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Readers reveal: How Switzerland could improve its public transport system

Yes, it’s regarded as one of the best in the world, but that doesn’t mean that Switzerland’s public transport system is perfect. Here's how readers believe it can be improved.

Readers reveal: How Switzerland could improve its public transport system
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
In recent months Swiss federal railway operator SBB has come under fire for defective aircon, late-running services and trains skipping stations. 
 
So how do readers think it can all be improved?
 
The good news is that 80 percent of respondents to our survey said public transport in Switzerland was good (12 percent), very good (44 percent) or exceptional (24 percent).
 
Readers cited the “seamless” integration of train, tram and bus services and its availability everywhere, even in the smallest village. The quality of second-class seats, the punctuality and reliability of services and the cleanliness of trains were also praised. 
 
So good and comprehensive is the service that, as reader Micah Wilhelm put it, “it is possible for the most part to live in Switzerland without owning a car or having a drivers’ licence”.
 
 
 
 
 
However, there are some downsides. Readers complained of overcrowded services, broken air conditioning, high prices and – a major gripe – too many people smoking on station platforms.  
 
“I love Switzerland but it is without a doubt the worst thing about the country,” said reader Kieran O’Malley on Facebook.
 
So how would customers like to improve things? 
 
First, ban those smokers. “It is actually pretty shameful that a country that is so dedicated to health and fitness and hiking is a country full of so many smokers. It’s time to get rid of smoking in all public waiting areas,” said Sarah Urban-Jackson from Zurich, one of many readers who called for a ban. 
 
In fact, SBB is gradually tackling the issue. Though there’s no outright ban, the company is this summer introducing airport-style designated smoking areas in train stations, with smoking and vaping banned outside those areas. 
 
The new system was launched at Bern station in June and will be rolled out to 2,000 stations by the middle of each year. However, there are no plans to fine people who don’t obey the new rules.
 
To tackle overcrowding, reader Dominik Estland in Zurich advises SBB to “use the appropriate length of trains for the amount of people expected to be on the train”, while Alexa Holgate suggests having “more frequent trains and SBB officers enforcing rules about personal belongings taking up seats on crowded trains”.
 
Though trains are generally punctual, reader Victoria Wirz bemoaned the tight connections on many services, and asked for at least ten minutes between services. “It is horribly stressful to have just 4-5 minutes, you must run with luggage, it’s terrible,” she said.
 
Though trains are quite punctual, there can be very little time between connections. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
 
Speaking of luggage, Sarah Urban-Jackson said transport companies should keep up progress on replacing older trains and trams with the newer models that offer step-free access. “It pains me to see elderly people and moms with clunky prams struggling on and off the trams because of the steps.”
 
Readers also had plenty of suggestions about how to reduce costs for travellers, with many saying services are too expensive. 
 
Suggestions included offering a discounted GA/AG (SBB’s annual train pass) to those on low incomes, reducing zone upgrade charges for season pass holders, and lowering prices for tourists. 
 
“The fact that the half tax [SBB card] is only viable if you live in Switzerland,” is a real downside for visitors, who “get crucified on fares,” said Wayne Mondesir on Facebook. 
 
Reader Claire Johnson suggested SBB pass some of its profits back to customers with “better offers”. 
 
Another popular suggestion by readers was to offer free wi-fi on trains (PostBus services already have it and SBB is trialling it at the moment), while reader Mark Summers said SBB’s app needed improving. 
 
“Improve the app so that all bookings, reservations etc can be made through it. It is half finished and lacks many of the basic features of the old app. It is now a few years old and it should have been fully functional when launched, not launched in stages,” he said.
 
Not everything is within SBB’s power to change, however. 
 
“Let people exit before trying to board,” said reader Yvonne Flavin on Facebook. “And can we abolish poor quality earbuds? We don’t all share the same musical tastes!”
 
Lastly, reader Holly Sneddon pleaded: “Can people learn how to queue?” Sorry Holly, but that one isn’t a quick fix…
 

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: What are the rules for e-bikes in Switzerland?

