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The Ultimate Guide to Public Transport in Switzerland

Updated: 1 day ago

Switzerland has an excellent network of trains, trams, buses, boats, cable cars and mountain railways. While in principle easy to use, the public transport system can be complicated to understand in terms of different ticket options and how to buy them. In this article, I will take you through the things you need to know, including the lesser-known ticket options that are available. All prices are quoted as of July 2023.


Buying Tickets

There are several ways to buy your ticket, whether in person, using a ticket machine, online or via an app.

Image: Appenzellerbahnen/NZZ

Paper Tickets

  • SBB Travel Centre

  • Public transport point of sale

  • Blue ticket machine (for rail travel)

  • Local network machine (for local trams and buses)

  • From the bus driver on routes where there is no ticket machine at the stop where you get on

  • Call the SBB Contact Centre (0848 44 66 88; CHF 0.08/min)

Virtual Tickets

Monthly / Yearly Tickets (Photo ID needed)


Regular Ticket Types

There are many different ticket options to choose from. In most cases, holders of a Half Fare Travelcard get up to 50% discount on the standard fare price, as well as children from ages 6-16. For more details see the Travelcard section below.


Single tickets allow for one-way travel within the period indicated on the ticket from the point of departure to the destination in one direction only. Single tickets can be purchased using a destination or by zone. Return tickets allow for two-way travel within the period indicated on the ticket from the point of departure to the destination and back to the original departure point.


Point-to-point tickets are valid for the calendar day specified at the time of purchase. The period of validity starts at midnight and ends at 5am the following day. If a ticket is valid for several days, the validity period ends at 5am on the day following the last day of validity.


If you travel frequently (but not enough to buy a monthly pass) on the same route, then the multiple-journey ticket is a good option. This ticket entitles you to take six single journeys on the route selected and offers a 10% discount compared to purchasing individual single tickets.


This ticket is non-personal and therefore transferable and can even be used for several passengers traveling together at the same time. The multi-journey ticket must be validated before departure at a ticket validator on the platform (for long-distance services and S-Bahn trains) or at local ticket machines (for local transport).


Local service tickets are valid for a maximum of four hours from the time of validation while long-distance service tickets are valid on the day of validation and up to 5am on the following day.


EasyRide

Photo: SBB

One of the newest features on the SBB app, EasyRide, allows you to buy tickets on the fly! Check in before your journey in the ‘EasyRide’ tab in the SBB mobile app by swiping from left to right. Get on, change as often as you like and check out again when you reach your destination by swiping from right to left. The EasyRide ticket is valid across the entire GA Travelcard network and you can travel as often as you like by train, postbus, boat and urban transport.


Once you have checked out, EasyRide determines the route you travelled and subsequently books the right ticket for you, taking into account any SwissPass Travelcards you have (i.e. Half Fare or Regional Travelcard), charging you for the cheapest ticket for your journey. If the price of all your journeys in one day exceeds that of a Day Pass, the cheaper Day Pass price is automatically charged.


Special Tickets

The City-Ticket includes the journey between your selected place of departure and destination as well as a day pass for local public transport at the place of departure and/or the destination. Available for 1st and 2nd class travel, as a single journey, and outward and return journey.


Supersaver tickets are available for most public transport routes and offer a discount of up to 70% on the standard ticket price. The supersaver ticket is valid only for the selected date of travel and the selected train connection. It is not possible to upgrade class, change routes or change trains using a supersaver ticket.


The number of supersaver tickets is limited and the offer is based on availability. Supersaver tickets can be purchased up to 6 months in advance of the desired date of travel. If you have a Half Fare Travelcard, then this allows you to obtain up to a maximum of 70% discount. Supersaver tickets can be bought via SBB.ch or on the SBB mobile smartphone app.


Groups of 10 or more can travel for less (30% discount) on public transport with a Group Ticket. They are ideal for companies, clubs, private groups, schools and youth groups. Available at half price for adults with Half Fare Travelcards and children and young people (aged 6-25). You need to book your group journey at least two working days before the intended departure date, either online, at an SBB Travel Centre or by calling the SBB Contact Centre. For group Day Pass options, see Day Passes below.


Tickets for Children

Regular Tickets

Children under 6 travel free of charge throughout Switzerland. Children aged between 6 and under 16 who are traveling alone or with an adult, pay half price or the minimum fare for their ticket if cheaper. For more children's ticket options, including the Junior Travelcard (CHF 30 per year for unlimited travel when accompanied by an adult), keep reading.



Day Passes (Tageskarten)

Photo: BZ Basel

There is no better way to discover Switzerland than on a Day Pass, otherwise known as a Tageskarte. If you are looking to travel more than simply point-to-point, on multiple modes of transport, and want to plan your trip in advance, then Day Passes are a very practical option.


