The public transport network in Switzerland is one of the best developed in the world. In urban regions, more and more people are doing without their own vehicles and are traveling by public transport instead. But in the countryside, too, public transportation is very well developed, and you can get anywhere – by train, bus, mountain railroad or boat.
The Swiss are not proud of their railroad network for nothing, because it is the densest in the world in terms of population density. Places that do not have a train station are not cut off from the outside world, but can be reached by bus instead of by train. The Swiss public transport network is being continuously expanded and extended as demand increases and public transport plays an increasingly important role alongside private transport in times of climate change. The federal government has set itself the goal of even doubling the market share of train and bus transport by 2050.
Most Swiss railroad lines are operated by SBB (Schweizer Bundesbahn). They look after the maintenance, repair and new construction of the lines. However, there are also numerous private railroad lines that serve certain sections with their own vehicles.
Most places without a train station are connected to the transport network by bus, so that you can get to the nearest train station in a short time. In very remote places (e.g. mountain villages) there are no scheduled buses. Instead, there are call busses, which you can call two hours before the desired departure by reservation hotline. These buses then take passengers on a specific route to their destination (usually the next largest village), from where they can continue their journey by bus or train. This means that even very remote areas can be reached by public transport.
The pleasant thing about the Swiss public transport network is that the various companies recognize tickets among themselves. This means that you are often not tied to a particular means of transport. When you buy a ticket, you often have the choice of which route you want to take: the place of departure and destination, as well as intermediate stops, are printed on the ticket by “via”.
You then have to stick to this route, but you are free to choose whether you want to cover a certain section of the route by train, bus or even by boat.
Moreover, the ticket is not only valid for a specific means of transport at a specific time, but the journey can be started at any time.
Passengers can purchase tickets either via an app, at a ticket machine, or at a ticket counter. All major credit cards are accepted for payment.
Traveling by public transport is not quite as cheap, but due to the good network development it is very comfortable, as the vehicles run according to a tight timetable and are coordinated so that there are no long waiting times. The price of a ticket is always calculated according to the route and not according to the type of transport used.
Since many Swiss use public transport frequently, most have a so-called half-fare card or even a general season ticket. The Half-Fare Card costs a fixed annual fee (currently CHF 185), but then the individual tickets cost only half the regular price or are reduced.
The annual fee for the General Abonnement is higher than for the Half-Fare Card (currently CHF 3,680 for 2nd class), but there is no need to buy an extra ticket at the ticket machine or counter.
Especially for commuters or for local frequent travelers, there are Verbund subscriptions that save money on trips within a transport association, e.g. the ZVV (Zürcher Verkehrsverbund), which allows you to use all means of public transport in the canton of Zurich.
In addition to regular fares and season tickets, there are also day passes and other special tickets (e.g. group tickets), which are sometimes cheaper than regular tickets, depending on your travel plans.
There are plenty of ways to lessen the burden of ticket costs. SBB offers the following subscriptions:
seven25 Travelcard: Travel free on SBB trains and public transportation networks between 19:00 and 5:00. Available to anyone younger than 25. CHF 39 per month or CHF 390 per year.
Half Fare Travelcard: Probably the most popular public transportation subscription in Switzerland, the Half Fare Travelcard reduces all ticket costs by 50%. CHF 185 per year.
Almost all public transportation subscriptions in Switzerland go onto a SwissPass. The SwissPass is a wallet-size card (and an app) that you load subscriptions or tickets onto, as well as use for things like bike rental, car-sharing schemes, or ski passes (of course). At least 250 transport authorities use the SwissPass, so you’re more likely than not to get one at some point.
If you don’t have a SwissPass yet, just go to a ticketing office for a public transportation provider. You’ll need an identity document as well as a recent passport-size photo.
The GA travelcard
One public transportation subscription in Switzerland deserves special mention: the GA Travelcard. This subscription (whose name is short for Generalabonnement in German) allows unlimited travel on all SBB trains as well as other modes of public transportation in Switzerland. The GA Travelcard is available in a variety of categories with the billing period being either monthly or annual.
Second-class prices for the GA Travelcard are as follows (price info 2021, may vary):
Adults: CHF 340 (month) / CHF 3,860 (year)
Children (6–16): CHF 160 (month) / CHF 1,645 (year)
Young adults (16–25) and students (25–30 and studying at a Swiss university or college): CHF 245 (month) / CHF 2,650 (year)
25-year olds: CHF 300 (month) / CHF 3,360 (year)
Seniors (64+ [women] or 65+ [men]): CHF 260 (month) / CHF 2,880 (year)
Disabled: CHF 225 (month) / CHF 2,480 (year)
Dogs: CHF 805 (year)
GA Travelcard passes are expensive, but they’re worth your (or, potentially, your employer’s) money if you plan to take the train quite a bit. It’s also an eco-friendly alternative to driving in Switzerland.
Internationally, Switzerland is also very easy to reach from any corner of the world with three national airports. The three airports are located in Zurich, Geneva and Basel-Mulhouse (which is geographically located in France near the Swiss border).
From Zurich and Geneva, destinations within and outside Europe are served, and from Basel- Mulhouse, destinations within Europe.
In addition to these three major international hubs, there are also eleven regional airports from which various destinations in Europe are served.