Understanding Swiss Public Transportation

Switzerland and public transport! Two things that just go hand and hand. We’re here to help make it a bit easier for you, when it comes to understanding the Swiss public transportation. Whether you have a car or not, it is important to think about getting some type of public transportation pass. Either for running those errands in town, or perhaps for travelling all over Switzerland for those weekend excursions with the family to go hiking and skiing in winter!

Here’s our overview regarding the whole public transportation system or SBB/CFF/FFS and your main options:

  • Half-fare card – gets you 50% off SBB, buses, trams, boats, and some private trains (excellent investment if you intend to use public transportation quite a bit)
  • Junior Card (travel frequently with your children or grandchildren using public transport
  • GA or Generalabonnement (enjoy unlimited travel on SBB trains and most other railways in Switzerland. You can also travel on boats, buses and trams and you also receive discounts on many mountain railways)
  • Day pass (great for visitors or those who will use public transportation less frequently)

Thankfully the SBB offers their whole website in English, which is great for those of you who have just arrived and wouldn’t mind a little bit of help in finding your feet. The travelcards and tickets section will provide you with all the information on the above options.

If you need something more Luzern specific, all public transportation for the region of Luzern is available through the Verkehrsbetriebe Luzern (VBL). While the website is only in German, it is still easy to navigate. My tip: If your really struggling to understand the language, make sure to install a translation app into your web browser. Personally I have used this countless times and find it a great help. However beware not all translations are accurate (so don’t use it solely to learn the language!), but you will certainly understand the important bits. Tickets for Luzern public transportation can be purchased at machines near most bus stops, or at the train station in the underground shop near Coop.

You can also get monthly or yearly passes if you travel mostly in Luzern. Check out this VBL page for more details or you can go to the shop for a personal consultation.

Tips to remember for travelling on Swiss public transport:

  1. Buy tickets before boarding and *Do not forget to stamp relevant tickets, failure to do so can lead to a minimum of CHF 100.- fine.
    • As of the 1st January 2016, a new law has come into effect that allows travellers caught without a valid ticket to be recorded in a national database. Train and bus staff will soon have access to this database, allowing them to identity repeat offenders. This will mean that progressive fines will be coming into force right across the country, for those who choose to take the risk.
  2. Children under 6 travel free. From ages 6 to 16 it’s a good idea to get them a Junior Card which costs CHF 30.- a year and entitles them to travel everywhere for free, provided they are with one of their parents.
  3. If your travelling with a dog: Dogs more than 30 cm tall (12 in) need to pay a 2nd-class half-fare ticket – if you travel often you can get day cards of GA passes for dogs. Small dogs are free in a carrier or basket.
  4. If your travelling with a bike: Bicycles also need a bike ticket. You can bring them on trains, private railways and PostBuses. Folding bikes can be stored as hand luggage for free. However: During peak travel hours, bike transport can be restricted.
  5. If you are on a budget and are flexible in your travels, check for “Supersaver Tickets” with SBB for some good deals on your next excursion (often up to 50% discount).

Weekend Night Bus

By now you’ve probably checked out the timetable for your locality, and noticed that there is no bus or train home after 1am. Luckily, you don’t need to panic trying to figure out how much a taxi might cost you, if you were to stay out a little later and enjoy Luzern’s nightlife. There is a night bus service called the “Nachtstern” (night-star). Every Friday and Saturday night, this service offers you your lift home, covering 13 different lines. The tickets can only be purchased on-board from the driver costing, CHF 7 for zone 1 and CHF 10 for zone 2. Also important to know is that there is no discount with your travelcards on this service. There is approximately 3 buses running for each line, roughly every hour from about 01:15 onwards. Make sure to check there website for the updated timetables.


This post has been published in our latest magazine, which you can read online here. 

(Pictures Courtesy of Shutterstock)

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