Public Transport in Switzerland

Updated 2011-08-11 12:58

Switzerland has one of the densest and best public transport systems in the world. You'll hardly find a village that is not served by a train, a bus, a ferry or (in mountain areas) a cable car. Public transport is provided by over 250 different companies, but as timetable and ticketing system are fully integrated, you don't have to bother whether you are travelling with the right company. Services are generally frequent, clean and punctual - if you arrive only a few seconds late at the platform, you may find out that your train has already left.

Train travel is part of daily life in Switzerland. The average Swiss travels over 2'200 km per year by train - a world record. Many trains pass through unique mountain scenary - or long railway tunnels.

As with many things in Switzerland, public transport is excellent but expensive. This holds in particular for ordinary single and return tickets. That's why almost anyone travelling by public transport owns a half fare card ("Halbtax", "Abonnement Demi-Tarif" or "Abonnamento metà-prezzo") which entitles you to buy tickets at reduced rate (indeed, half rate in most cases). The half fare card comes in one year (165 CHF), two year (300 CHF) and three year (400 CHF) versions.

Children until 5 years (inclusive) go free, children from 6-15 pay half fare. Parents and grandparents can buy a "Juniorkarte" for 30 CHF per kid per year. With the "Juniorkarte", the child travels for free when accompanied by a parent or a grandparent.

Season tickets are reasonally priced when compared to ordinary singles and returns. More than 400'000 of the people living in Switzerland even buy a "Generalabonnement" (Abonnement general, Abonnamento generale), offering one year of (almost) unlimited travel by public transport. Basic price for a 2nd class Generalabonnement is 3'300 CHF - with reductions for seniors, children, and when more than one member of the same family buys one.

Tickets can be bought from ticket windows at larger train and bus stations, and from ticket vending machines at most stations. In many cities, you'll find even ticket vending machines at all bus and tram stops. Usually, this means that you are supposed to buy your ticket from that machine, as you won't be able to buy it from the driver. This is also the general principle on trains: buy before you board. On most buses, trams and local trains, it is an offence to board without a valid ticket. These vehicles can be recognised by a clear yellow sticker with a black eye on it, and the word "Selbstkontrolle / Autocontrole / Autocontrollo". Anyone caught without a valid ticket, or with a 2nd class ticket whilst traveling in 1st class, will have to show identification and will be fined on the spot. The minimum fine is 80 CHF, which will be increased if you are caught repeatedly or if you cannot pay directly to the ticket inspector.

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