travel inside switzerland cheapest way

Travel Inside Switzerland: What is the Cheapest Way to Get Around?

Traveling around Switzerland can cost very little, or it can cost you an arm and a leg. It all depends on how you get around. This moneyland.ch report compares the costs of making intercity trips using buses, trains, airlines and various car-sharing options.

The words “Switzerland” and “expensive” often appear in the same sentence, but when it comes to travel there is absolutely no need to spend a fortune on getting around. Sure, some of us are particular about the way we travel and are willing to pay big bucks to get it just right, but others just want to get from A to B at the lowest possible cost. Here, moneyland.ch compares the costs of 7 ways to get around in Switzerland without owning your own car.

1. Car-pooling

Car-pooling services were going strong long before Uber’s founders were conceived, but the internet has made it easier than ever to connect with drivers and organize rides. Unlike ride-sharing services like Uber, car-poolers do not make a profit. Instead they allow other people to ride along with them to destinations which they are driving to anyway – in exchange for splitting fuel costs with passengers. This is by far the cheapest and most flexible way to travel within Switzerland or from Switzerland to neighboring countries.

With plenty of rides available through car-pooling services like Bla Bla Car (online or app), e-carpooling.ch, hitchhike.ch and Karzoo, you should have no trouble finding either one-way, return or recurring rides between all Swiss cities and most large towns.

A moneyland.ch assessment of car-pooling offers showed prices as low as 8 francs for a ride from Zurich to Bern and 20 francs from Zurich to Geneva. Some drivers even offer free rides simply as a way to enjoy company and do the environment a favor. If you travel between the same cities on a regular basis (every weekend, for example), you can often find drivers who travel the same route regularly, and make a long-term arrangement for recurring rides. A number of car-pooling portals do not charge a fee for the service, so you can simply give the driver your contribution in cash.

2. Bus

Bus lines are a more recent entrant into the Swiss transportation market. Domo Reisen, a bus line operator, recently obtained a license to run its Swiss Express bus lines between Swiss cities. Tickets cost approximately half as much as train tickets, with a ride from Zurich to Bern, for example, costing 23 francs and a ticket from Basel to Zurich costing 17.60 francs. Swiss Express buses make stops in major towns and cities en route to their final destinations, allowing travelers to travel between many different locations. Holders of half-fare cards from the SBB/CFF get 50% off standard ticket prices.

International bus lines are another alternative. Because some international buses make stops in several Swiss cities, it is possible to hop on and hop off without staying on the bus until it reaches its final destination. For example, Flix Bus operates a line between Zurich and Lyon (France) which stops in Bern and Geneva en route. Although you will have to pay for a ticket all the way to Lyon (bus lines cannot sell tickets for rides between Swiss cities), Zurich-Lyon tickets can cost just 20 Swiss francs. If you ride all the way to Geneva, the price is similar to what you get with car-pooling, though Zurich-Bern travelers would save with the car-pooling alternative.

3. Airlines

Flying is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the more affordable ways to travel between Swiss cities. While you are limited with regards to where you can travel to with commercial airlines, you enjoy the benefit of relatively short travel times. One-way flights between Geneva and Lugano cost as little as 70 francs on Adria, while SWISS flights from Zurich to Lugano can be gotten for less than 80 francs (November 2017 fares).

4. Train

The railway is the go-to form of transportation for most Swiss (in addition to private cars), but price-wise it sits about midway. Traveling by train can offer more comfort than a bus or car, at least when you travel during off-peak hours, and railway travel is statistically safer than traveling by road. But you pay good money for those benefits.

A one-way ride between Zurich and Geneva in a second-class coach costs 89 Swiss francs (in 2017). If you are resident in Switzerland and use the train often, you can cut the cost of train travel by getting a half-fare card, which costs 185 francs per year. The cost of the same Zurich-Geneva ride, but with a half-fare card, is a more affordable 44.50 Swiss francs. Day passes are often a more affordable option if you plan to travel to and from your destination on the same day. These are only available to holders of half-fare cards. A standard day pass costs 75 francs – less than you pay for a return ticket from Zurich to Geneva with a half-fare card. Discounted day passes can be obtained from your municipality, often for less than 50 francs. No half-fare card is required to use these, but they must be ordered in advance and can only be used on a pre-specified date.

5. Car rentals

All major conventional car rental companies in Switzerland offer one-way rentals between major Swiss cities. Prices average 110 francs for a budget rental car picked up in Zurich and dropped off in Geneva on the same day (In November 2017). Some rental car providers give you a discount if you book early. However, the cost of gas will add another 20 francs (with an economical car) or more, which takes you to around 130 francs – close to what you would pay for a car-sharing rental.

The benefit of conventional car rentals is that, depending on which car you rent, you often get unlimited mileage and you pay by the day rather than by the hour. That is a big plus if you plan to visit multiple locations rather than driving directly to your final destination.

6. Car sharing

At its core, car sharing is basically a new take on car rentals, with the main differences being: you are charged based on hours and mileage rather than by the day; you generally pay a large annual membership fee but then pay less for actual car rentals than you would at conventional rental car companies.

A number of car-sharing schemes operate in Switzerland, with the most established being Mobility and Sharoo. Mobility operates its own fleet, has locations in most Swiss cities and large towns and provides a one-way option. The downside of car sharing is that it is relatively expensive. Based on Mobility’s one-way rate of CHF 29 plus CHF 3.20 per hour (daytime). CHF 0.72 per kilometer for the first 100 kms and CHF 0.36 per kilometer for additional kilometers driven, driving a Mobility car one way from Zurich to Geneva will cost you around 174 francs – nearly 9 times the price of a car-pooling or bus ride. A plus is that fuel is included in the price (fuel can be charged to your membership card).

Sharoo lets you easily find and rent cars from private car owners. Basic rents are low, but you pay additional mileage-based rent. You also do not get the one-way option. Driving 275 kilometers (the approximate distance between Zürich and Geneva) in a budget car would set you back at least 120 francs.

An interesting hybrid option is to advertise your trip on a car-pooling portal ahead of time and have passengers contribute towards the cost of a car-sharing rental.

7. Ride sharing

Like car-pooling portals, ride-sharing services like Uber also connect you with drivers who are willing to give you a ride to where you need to go. The difference is that, unlike car-pooling drivers, Uber drivers are not just looking to cover part of the cost of their trip, but to make a profit.

Because Uber sets the prices and takes a 30% cut off the money you pay to drivers, car-sharing pricing more closely represents that of a taxi service than a car-pooling effort. Prices are designed to meet the needs of urban transportation rather than long-distance travelers. A trip from Zurich to Geneva using UberX will cost you between 400 and 700 francs.

That makes ride-sharing the most expensive option for long-distance travel within Switzerland. You do get a private chauffeur, but the cheapest form of transportation (car-pooling) gives you that as well for a fraction of the price.

More on this topic:
Tips for cheaper hotel stays in Switzerland
Tips for cheaper restaurant dining in Switzerland
Tips for grocery shopping savings in Switzerland
Tips for cheaper skiing in Switzerland
Tips for cinema savings in Switzerland
Saving tips for language learners in Switzerland

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The moneyland.ch magazine provides accurate, unbiased information on topics related to finance and money. In addition to research and expert interviews, the magazine contains numerous financial guides.