Electronic bikes, known as e-bikes, are growing in popularity. From speed limits to rules about lights, here’s what you need to know.

Reader question: What are the rules for e-bikes in Switzerland?

Electric bike technology has improved dramatically in recent years, with e-bikes now a popular way to get around in both urban and regional areas. 

Filling the void between bicycles and motorbikes, e-bikes are a cheap and relatively quick way to get around, while you can also get fit (kind of). 

The regulatory framework however is a little complex, with new rules having come into effect in recent years as lawmakers have sought to catch up with an explosion in the bikes’ popularity. 

The following are some of the main rules for using e-bikes, along with a brief explanation of what is and what isn’t an e-bike. 

What is an e-bike? 

Electric bikes, aka e-bikes, have a small motor which kicks in to help you pedal. 

As described by Bicycling.com, “when you push the pedals on a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can zip up hills and cruise over tough terrain without gassing yourself.”

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The Swiss government divides e-bikes into two categories: “slow (assisted pedalling up to 25km/h) and fast (assisted pedalling up to 45km/h).”

The rules for slow e-bikes are largely similar to those for regular bikes, although there are some differences, whereas there are special rules for faster e-bikes. 

How do I know if I have a fast or a slow e-bike? 

The Swiss Automobile Association lays out the specifics of different types of electric bikes so that you can discern which is which. 

Slow e-bikes are defined as “** Electric light motorised bicycle with a power output of up to max. 500 watts, pedal assistance up to max. 25 km/h, design-related maximum speed of up to max. 20 km/h: from the age of 14 category M, from the age of 16 no ID required . 

Fast e-bikes are defined as “** Electric motorised bicycles (with moped number) with a maximum output of 1000 watts, pedal assistance up to a maximum of 45 km/h, design-related top speed of up to a maximum of 30 km/h: Category M required from the age of 14.”

Do you need a licence to ride an e-bike? 

Slow e-bikes can be ridden without a licence. 

For fast e-bikes, you need a category M licence. 

READ MORE: The downsides of Geneva you should be aware of before moving there

A category M licence – M for motorbike – is available to everyone aged 14 and over. 

This requires just a theory test – no practical test is required. 

More information about an M licence is available here. 

Do I need to register the bike? 

Fast e-bikes need a number plate and a vignette, but slow e-bikes do not. 

This will generally be done when you buy or rent the bike, but if not you will need to visit the roads and motor authority in your canton. 

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Switzerland’s vignettes 

Minimum age

People need to be aged 14 and over to ride e-bikes in Switzerland, although those aged 14 and 15 must have at least a category M drivers licence. 

This applies to both fast and slow e-bikes. 

People aged 16 and over are permitted to ride a slow e-bike without any licence in Switzerland. 

Do I need a helmet? 

Like for bicycles, helmets are not required for slow e-bikes but they are recommended. 

Helmets are compulsory for fast e-bikes. 

Where can you ride an e-bike? 

E-bikes are required to use cycle lanes in Switzerland. 

You are allowed to use a slow e-bike on a road which prohibits motorised bicycles (marked with a ‘no motorised bicycles’ sign). 

What about speed limits? 

You will need to comply with the speed limits on the cycle paths you ride on. 

Generally, this will be either 20km/h or 30km/hr. You need to adhere to the limit regardless of which e-bike you ride. 

At present, it may be difficult to determine your speed as e-bikes do not need to be fitted with a speedometer (although many do have one). 

Speedometers become compulsory for e-bikes from 2024 onwards. 

What about lights? 

From April 1st 2022 onwards, e-bikes will need to have their lights on at all times, rather than just at night or during periods of poor visibility. 

This is for both slow and fast e-bikes. 

This reflects the rules for cars and motorbikes in Switzerland, both of which need to have their lights on at all times. 

If you do not have your lights on – or if you don’t have lights at all – you may be subject to a fine. More info is available here

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