Rant: When You Know More About The Road Conditions in Switzerland Than Your Swiss Driver

Filed Under: Travel

Let me start by saying that this post is entirely a rant (in case it wasn’t sufficiently obvious based on the title), so by all means stop reading if you’re not interested.

The past few months I’ve made an effort to be less passive of a person when it comes to many aspects of travel. This includes confronting flight attendants when they accuse me of recording them, and it also includes trying to be more involved to prevent problems from happening when it comes to travel logistics by doing research in advance.

Today Ford and I went from Verbier to Gstaad. While we took a train from Geneva to Verbier and will take a train from Gstaad to Geneva, we decided to take a car service between Verbier and Gstaad, since there were significant time savings involved. Swiss car services aren’t cheap.

We found a company that was well regarded, they were professional in their emails to us, and said they’re familiar with the road conditions.

Fast forward to earlier today. Our car arrived on-time, the driver was nice, and he told us it would be only about 90 minutes from Verbier to Gstaad. My GPS said it would be two hours, but I figured we was just a fast driver.

About halfway through the ride he made a turn that my GPS indicated would lead to a closed road about 30 minutes later. I let the driver know.

“My GPS says the road is closed up ahead. Are you aware of that?”

He insisted that wasn’t the case, and said the road is open. He showed me his GPS, which didn’t have the same note that mine did.

Okay, this guy literally has one job — to drive people safely and efficiently around the Swiss alps — so I’l take what he (and his GPS) says over what my iPhone says, especially since I warned him.

Want to guess what happens about 90 minutes after we left? We come to a “road closed” sign. He acts shocked. I realized at this point we’d have to go all the way around, and it would be a heck of a trek. We were actually just as far from Gstaad as when we started.

He goes into a gas station and talks to someone for 10 minutes. He comes back out and says “little detour, but we will be there in 45 minutes.”

I said “does it include driving on ________? Because my GPS says that is closed as well.”

He looked at me in shock, and said “the lady said it has just opened, don’t worry. If we go back it will be 2hr30min, this is just 45 minutes.” At this point I was thinking to myself that I’d rather it be another 2hr30min now than another 2hr30min in 45 minutes. We drive and drive and drive, and 30 minutes later we’re at another road closed sign.

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

This is bad enough if I hadn’t done my research, since I feel like if you drive around the Alps for a living you should have better information than I do. But I warned him both times, and both times, he insisted I was wrong.

At this point he uttered the word “$hit” over and over and over.

Then we began the roughly two hour drive to Gstaad, this time using my suggested route.

Sometimes even trying to take an active role doesn’t pay off. On the plus side, at least the scenery was beautiful.

Should I have told this guy how to do his job from the beginning (despite my assumption he knew better than I did)? Do I chalk this up to just “$hit happens?” Do I email the company and complain/request some sort of a refund for the hours of our time that were wasted?

  1. I would contact the company. As you indicated, you paid a premium for the service with the goal of saving time (which it clearly did not).

  2. Refund. If you do not call the company out for the issue, they will do it to the next traveler and it never gets better. We all need to say something and make the experience better for the next guy.

  3. Definitely ask for a discount/refund.

    If this was Uber, I’d be submitting a poor routing complaint. Why should what I assume is an executive car service get away with shoddy service, when it’s a case of “YOU HAD ONE JOB”. What if you’d been headed for the airport instead?

    Clearly if Apple Maps had the road closures, I assume Google Maps would have too so wouldn’t have been hard to pull over and verify your advice, apologise and thank you for your heads up.

  4. The first time, I would’ve deferred to the expertise of the driver. The second time, I would’ve taken the sure thing based on the GPS. Since the GPS can probably source in location data in real time from other drivers’ phones, I would question the likelihood of a gas station attendant located a 45 min drive from the road closure getting updates quicker than the GPS. Bad luck though, enjoy the rest of the trip!

  5. Something similar happened to me recently in Derbyshire when we were taxiing from the train station in Chesterfield to a friend’s house and ran into a road closure. My friend recalled a country lane that cut off a large amount of the return trip which I was able to navigate us to and over using Google maps all while the cabby was convinced it didn’t exist.

    You have to tread lightly as people pride themselves on their local knowledge of the roads (I know I do).

    In the case you reported it sounds like the driver was not necessarily ignoring you but rather had conflicting information from his own device and local people. Your information turned out to be more accurate — but I don’t think even you were sure of that at time, right? At least in the past, Apple’s navigation did not have the best reputation. . .

