it transport passengers from all over the country between the hotels, airports, and conference center. With so many important people in one place, this is the real deal when it comes to security: armed guards and snipers at the ready, tight security especially in the drop-off tunnels, no-fly zones except for the top VIPs’ helicopters. The security of its guests has been the hallmark of the conference for over 40 years.
Three years ago, the conference took on one of its signature causes: the environment. Environmental concerns have consistently been paramount to participants, many of whom expressed serious concerns about the chronic impact that the meeting had on the picturesque Swiss resort, also home to some of Europe’s best skiing. With that in mind, the World Economic Forum officially adopted the “Towards a Greener Davos” concept. The result—at least for transportation companies—was a stricter, highly reduced emissions cap on vehicles and the types of fuel that could be used.
“The emission standards were much more severe when the conference first proposed them,” says Trummel. “We worked with them to make it more reasonable for transportation providers. They listened and it was a [success] for us.”
It was also important to Trummel that the vehicles sanctioned for the event were 4-wheel drive. January in Switzerland can be tricky, with icy roads and slick snow-covered passes on the way to Davos. The problem is, 4-wheel drive vehicles tend to use more fuel, which impacts the initiative of the conference. For Trummel, this was also a key point for the safety and security of his passengers—and it worked.
Astro typically runs a fleet of about 15 vehicles, not including its vintage cars that are used for weddings. During the conference, Astro used up to 45 vehicles, all of which were diesel or flex fuel and used ethanol, which is carbon neutral (within the guidelines of Towards a Greener Davos). Guests not arriving by private car were transported by shuttle buses or trains so that as many vehicles were taken out of service as possible. Only those cars that met the standards (and received a sticker) could access the more sensitive checkpoints. Trummel used a variety of vehicles, including minivans from VW and Mercedes-Benz L, Audi A8 Ls, GMC Savana vans, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which uses BlueTEC technology for cleaner emissions.
The emissions compromise was one of the first victories for the SLA, but it isn’t the only issue that its members are tackling. Switzerland has its share of gypsy operators, those who choose to bypass the tough regulations that legal operators have to abide by. According to Trummel, Switzerland is an expensive country to operate in, which makes it especially difficult when companies from neighboring countries try to muscle their way into the market.
“When we formed the SLA, we did so with the intention of creating standards for the industry in Switzerland,” says Trummel. He says that he hopes the Switzerland bases its model on our DOT regulations so that there is consistency and, more importantly, an official seal that the company operating is legitimate. “We also wanted to form a network for our members.” While the roster is currently around 16 member companies, the association hopes to increase that number to nearly 30 companies by the end of this year. It also joined the NLA last year.
Switzerland is a country of four languages (German is predominant, but French, Italian, and Romanic speakers are also a large portion of the population), so one of the standards that Trummel finds important is multilingual chauffeurs. All are required to speak German, English, and a third language (generally Spanish, French, Russian, or Italian).
Switzerland is not only a winter paradise, the warmer months are some of the most important times for tourism and other large-scale meetings and events. Two world-renowned meetings take place each year in Basel, which is located at the intersection of the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and France, and is considered a significant cultural center for the country, even Europe. At the end of the April, BASELWORLD—the largest watch, precious stone, and jewelry show—took place over two weeks. This June, the 44th Annual Art Basel will take place in the same city. Unlike the Davos conference, these events are open to the public.
he association is not resting on its laurels, despite the major Davos event being more than a half-year away. The World Economic Forum is ambitious in its goal to consistently become carbon neutral, which means that SLA members have their work cut out for them. With any luck, compromise will be another notch in the association’s belt again in 2014. [CD0513]
Swiss Operators Find Neutral Ground