Panelists at a May 21 forum on mass transit were former Massachusetts secretary of transportation Fred Salvucci; Amy Cotter, of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council; William Lyons, of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center; and Eric Cosandey, from the Swiss engineering firm SMA.

U.S. public transit would do well to copy the Swiss model, more than 100 people learned May 21 at a panel discussion on “Sustainable Transportation: A Challenge for the 21st Century,” and a key lesson from the Swiss is simply to set transit timelines and stick to them.

Eric Cosandey from the Swiss engineering firm SMA opened the discussion, held in the Cambridge Public Library auditorium, by saying a coordinated system with an integrated timetable is the key to success.

“The timetable is the common language” spoken by transportation companies, rail engineers and passengers alike, Cosandey said, and a well constructed one reduces wait times and increases predictability and usability.

Cambridge city councillor Sam Seidel and Jacqueline Gasser-Beck, education advisor at Swissnex Boston (actually in Cambridge), the Swiss Consulate, ran the forum, bringing together experts from Switzerland and the Boston metro region to examine how rail systems can become an integral part of a comprehensive efficient transportation network. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and former Massachusetts secretary of transportation Fred Salvucci moderated.

Panelist William Lyons of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center called for a system that considers the “whole journey” similar to the Swiss model, with Salvucci noting that MIT courses often cite the Swiss example as the way to move forward on transportation planning.

Amy Cotter, of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, added that polycentric cities such as the larger Boston metro region require that surrounding communities such as Brockton, Lowell and Framingham invest in infrastructure to help connect the region. However, she pointed out there needs to be political will to invest in this type of infrastructure.

Audience questions followed the panel discussion.

This post was written from information supplied by city councillor Sam Seidel.