One of the things I love best about Switzerland and will miss the most is the excellent public transportation. Pick any small town in the alps and most likely there is a way to get there with some frequency by train and/or bus even on a Sunday evening.
Being from the west coast of the United States, where passenger trains are few and far between, the electric train infrastructure here never ceases to amaze me. The trains run with great frequency and are almost always on time. Since they are electric, they are relatively quiet and get up to speed very quickly out of the station. In the bigger cities, train stations are bustling places with many platforms and constant announcements of train arrivals and departures. A few more things that make the trains a pleasant system to use: in each station, the schedules of all the arrivals and departures, including the platform number, are posted on big boards through-out the station; each station has at least one ticket machine at which to buy tickets; and the stations are generally clean and kept-up.
There are of course some towns that are not on a train line. However, most likely you will instead find a bus going to the town. The largest bus infrastructure here are the PostBuses. Yes, that means the buses are run by the postal system. I recently found out that this is nothing new; back in the stage-coach days, the postal system ran coaches that delivered both mail and passengers all over the country. The routes between the larger towns were gradually replaced by trains, while the passenger routes between the smaller towns were gradually replaced by horseless buses. The last horse-powered route was not replaced until 1960! The best thing about the bus routes is that they are integrated with the train system, both when looking up schedules online and when buying tickets at the machines, so you can buy a ticket that will include both the train and the bus portions of the trip.
A. and I have made great use of the train and bus system to go hiking almost every weekend since we’ve been here. Using public transportation gives us the flexibility to end our hike in a different place than we started. This is particularly nice since we do not like to hike down. For example, one weekend we took the train to a town at the base of the mountains, hiked up to a peak, and then decended back down to the town in the valley by cable car and bus.
The only caveat to the public transportation here is that it is not inexpensive. However, if you live here for any length of time you can buy a half-tarif card for a flat fee of 150 francs. The card is valid for one year and allows you to buy all of your tickets at half price. I have only been here for slightly under two months and I’m sure I have already more than made up for the cost of the half-tarif card.
I will most definitely miss this most excellent public transportation when I return to the United States!