    Other than the time you lost in Gstaad, I assume you didn’t have to pay for the additional hours?

  6. Refund. Itā€™s not a country without an infrastructure so there is good information about status of the road. And the main reason to get a car transportation is to save time and money (compared to a heli service) this did not complete fulfill itā€™s purpose. Was destination informed before the trip? If yes they could have verified it before departure.

    My own experience of drivers during the high season is that they drive *fast*, know their routes and donā€™t sleep more than few hours a night to maximise their profits.

  7. @The nice Paul

    LOL indeed. Going by the American standards of tipping where you sometimes give 25% for lousy service, I’d still expect a big tippp.

    I read on Flyertalk one American woman gave the shower attendant in the Al Mourjan lounge $20 for bringing a hair dryer….

  8. I challenge any tourist to drive in Switzerland and not to get some sort of ticket. Never seen a place that has so many trafdic cameras, radars, etc..

  9. But of course, Lucky thinks cars are far better even though they make him nervous and he thinks trains are much safer and comfortable…

  10. I would’ve done the same in your shoes, said something to the driver when my GPS first indicated the road was closed, but in the end I wouldn’t have micromanage him, unless I had a flight to catch.

  11. Demand a full refund. Also dispute ANY charged on your credit card. Absolutely ridiculous. You did not receive what was contracted.

  12. By all means ask for a FULL refund. What a waste of your time. The company and driver should have known in advance that the roads are closed – that’s THEIR job.

  13. @Donald

    To be fair I doubt the contract stated an arrival time. In the US if your flight gets you to your destination 5 hours late, you don’t receive a refund. Likewise here, the transportation took Lucky to his destination. He arrived there late, but he was transported there.

    Lucky spends his life travelling around from A to B to C to D to B to D to A in his trip reports, this is really just like one of his airline trip reports, but by road LOL

  14. This trip has sure had itā€™s difficulties however, the Instagram photos from you and Ford look amazing! Hope everything else goes smoothly.

    I normally donā€™t follow up on these types of things as long as they didnā€™t result in an additional expense or missed event.

  15. I’m not sure if you are already aware–but none of your posts from today have appeared on the BoardingArea.com home page. The last one to show up was “The 6 Amex Platinum Card Benefits I Value Most” from yesterday.

  16. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    On one hand, I’m inclined to give someone a bit of leniency. I was in the Kumamoto region shortly after the 2017 floods (and the 2016 earthquakes) and encounter a lot of blocked roads that the GPS unit of the car and the iPhone were completely unaware off (despite being closed down for some time by the time I got there). I eventually relied on my non-existent Japanese skills (I do not speak a word of it) and my above average navigation skills to avoid additional blocked of roads. All I’m saying is: I can sympathise a little with the driver. landslips can happen over night and even a professional driver unfamiliar with the area may be unaware of it and if he trust his GPS units, then things like that happen.

    Overall I have to agree with you Lucky. When you mentioned the first road closure, a truly professional driver would’ve stopped and checked via a third alternative what device (GPS or customer’s phone) was correct rather than keep going.

    I had the discussion a couple of times with cabs in my hometown and some drivers would not divert from the instructions given by the GPS even though I knew a shorter/quicker route that was less congested.

  17. You should demand a full refund and dispute the charge if they refuse. You told your driver about a closure, but instead of actually checking he dimissed you and wasted your time. When you reported the second closure he checked with his dispatcher who either lied or failed at her job. Switzerland obviously has the infrastructure to report road closures, and both a driver and dispatcher should know how to access that information.

  18. Why all the hate for Apple Maps? Obviously, it was more accurate than whatever GPS program the driver was using.

  19. Wow. I’m so sorry that your private luxury car service between two ultra-luxury ski resorts took longer than planned. Let me pull out my sad violin.

  20. You can’t change the past. Don’t sweat the small stuff, etc.

    But at least let the company know about the problem and let them know you were disappointed. The driver will get whatever he deserves.

    Be thankful you arrived at the destination safely.

  21. @ Elizabeth — Thanks, I noticed this morning, but getting it fixed has proven challenging. Appreciate the close eye!

  22. Definitely email the company and complain and ask for a refund as the whole reason you hired this service was to get to Gstaad quickly (which didn’t happen)

  23. Let it go. I can think of far, far worse things than being stuck in a car for 4 hours driving through the Swiss Alps (which are *spectacular*, and one of my favorite places on earth).

