Getting around in Switzerland

The train services are very good and will take you even to mountainous towns such as Chateau D’Oex and Vallorbe. The train services are well integrated with the postbuses so that you can catch a train to a station and within a few minutes the bus will leave for the climb to a ski resort. The ferry services are similarly integrated.

When using the trains there is usually a discount you can get. One of the most useful for the tourist is the Swiss travel pass which gives unlimited travel for a number of days. This can be 4, 8, 15, 22 or 30 days and gives unlimited travel on all SBB (Swiss railway) lines as well as post buses and ferries. You can buy this from the Swiss Tourist office or at Railway stations on production of a foreign passport. If there are two or more in your party and you are travelling together you also each get a further 15% discount. Children under 16 travelling with their parents are free as long as you have a Family Card.

If you are staying in one part of the country it may pay you to buy a regional pass – the costs can be worked out online – such passes tend to be for 5 days and details are available at the Swiss tourist offices abroad or online at www.rail.ch.

Buses

These are not competing with the trains but are complementary to them – the bus station is usually located in front of the train station. Buses going a long distance are often the yellow post buses which also carry mail and parcels for the post office.

Roads and Motorway tax

Swiss roads are excellent but if you wish to use the Swiss motorways (and if you are travelling any distance by car you almost certainly will) you will need to buy a “vignette” which costs 40CHF for the calendar year – there is no discount for buying it late in the year but at least it does run until the end of January. These are for sale at border crossings, post offices, garages, service stations and customs offices. The vignette is in the form of a plastic sticker which you must put on the inside of your windscreen on the left hand side – it is cleverly designed so that you cannot remove it and transfer it to another vehicle and for each year it is a new and distinctive colour making it easy for the police to spot whether your sticker is up to date. If they do catch you without a sticker on the motorway there is an on the spot fine of CHF100 plus the cost of the sticker. If you have a caravan or trailer you will need an additional vignette. Heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes have different arrangements with a daily “heavy vehicle tax” payable monthly or annually.

For those who have just driven from the UK across France the tax will seem very reasonable as they will have paid more in motorway taxes for one day that the Swiss are charging for a year.

Your UK or US driving licence will be valid for up to a year but you should have with you the registration documents of the vehicle, and a red warning triangle in case you break down.

Compared to the UK, you may be surprised at the number of tunnels and level crossings and the colours of the signs for main roads and motorways is the reverse of the UK – in Switzerland motorways are labelled in green while main roads are signposted in blue. The language of signs is the local language – so that in the French speaking areas it will say “Sortie” to come off the road but as you come into German speaking areas the exit will be marked as “Ausfart”. Similarly town names are in the local language. Slightly confusingly the route to a town is often marked with reference to the mountain pass that the road goes to even if this is a couple of hundred kilometres away.

Swiss car parking

The Swiss consciously make parking difficult and expensive in cities to encourage use of public transport and cycling. You will, for example pay CHF30 for parking in central Geneva or Zurich and you may also have to wait for a parking space to be available. As in the UK there are Park and Ride facilities (oddly these are also marked “P + R” which jumps out at you like the “Tea Shops” often found in Swiss towns). The parking at these P+R places is usually free but unless you have a pass you will need to buy a tram or bus ticket into town.

Onstreet parking is delineated in coloured zones with street markings in these colours –

Yellow indicates private spaces reserved for employees or reserved for hotel guests;

White zones usually require paying for at nearby metres though in small towns these white spaces are sometimes free;

Blue zones require the use of a special blue and white parking disk which can be obtained for free at a tourist office, post office or bank (though if you have hired a car it will be in the glovebox). You need to spin the wheel round to show what time you arrived and display the disk on your dashboard. You are allowed to round up the time to the nearest half hour. Generally these give you one and a half hours of free parking from the time shown on your disk, though if you park in a (rare) red zone you will get 15 hours free parking.

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