*Re-post from January 2015*

It may come as a surprise to many that we don’t have a car. Being a family of four and living outside urban areas, some people may find it unimaginable. But we have adapted our lifestyle to it and the excellent public transport in Switzerland has been spoiling us. Here are the reasons why we love and stick with it:

1. The Family Coach and Family Zone

I have blogged about the family coach before. This coach is especially good for going to the airports as these trains passed Geneva as well as Zurich airports. On the lower deck you can leave your stroller and on the upper deck the kids can roam around and play.

On some trains that do not have the space for family coach – the InterCity and InterCity tilting trains, there are family zones, complete with board games. More info here.

2.The GA and Half-Fare Cards, Junior and Grandchildren Cards, Voie7, etc.

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Taking trains in Switzerland can be expensive. Thank goodness there are many options to travel cheaper on the train. In general baby and young children younger than 6 travel for free, while older kids 6-16y pay 50%. The adults can use a General Abonnement or Half-Fare Cards to reduce the fare. Then there are the 1-Day travelpass (from chf16), Junior and Grandchildren cards (chf30/year), which allow the children (age 6-16) to travel at no extra cost with an adult, parent or grandparent who holds valid tickets (more info).

There is also Voie7 for the young adults (age 16-25), which I think may be something worth to get even when they don’t travel much with trains. This card offers them free or cheap travel during the night (7pm-5am). That means they can always go home by themselves, in case they find themselves in a difficult situation such as when the driving friend gets drunk during a night out (and they are too proud to call you to pick them up.)

4. The Cheap Tickets

Perhaps you don’t use public transport often enough for all those cards mentioned above. Or you have grandparents from abroad who would like to take the trains during their short visit in Switzerland. There are cheaper options for them too. Swiss Travel Pass System offers different schemes that may fit your needs. You can add a Swiss Family Card to it (free!) and your children (<16y) travel with you for free. If you have a specific journey in mind, Supersaver ticket is a good option. And finally, my personal favorite: the Carte Journalière Commune sold by the municipals (photo above).

5. The App

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The SBB App is FAN-TAS-TIC! I have it installed on my iPhone years ago and it has made life so much easier. With my WiFi/3G on I can buy tickets anywhere anytime, including tickets for those traveling with me. No more searching for coins or queuing in front of ticket machine. Nor to remember where I put the ticket as it’s in the phone. I only had to register my information and credit card on the website in the very beginning and voilà, the journey could commence! I also use it to check for schedule, as well as info when there were problems or delays. It kept me calm and thus very helpful when traveling with children. The SuperSaver tickets can also be purchased on this app, which is available for iOS, Android, and Windows phones.

6. The space on the trains

The Swiss Trains SBB CFF FFS has modernized many of their commuter trains the last few years and to our benefit, they are more spacious than ever before. I rarely had to fold my umbrella stroller.

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In some trains that don’t have such space, you can use the wheelchair area (usually at one end of the coach. There is a wheelchair sign at the door.) If there was no wheelchair there, you can fold the seat upward and use the space for stroller (as in photo above). We did it many times, and sometimes we asked the person sitting there to kindly move to another seat. It always worked. Of course, if there was a wheelchair, you can’t use it.

7. The baggage service

It has been a life saver for us. There was no way we could handle 4 large suitcases, 4 cabin bags, a stroller and 2 kids on the train to/from the airport without this service. More about it here.

8. The Ticki Park play ticket

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As you can see from the photo above, we have many of these play tickets. My children received them all the time from the ticket inspectors and they adore them. The play tickets are free and can be stamped on the validation machines at the station, or (as my children prefer) can be handed to the inspector to be stamped.

9. The Magic Ticket Club and RailAway offers

Magic Ticket Club is a free online club for kids (<12y) that is run by the Swiss Train. I found it very good, they have interesting educational materials and activities. To be honest though we haven’t used the online platform much as my daughter who is registered in the club hasn’t spent much time yet online. They also send information by post, which is useful as they list the upcoming events in the area, as well as special discount for train travel and visits to certain attractions (museums, zoos, etc).

RailAway is one step further to enjoy the Swiss trains. There you can find combined offers at discounted price – for both public transport AND the entry fee for certain attractions. Their search function can go very specific, so that you can very easily find all family-fun offers closest to you.

10. The punctuality

The trains are usually punctual. So punctual that most time we noticed that they start to roll on the exact 60/0 second. The punctuality does make life easier when traveling with kids as we can plan the journey to the exact minute. Though for trips to the airport we usually take earlier trains, just to be on the safe side.

While there are so many things that we love about the Swiss Trains, there is one particular thing that we hate: the smoking on the platforms. I have been taking trains in Switzerland since 2003, when passengers could still smoke inside(!) the train in the designated coaches. It was then banned in Dec 2005, and the restriction went further into the train stations starting in 2007.  And now while it is forbidden to smoke inside the station building, people can still smoke on the “outdoor” platforms.

It drives me nuts, and sick. I can’t stand smoke and easily get headache from it. And the kids! It’s so annoying that they have no choice but to inhale second-hand smoke. When we travel during rush hours, especially with kids, we have to arrive early on the platform. The platform gets packed with people and there is no way to escape the smoke. I try to avoid rush hours whenever we can, but I really think there should be a smoking ban throughout the station, inside the building as well as on the platforms.

I really reallly hope that the SBB CFF FFS will finally address this problem, soon.

Hope you’ll find this post useful! Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment!

 

*I received nothing from the Swiss Train for this post. All opinions are my own.