  24. Having lives in and with swiss people you have no chance with a complaint the culture of customer service is still yet to reach the country. Albeit it is getting better, any complaint will not result in action, and at best the company will maintain innoncence and I highly doubt you would recieve any compensation! Finally, Gstaad is known to lack road infrastructure on the French side and can be a pain to get to with passes being frequently closes and re opened due to the current weather! Hope you enjoy the rest or your stay

  25. That definitely sounds worthy of some sort of compensation from the company(and this is coming from another pretty passive person) especially since you warned them both times

  26. @Santastico

    My car’s GPS actually lets me know locations of all speed traps and cameras so I’ve never received a ticket in Switzerland or anywhere in Continental Europe.

  27. @John very useful comments from a idiot

    All these Swiss resorts/company hire most of their workforce from the neighboring countries.

    It’s obvious the driver is stupid/ not local and misinformed with the exceptionally bad weather this season in Switzerland (worst in the last 25 years).
    Ask for refund.

    All the road closure/jam/problem are reported in real time and centralized by viasuisse, several website and apps iphone /android are available.

    Some link (found in 3 min.) :

    Touring club Suisse

    Traffic Application iOS/Android :
    TCS verkher

  28. Agree with @snic. An extra hour of being driven around some of the most beautiful roads out there – provided you didnā€™t need to be in Gstaad at a specific time.

  29. @Jared: Agree. Problem is that in Switzerland there are so many speed traps that the GPS will beep all the time.

  30. I dont know the circumstances that would make you take an expensive car service vice the train in Switzerland, but, if everything had gone to plan, how much time would you have really saved? Did you have an activity or event to get to, or was this literally just trying to save time?

    Further, if as you say, the company was well-respected and your communication with them had been professional (and turn notwithstanding) why did you challenge the driver the first time? I get the second, but the first? The fact that your IPhone was correct and his GPS wasnt is beside the point. Should not the professionalism and reputation of the company and driver merit at least a little trust? Not to mention, while you called him on the second road closure, from the tone of your rant it doesnt sound like you requested/insisted he turn around and take the 2h30 route. You taked to him, he talked to you, and you went with it.

    I dont know that I think a full refund is merited. Crazy route with longer time or not, he got you safely to where you wanted from the sounds of it (and, eventually, by your route), and showed up on time. It also doesnt sound like he was terribly rude (at least, your rant doesnt indicate he was). I would, though, ask for a discount.

    Just my $0.02.

  31. Hi Lucky,

    sorry to read that you had that experience. From someone living in Switzerland, I recommend politely explaining the situation asking for a refund, underlining that while the driver had no influence on there being a roadblock, it would have been his or the companyĀ“s job to verify the road conditions. Since there were signs already, that means the closure didnĀ“t happen just then but there was time to set up a roadblock. Also, there are very good road condition information systems here, so there is no reason for the driver/company to not have known. Whether your phone told you about the blockage or not is of little relevance here as thatĀ“s the driver/companyĀ“s job. In my experience, service providers here tend to approach such situation level-headedly and will offer a refund and apology. I am wondering how the driver reacted – did he apologize or comment on his mess-up at all at arrival?

    Aside from that.. you should have really just taken the train. ItĀ“s realiable, more comfortable and if youĀ“re here for just a few days, whatĀ“s more relaxing than sitting in the train and let the scenery pass by while sipping some bubbly (sorry, no Dom on the trains, but decent enough stuff) šŸ˜‰

    And to those complaining about speed traps: There are big numbers all along the roads and other than in the US, there are even bright red circles around them. Really, how hard is it to not speed? Control of the accelerator should be a basic skill for people claiming to know how to drive a car.

  32. To be honest, just complain and let them respond, after that then see what options you have left.
    Being demanding will get you nowhere

  33. Admit it, You’re on to way to DAVOS with the other High Flyers, thus the rant.

    The art of the deal – Ask for a refund in chocolate or Gruyere.

  34. I say you should email the company. The arrogance and pride of the driver cost you valuable time. Itā€™s quite critical he understand that the customer is always right. If he would have apologised to you then itā€™s a different matter, if not I guess he needs to learn a lesson.

  35. @jared

    I am stuck with plenty of tickets each summer when traveling in Europe. Can you give me details about your GPS and where to find/buy it? Just for info, when you ignore them, they escalate to 400 euros pretty fast and easily one day in jail in Switzerland, for a 5 to 8 kmh excess speed. No kidding.

  36. From what I can read mudslides impacted the service with the train too and may explain why Lucky did not take the train.