Included is unlimited travel in Switzerland for one day in the GA travelcard area of validity on trains, buses, boats and city transport (trams and buses). Cable cars, cogwheel trains and funiculars are not included (some exceptions apply). Day Passes are valid on the selected day up to 5am the following day and are available for 1st or 2nd class travel.


Many council offices around Switzerland offer single 2nd class Day Travel Passes for residents for around CHF 40 (CHF 43 in Basel as of 2023). As a resident of the city of Basel, you can obtain a Municipal Day Card’ from the cash desk of the Einwohneramt (Spiegelgasse 6, 4051 Basel) without reservation, or reserve them online up to 60 days in advance.


In Basel Stadt there are 15 tickets available per day, which are generally very popular, particularly during the summer holidays and weekends. You can reserve your desired number of day card(s) using the online system, but they must be picked up in person within 3 working days, with photo ID (best to take your residence card). Please note that upon reservation of ticket(s) the contract is binding and if you do not pick up your ticket(s) within 3 working days, you will be invoiced the full amount and the ticket(s) will be released again for other customers.


If you don’t manage to get your hands on a Municipal Day Card, you can purchase a Day Pass from SBB direct. The Day Pass can be purchased up to 6 months in advance of your travel date up to the day before you travel (it cannot be purchased on the day of travel itself). Price varies with demand and purchase date, though buying early is normally cheaper. There are a limited number of Day Passes available and they are nonrefundable and cannot be exchanged. To be able to benefit from an SBB Day Pass, you need to be in possession of a Half Fare Travelcard. The Day Pass for the Half Fare card standard price is CHF 75 for 2nd class, CHF 127 for 1st class. You can also buy a multiple Day Pass for CHF 450 for 2nd class or CHF 762 for 1st class, this includes six fields for each single day, which need to be validated / stamped before starting your journey.


With the Saver Day Pass you can travel throughout Switzerland for a day on all routes in the GA area from as little as 29 CHF, with a Half Fare Travelcard and from 52 CHF without a Half Fare Travelcard. The Saver Day Pass is available for both 1st and 2nd class. Saver Day Passes are available in different price bands within different advance booking periods and availabilities, so the earlier you buy, the lower the price. As with the standard Day Passes, Saver Day Passes are available from 6 months in advance up to the day before your intended day of travel. Saver Day Passes are valid on the selected day up to 5am the following day and are available for 1st or 2nd class travel.


The Day Pass for Children is available for children under 16, costs CHF 19 for 2nd class and CHF 33 for a 1st class journey and is valid for one day within the GA Travelcard area of validity.


The Day Pass for schools is available for school classes and youth (under 25) for groups of 10 or more for CHF 15 per person for 2nd class travel.


Day passes are also available for youth as well as a Tandem pass for GA holders, see here for details. For information about Day Passes for bikes and dogs, see the Dogs, Bicycles and Luggage section below.


Travelcards

Image: SBB

When you buy a Travelcard such as the Half Fare or GA Travelcard for the first time, you will automatically receive a SwissPass card. You will need a valid official ID card and recent passport photo to finalise your first purchase. After this, the Travelcards can be renewed on Swisspass online or at a public transport point of sale. With the SwissPass Mobile app, all public transport Travelcards can be checked digitally.


Purchasing a Half Fare Travelcard is considered a good investment. It is valid for one year from purchase and provides a 50% discount on travel across Switzerland. It costs CHF 185 for the first year and CHF 165 for the second and subsequent years (loyalty discount of CHF 20). For Youths the first year costs CHF 120 and subsequent years CHF 100.


With a GA (Generalabonnement) Travelcard, you can enjoy unlimited travel on SBB trains, most other railways, as well as on most public transport in Switzerland. The GA Travelcard can be purchased monthly or yearly, for 2nd and 1st class. There are various types of GA Travelcards available:

  • Adults (aged between 26 and 64 (women) or 65 (men))

  • Children (age 6 to 16)

  • Youth (age 16 to 25)

  • 25-year-olds

  • Seniors (women aged 64 and above, men aged 65 and above)

  • Disabled Persons

  • Duos (for couples or persons living in the same household together)

  • Families

For an adult, a monthly GA card costs CHF 340 (2nd class) or CHF 545 (1st class), while a yearly GA card costs CHF 3860 (2nd class) or CHF 6300 (1st class). It makes sense to have a GA card if you are living in one city and commuting regularly to work in another, and additionally travel often within Switzerland.


Please note that when you buy a GA Travelcard you are taking out an indefinite contract. This means that your subscription will automatically be extended / renewed at the end of your chosen period of validity (i.e. one month or one year). And you must be aware that every GA Travelcard has a minimum contract term of 6 months, regardless of payment interval. After that, you decide whether to continue your travelcard or cancel it at the end of each travelcard month, giving notice of one month before.


