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Switzerland’s Extensive and Expensive Public Transportation System
At a Glance:
- One of the easiest ways for getting from A to B is taking the train. Almost every Swiss town is connected to the train system and the railway network is very extensive.
- Tickets for public transportation are usually very expensive. Nonetheless, there are many options for cheaper travel such as the Half-Fare Card or the GA travel card.
- Getting around by taxi is probably the most costly option in Switzerland. Zurich is known to be the world’s second most expensive city to get a taxi in.
Switzerland’s Trains and Their Records
One of the easiest ways to get from city to city in Switzerland is by train. The rail network covers over 5,100 kilometers and almost every Swiss town is connected to the train system. The Swiss Federal Railways (abbreviated SBB in German) is the largest travel and transportation company in Switzerland and handles the majority of national and international traffic. The SBB operates the world’s most heavily frequented rail network with over 10,400 trains serving around 700 stations. The over 441 million passengers in 2015 traveled 18,560 million kilometers by train, a number that is only surpassed by the Japanese.
At the end of 2016, after 17 years of construction — but one year earlier than planned — Switzerland can add another record to its list. The Gotthard Base Tunnel will enter in operation in December 2016 and with a length of 57 kilometers, it’s the world’s longest train tunnel. This precision project brings Swiss cities, regions and even neighboring countries closer together and makes transportation through the Alps quicker and more comfortable.
There are different types of trains in Switzerland:
- EuroCity (EC) trains to the surrounding countries
- InterCity (IC) trains connecting major cities
- InterRegio (IR) trains connecting major cities but with more stops than the IC
- S-Bahn trains to the agglomerations
- regional trains connecting towns and villages
Lausanne is the only Swiss city with a metro system. It consists of two lines, a light rail line and a fully automated line opened in 2008. Since the opening of the second line Lausanne is the world’s smallest city with a full metro system.
Train travel is convenient for discovering Switzerland’s landscape beauty. There are several scenic trains that take you on spectacular panorama trips in the Swiss Alps. The Golden Pass Line, for example, takes you from Montreux by Lake Geneva to Lucerne or you can enjoy the “slowest fast train”, the Glacier Express, on a trip from Zermatt to St. Moritz.
How to Buy Your Train Ticket
As already mentioned above, public transportation in Switzerland does not come cheap. Nonetheless, there are several special tickets and travel cards that bring down the cost significantly, including the Half-Fare Card and the GA travel card, which are explained in detail below.
In general, there are first- and second-class tickets available for all trains. First-class tickets are more expensive but it’s usually quieter and there are less people, especially during rush-hour. Nonetheless, traveling second class is the standard way in Switzerland and since the trains are comfortable, second class is usually perfectly fine. Please note that dogs and bicycles need their own ticket.
The Half-Fare Card: Half Price for a Whole Lot of Travel
The Half-Fare Card allows half-price travel on the entire SBB railway network, most other railways, trams, buses, and boats (find the exact area of validity on the website of the SBB). In addition, you will also benefit from additional services and discounts, such as a special price for the one-day travel pass or a reduction for the Museum Pass. If you’re planning on traveling by train every once in a while, the Half-Fare card is worth the investment of 185 CHF per year (as of October 2016). You can choose between one, two, or three years’ validity and purchase it online or at railway stations.
The GA Travel Card: Exploring Switzerland with One Ticket
If you’re going to use public transportation on a frequent basis, especially between the different cantons, then the investment in the GA travel card is worthwhile. With the GA travel card you can not only enjoy unlimited travel on SBB trains, most other railways, tramways, buses, and boats, but also on certain cable cars and funicular mountain railways. Furthermore, cardholders also benefit from discounts in neighboring countries such as Austria and Germany as well as on certain mountain railways.
At the time of writing in October 2016, the GA travel card for second class costs 3,655 CHF. The GA travel card is available at a reduced price for children, students, senior citizens, disabled persons, partners, families, and dogs. For more information on prices, validity, and contract duration, please visit the SBB’s website.
Junior Travel Card
The Junior travel card is a good option for families: children between the age of six and 16 can ride for free on public transportation when accompanied by a parent with a valid ticket — and this for only 30 CHF annually. It is valid anywhere within the Half-Fare validity area. Further, you receive the Junior travel card for the third child for free.
SwissPass — The Key to Your Mobility
Launched in 2015, the SwissPass unites previously separate travel cards such as the GA and the Half-Fare Card on a chip-equipped plastic card. SwissPass holders can renew their travel cards seamlessly as well as access partner services such as ski resort tickets, Mobility Carsharing, or PubliBike.
Regional Tickets, Fines, and More
If you’re only going to use transportation in the canton you’re living in, the best option is to buy a regional ticket. There are about 20 regional transportation networks in Switzerland, with the SBB in cooperation with the majority of them. Of course, there is also the option to just buy a single ticket for every means of public transportation. Tickets can be bought at vending machines, sometimes directly in the bus, tram, etc., as well as online.
It is important that you buy a ticket before boarding trains, however. This is especially essential when buying a ticket with a smart phone. The purchase must be completed before the train departures. If you can’t present a valid ticket, or at least a partially valid ticket, you have to pay a supplement on top of the cost of the ticket. The surcharge will increase with every occasion. Further, your personal data will be recorded and electronically kept for at least two years.
In many regions, trains also run during nighttime on the weekends to bring you home safely and comfortably. Please note that in the Greater Zurich Area you need to purchase a nighttime network supplement in addition to a valid ticket before boarding the train or bus. The supplement is 5 CHF and can be purchased at vending machines, the SBB app, as well as per text message.
The SBB is the first information point regarding tickets, fares, and schedules. They offer on their website an exhaustive overview of Switzerland’s whole public transportation system, including trams, buses, and boats. Please note that ticket fares and schedules change every year in early December.
Getting Around Switzerland by Bus, Boat, and Taxi
Taking the Famous Yellow PostBus
Every canton has its own regional bus transportation system. Therefore, almost any village in Switzerland can be reached by a regional bus line. In more remote villages, there are several bus connections per day, sometimes even once an hour. The leading bus company in Switzerland is PostBus, with over 2,000 of their famous yellow buses. On average, a bus ride costs between 2.60 CHF and 4.30 CHF for one to two zones. The more zones you add, the more expensive the ticket is. Further, prices can vary depending on the town you’re getting the bus at.
Exploring the Country’s Lakes and Rivers
Switzerland is famous for its lakes and rivers and a perfect way to explore them is by boat. A lot of rail passes, such as the GA travel card, also include travels by boat or at least offer a discount. There are also first- and second-class tickets available on boats and the first class is usually on the upper deck. You can find more information on boat cruises on MySwitzerland’s website.
Getting from A to B the Expensive Way
Taxis are — as many other things in Switzerland — quite costly. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that taxi fares in Zurich were the world’s second most expensive in 2015, after Oslo. Nonetheless, they are an efficient way to get from A to B, especially in larger cities where it’s often impossible to find parking. On average, the initial charge is 6.50 CHF and an additional 3.50 CHF per kilometer. Nonetheless, the exact fee depends on canton, weekday, and time of day. Also, there may be a surcharge for extra passengers, luggage, and animals. However, since there is a service charge already included in the fares, it is usually not necessary to tip the driver.
Contrary to other countries, it is not that easy hailing a taxi on the streets in Switzerland. Instead, they are readily available at taxi stands which can often be found at train stations.
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