Diccon Bewes: Travelling Switzerland in one ticket
For cheaper transport across the whole of Switzerland, getting a GA travel card will give you unlimited access to all forms of Swiss transport.
Today my new GA started. If you're reading this outside Switzerland you probably have no idea what that means. If you're in Romandie or Ticino, you need to think AG not GA. Either way, it means a travel pass that covers every form of transport across the whole of Switzerland.
Imagine that – with one ticket I can catch a train, tram, boat, bus, cable car or funicular wherever I want. A weekend trip to Lugano? Included. Paddle-steamers across Lake Geneva? Included. All day zipping round Zurich? Included. And these days even the rack-railway ride up Rigi is included. The Swiss not only have great public transport, they certainly know how to market it properly.
Now I know Switzerland isn't that big (twice the size of Wales), but I still find it amazing that one ticket covers the whole country. And also a bit beyond: places like Konstanz, Domodossola and Evian are included even though they are all across the relevant border. This is because they are linked into the Swiss transport network purely thanks to their locations; so shopping in Germany and lunch in Italy are also possible with a GA – short for Generalabonnement (or Abonnement général in French and Abbonamento generale in Italian, hence the AG).
With every Swiss town and village connected to the transport system in some way, there's nowhere you can't go. Well, almost. Most mountain trains aren't included, sadly, because such services are there for pleasure, either to go up and enjoy the view (for tourists) or to bring you down after you have walked up (for the Swiss). There's no logical reason for them to be part of the GA as no-one lives up there permanently, though these trips are at least half price.
Such travelling freedom doesn't come for free. A 2nd-class GA costs CHF 3,550 a year, or CHF 5800 for 1st class (prices are subject to change), though both are much cheaper if you're over 65 or under 25, or if you buy two together as partners (which is exactly what Gregor and I do). The Swiss are very fond of their GAs – over 5 percent of the population has one. And in terms of value for money, it's actually not a bad deal: for that CHF 3,550, or about EUR 2,900 at the current rates, you get the whole country; for the same price you only get zones 1–7 in London.
The GA is such a splendid idea that you can also buy one for your dog. It's not a daft as it sounds since, unless it can be carried as hand luggage, a dog has to have a ticket to travel on a train. Dogs are charged at half the normal fare and, since they need a ticket, they can also have a GA, which is a snip at CHF 760. Unlike a human GA, the dog version is valid in any class; clearly man's best friend doesn't need to pay for lying on the superior flooring in 1st.
I got my first GA because I had to research my book, which involved travelling around most of Switzerland. Now I wouldn't be without one. Cheaper than a car, and much greener, it can take me anywhere and everywhere. I love my GA, and of course never leave home without it.
Diccon grew up in Britain but now lives in Bern. He has spent the last seven years grappling with German grammar, overcoming his innate desire to form an orderly queue and exploring parts of Switzerland he never knew existed. And eating lots of chocolate. He is the author of the bestselling book Swiss Watching.
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