The Night GA Travelcard allows unlimited travel to under 25-year-olds between 7pm and 5am the following day, for those who enjoy being out and about at night.


With the Junior Travelcard, children aged 6 to 16 can travel throughout Switzerland free of charge for a whole year when accompanied by a parent. The parent accompanying the child must have a valid ticket for 1st or 2nd class, then the child can travel with them in the relevant class for free. The Junior Travelcard costs just CHF 30 per year and if you have more than two children the Junior Card is free for all children after the first two, just show your other two Junior Cards when you make the purchase, taking along the child’s passport or official ID.


The Children’s Co-Travelcard is the same as the Junior Travelcard, except that the accompanying adult does not have to be the child’s parent. The accompanying person and child must be specified upon purchase. A separate Travelcard is needed for every combination of child and accompanying person. A maximum of four children with valid Children’s Co-Travelcards can be accompanied by one specified adult. The Children’s Co-Travelcard is not valid for schools, institutions, associations, companies, institutions, and organisations, etc., that are travelling as a group.

Dogs, Bikes and Luggage

Small dogs up to a shoulder height of 30cm can travel with you free of charge. They should be in a suitable carrier (i.e. a basket or a bag) and fit under the seat. Larger dogs need their own ticket. A Dog Day Pass costs CHF 25 and allows your four-legged friend to travel with you for a whole calendar day on trains, ships, postbus lines, and tram and bus routes in most Swiss cities and urban areas. You as the accompanying person need a valid ticket. Dog Day Passes are not class-specific and may be used in 1st and 2nd class.


If you plan to go on a journey and want to take your bike with you, your bike will need a ticket too. For shorter journeys, you can buy a Point-to-Point Bike Ticket, or if you are planning a longer route you can get a Bike Day Pass for CHF 14 per bike, per day. Children under 16 can take their bike with them for free, provided they are accompanied by someone who is 16 or over.


On some trains, bike space reservation is compulsory so it is best to double-check this when planning to take your bike with you. The Bike Day Pass is not class-specific and can be used in 1st and 2nd class; you as the accompanying person need a specific class ticket.


If you are planning a multiple-day trip with your bike, you can buy a Multiple Day Bike Pass for CHF 84 which can be used on 6 days of your choice and must be validated each time before the journey starts. This ticket is also transferable and can therefore be used by several people to take their bikes with them. To do this, you validate one field per person.


SBB offers 'door to station' luggage services which can be especially helpful for people travelling with skis (and other large pieces of luggage). You can have your luggage collected from any address in Switzerland or Liechtenstein and two days later it will be delivered to selected hotels and holiday destinations. You can check online to see if your destination is listed. Prices start at CHF 44 for 4 pieces of luggage (bicycles not included).


Other Special Offers

SBB has various offers where you can enjoy attractive discounts on leisure activities and the journey there and back by public transport. There are monthly offers with an up to 30% discount, as well as seasonal offers providing variety throughout the year, be it winter in the snow, spring in the city, outdoor fun in the summer or autumn in the mountains.


If you are looking for day trips, events or group excursions, then the reduced-price RailAway offers might be just the ticket! With discounts on leisure experiences such as trips up a mountain, boat rides, zoo and animal parks, family-friendly fun adventures, wellness, concerts and festivals, there are a large range of excursions for everyone. RailAway offers are available for individual travellers (individuals, couples, families, small groups up to 9 people), as well as for schools (from 10 or more people). RailAway offers for individual travellers can be purchased online.


Catering to winter adventurers, SBB’s Snow’n’Rail offer lets you hit the slopes for less. These deals give discounts on train and bus tickets (20%), ski passes (10%), and ski rentals (15% with Intersport Rent). Some offers also give discount on luggage transport and ski lessons. To qualify for a Snow’n’Rail offer you need to purchase a minimum of a bus or train ticket and a ski pass. Get on the pistes more quickly and easily by loading your Snow’n’Rail Ski pass directly onto your SwissPass, allowing you to bypass the queue and head straight through the turnstile. Look out for seasonal offers on the SBB website.

Final Thoughts

Phew! Well, I hope that the above was helpful in explaining the numerous options for travelling on Swiss public transport. I highly recommend getting yourself out and about and exploring this beautiful country, in every season of the year. I leave you with a picture of me enjoying a boat ride on Lake Lugano as part of a Day Pass day out. Enjoy exploring!


Sources:




Alison Waterfield is a Brit who has been in the Basel area for over a decade. She currently resides in Oberwil, where she enjoys having countryside on her doorstep as well as town being only a short tram ride away. She loves cooking, baking and anything food-related and is a beginner food stylist and photographer. She enjoys being in nature and relaxing doing anything wellness-related, as well as engaging in creative activities such as abstract and fluid art and crochet.





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