Swiss rail experiments with first-class upgrades

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A trial project on Swiss trains has allowed passengers to enjoy cheap upgrades while relieving congestion in crowded carriages. Debates about fairness have already begun.

First class tickets on Swiss trains often cost about twice as much as their second-class equivalents. For example, while a full-price, first-class, Swiss Federal Railways ticket from Bern to Zurich costs CHF90 ($92), a second-class ticket is CHF51.

However, since March, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper has reported, train crews have been given authority to occasionally offer passengers an upgrade to first class for as little as CHF5, which could represent big savings for travellers.

A spokeswoman for Swiss Federal Railways, Donatella Del Vecchio, told that the upgrade price depends on the length of the journey and the subscription card of the traveller, ranging from CHF5 (for journeys under 30 minutes, with a half-fare card) to CHF20 (30+ minutes with no half-fare card).

Del Vecchio said that the offer was a spontaneous gesture to “surprise” travellers. However, it could also serve to ease crowding on busy second-class carriages. The initiative will continue until the end of this year.

A fair price for all?

Train staff are free to decide when and on what routes to make the offer. According to the report in the NZZ, there are “a few [upgrade offers] every day”.

However, consumer groups have voiced reservations. “Public transport tickets must be transparent and accessible to everyone,” Sara Stalder, director of the Foundation for Consumer Protection, told the NZZ.

A lack of transparency, she said, could lead to what she calls the “Easyjet-ization” of rail transport, with confusion and arbitrariness surrounding the fluctuating costs of tickets. Also, those who paid for expensive first-class tickets could be disgruntled about the scheme. Whether they are being hard done by?

According to Del Vecchio, however, “regular first-class clients should not be disturbed, as the offer will only be proposed when space is available”.



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