Saturday, March 22, 2008

Swiss Public Transport made easy for cyclists

Swiss public transport is the best in the world. It starts with travel information. There is only one website offering travel information for any means of surface transport: The keyword is integration. The system delivers public transport, but the individual components can be state, privately or regionally owned. It is very bicycle friendly.

By far the majority of trains take bicycles. The cost: a single adult fare up to 10 or 15CHF, above which you can buy a day ticket for the bicycle. Stations have ramps and lifts to help you get your bike up to the platform. Even quite small stations are manned. Ticket machines are multilingual: English, French, German and Italian.
Postbuses take bicycles, either inside, on hooks at the back of the bus or on a trailer. Bicycles cost 6CHF per bus trip in 2006. Theoretically you need to book a bicycle place on a bus the day before. In our experience, outside the high season this is not necessary. The drivers are helpful in securing bikes outside or on trailers. It is bad for their image to spray the countryside with bicycles.

There are various travel passes available: Swiss Pass, Swiss Card and regional tickets that offer you free or reduced price travel. However the only ticket that could be of interest to the cyclist is the Swiss Card that offers you free transport to your destination from the border crossing point and half price travel after that. If you intend to spend most of your time in the saddle then paying the full price is probably the best option. The Swiss Tourist Office has more information.

Minor idiosyncrasies and things we have learned, the hard way:

Because the easiest way to buy a ticket is to use a machine, make sure that you have enough small notes or coins. Although these machines also take Euro notes they only give change up to 20 CHF.
Out in the boondocks buses replace branch line trains often after 20:00. For some reason known only to the Fat Controller, these buses do not take bikes and do not always stop directly at the stations.

At some small stations, trains will not stop unless someone wants to get off or you push a button next to the ticket machine. Once on the train check whether you should push one of these buttons to tell the driver that you wish to alight. Be ready to dismount, standing by the door, once the train stops.

If disaster strikes and you need to make a complicated journey then check where you need to change trains before making the journey, otherwise you may end up wasting 55 minutes on a Swiss Bogsworthy Junction.

Getting on and off trains

You may well only have two minutes to get your party and the bikes on the train. Be prepared. There are marked areas on trains reserved for bicycles. The stations often have blue posters showing where to put your bikes on the train. These special compartments on the train are indicated by a bicycle logo on the window. On the double decker IR trains these are at one end only. Check the blue posters or ask station staff to find out where they are likely to be. Staff normally speak some English. Walking through the double decker trains clutching a bike is difficult especially up and down narrow stairs. There is no access on one level from carriage to carriage along the train. If you find you are in the wrong place it is quicker to run with your bike along the platform, rather than stuffing it anywhere and attempting to move once the train is in motion. It is likely you will need to hang your bikes from a hook.
Take luggage off the bicycles. Check you’ve got it all before the train leaves. Leaving the bar bag behind with your camera, and passport can quite spoil your day. If you have problems get one member of the party to lean on the open door button. The train cannot leave with a open door. There is often a button on automatic doors for disabled passengers which means the door stays open longer, use it!
If you travel on a train with a baggage car, the staff expect you to hang your bikes up yourself, though they will help you get them on the train.


Lake ships take bicycles. A crew member will show where to put your bike. It is a good idea to have a bungee with you to fasten the bicycle to the mainbrace or similar.

PS There is a lot more information about Swiss cycling in our new book:"Cycle Touring in Switzerland" ISBN: 9781852845261 from the Cicerone Press, Milnthorpe UK.

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