    Now as others said the train is definitely the best option even that specific journey, Verbier to Gstaad, involves 3 transfers and take close to 3 hours. I personally love the trip between Montreux and Gstaad on the MOB (http://www.mob.ch/en). Beautiful scenery.

    Regarding the case I would certainly ask for a refund. At least partial. The conditions have not been good the past week in Switzerland and numerous issues with road conditions have been widely reported so the driver and/or company should have done a better job of being well informed.

  37. @DCBanker

    One day in jail for 5 to 8km excess ?
    And do we have crocodile in our lake ? And yeti in our mountain ?

    Again misinformed…
    Police deduct a marging around 4-5km/h then from 1 to 5km/h excess (total of 6-10km/h real excess speed with the deduction) is charged 20usd fine on highway. Very far of your assumption

    Or i.e. 16-20km/h excess (total 21-25km/h excess with the deduction = 145km/h) is charged 180usd fine on highway.

    There no jail for both.

    Fines are higher if inside pedestrian priority or school area. And you can get jail +30km/h excess there.

  38. I hope you didn’t pay a single Franc, or gold tooth from a Holocaust victim, or whatever their currency is these days.

  39. The real question is was it a fixed pre-agreed price, or a metered fare?

    To be fair to the driver, roads tend to open and close with little to no notice in the winter in the Alps (it’s true about Austria too). Conditions seem to change very quickly. But you’re right, the scenery makes it much nicer to detour!

  40. @ DCBanker

    What is that fatuous slogan Americans use? ā€œIf you canā€™t do the time, donā€™t commit the crimeā€.

    You *should* be fined if you have so little respect for laws and customs that you wilfully and repeatedly defy the law. You deserve zero sympathy.

    And then to shamelessly seek a technological solution that will let you flout the law with impunity as if you have some God-given right to drive like Mr Toad in what I assume (from your user name) is a foreign country in which you are a guest…


  41. Chris is right. The MOB line was closed above Montreux and before Montbovon. A detour, if the trains were running would take 4 trains and 4 hours, and I wouldn’t bet on making it to the destination.
    I would also say temper being assertive with some situational awareness. In Switzerland, more than you’d think relies on figuring out the native language of the person you’re talking to. It sucks bad enough when websites see dot-CH and decide you speak German.
    Tiffany’s call center advice is generally good here. I would just clarify:
    *If your request is at all unusual, keep it really simple. Your driver is used to taking people to and from the airport and maybe the cities around Lake LƩman. Asking him to go the hard way around the MolƩson is gonna be a hard sell.
    *Information superiority is not enough. When negotiating irrops of any sort, you need information supremacy. That is, you need to convince a specialist that you have the better information. Chris’ websites, for example, are authorities a Swiss driver will recognize. The same for dealing with airline agents: it’s no use if you can’t make them see the availability you see.

  42. I think you were good as far as proactively telling the driver what you saw — it’d be tough for a tourist to convince a driver they know the roads better. Bottom line is that snow in the winter in Switzerland is not exactly an unusual weather condition. I would expect a swiss car company to equip drivers with sufficient knowledge to navigate these conditions.

    +1 demand refund

    (also, for what it’s worth, it’d have to be a pretty hefty time savings for me to consider driving between two european towns over the train)

  43. While the driver is certainly supposed to know which passes / roads are open during winter time and/or should listen radio/inform himself, these regions of Switzerland have seen a huge load of snowfall the last week.

    Due to the fact that snow is nothing out of the ordinary in winter here, you can expect that all roads except specially marked high mountain passes are open all the time even in winter.
    The conditions last week were a one-in-twenty years occurrence in terms of snowfall and avalanche risk, so a lot of roads were closed on short notice due to the avalanche risk (which happened last time in 1999).
    Being somewhat familiar with driving in these regions, I wouldn’t really trust Apple/Google maps either (but inform myself on the proper websites).

    Long story short: While it certainly was the drivers fault, circumstances were far out of the ordinary, even in winter here…

  44. @BrewerSEA: “You should demand a full refund and dispute the charge if they refuse.”

    It’s not likely that a credit card dispute would be successful, as the paid-for service was delivered.

  45. d ! Your comment was rude, disgusting, immature amongst other things!
    I can not believe it was not immediately struck from the comment section!
    If we never hear from you again it will be too soon!

  46. This is why I appreciate more than ever when my driver asks me what route I prefer to take. Always tell your driver how you want to get to xyz place…

  47. Yep!

    Absolutely call the company, make a complaint, and ask for a refund. Once is acceptable, twice is incompetence!

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *