This month Paul Bilton gets taken for a ride…

Most of the world dumped their trams decades ago as a noisy inefficient and uncomfortable means of transport. London's last ran in 1952 and then it was promptly set alight, such was the low opinion of railed street transport. The Swiss, as you cannot help to have noticed do not like to drop anything in a hurry and trams are no exception to this rule.

Switzerland's persistence has been rewarded with many cities now reviving the tram: today's modern trams that is, refined to such an extent that they hardly rattle at all. Like jet pilots, Zurich tram drivers are given initial training on a computer-driven 'tram simulator'. This has tended to give some drivers ideas above their station, so to speak.

The most important concept to understand about trams in Zurich is that they are the closest one can get to divinity on wheels. Whatever your mode of transport from massive 16-wheel truck with trailer to humble pedestrian, the tram has priority over you – even on a pedestrian crossing. Due to metal wheels on metal rails, they couldn't stop for you even if they wanted to, but they don't want to. Trams patrol their lines like marauding sharks, just waiting for another road user to make the slightest error and they pounce ruthlessly attacking their prey in a feeding frenzy of bell-ringing.

Just as the ancient Pharaohs demanded total obedience from their citizens, so the drivers of Zurich trams demand total compliance from their passengers. At the whim of the driver, hapless passengers can be tossed around the tram like so many seeds in a rattle, as the driver proceeds in a series of lurches forward and emergency stops. It should be noted that this only applies to male drivers. The female of the species is capable of negotiating the most arduous stretches with complete calm. If you don't believe me, next time you ride a tram see if you can't identify the sex of the driver without looking but simply by the driving style. You'll be surprised.

In the town of Zurich the trams are driven in a state of constant fury by their male drivers, bell-blasting anyone who dares to get in their way and, to keep to the timetable, leaving behind would-be passengers not quick enough to board. In Bern it is the opposite, there drivers annoy passengers already on board by waiting for stragglers to make it. This is in fact sums up the main difference between the two towns.

The whole concept of running a tram service in a congested city to a timetable is an odd one. London essentially abandoned timetables for any form of public transport at much the same time it gave up the tram. But in Zurich not only is there a comprehensive 6 minute 'tact' system, there is a definite unease at a tram stop when a tram fails to appear on the dot. The expectant gaggle of passengers check their watches and double check the timetable posted at the tram stop. Heads shake, tongues click and knowing glances are exchanged. When the tram does eventually arrive, the driver is given black looks as he approaches and is expected to explain himself.

And that's another thing why do trams have steering wheels? Can they actually leave the rails and be steered?