How to buy a Train Ticket in Switzerland
This step-by-step guide will help you understand the ticket machines in Switzerland and enable you to easily purchase a train ticket. There are other ways to purchase train tickets too, the ticket counter or Swiss Travel Passes for example, but if you know how to use a ticket machine in Switzerland, you're not doing something wrong.
For you to understand how tickets work in Switzerland, you need to learn about our public transportation system. In Switzerland you got the national rail company called SBB. On top of that you get many private train, bus or ship companies that do have their own routes and transportation zones. But all in all, they are combined in one united timetable and ticket system for you to use. But it can mean that the logos on the ticket machines or on the trains and buses may be different and this might be confusing for you.
Below I will outline how to buy a ticket on two different machines. One has a typical layout for train tickets and one has a typical layout for buses or city transportation.
Tickets need to be purchased before boarding the train, bus or tram. You don't need to validate or stamp them inside unless you purchased a multi trip ticket. Also, you don't need to show your ticket to the driver unless they ask you to. It can happen that you may not need to show your ticket at all or maybe you get into a Billettkontrolle, an organised ticket check. On trains between cities the chance that you get checked on each ride is very high.
The Train Ticket Machine
This is the home screen of a train ticket machine in Switzerland. On the left have you will find a short cut for popular destinations or at the bottom the option to manually type your destination. On the right you find special tickets such as for your bicycle or dog. However for you the left side will be more important. Also on the bottom right corner you can switch to English.
At this stage you will be asked to clarify a few things about your trip.
Later you will be asked if you want to travel at half fare or not. As a tourist you can purchase a "Half-Fare Card for Tourists", which is valid for one month and makes you eligible to purchase tickets for half price during this month. Children from 6-15.99 years of age automatically qualify for half-fare tickets. Children until 5.99 years of age travel for free in Switzerland.
Now you get to the payment screen. You can pay with credit card, bank notes and coins.
Now after you have lived through Swiss ticket machine user experience, don't take forget to take the physical tickets out of the slot below the screen.
The Bus Ticket Machine
The ticket machine for buses and city transport is very similar to the train ticket machine. Also here the first step is to switch the language to English.
Cities and suburbs are usually divided in zones. Normally there is a map of these zones on the machine, so you understand if you destination is within the city zone for example.
Then on the left side you will find zone tickets and shortcuts. You will most likely be interested in zone tickets. In Lucerne the city zone is called Zone 10, this may vary by city.
Here you get to choose from the following zone tickets:
short distance: valid in the city zone for half an hour and max. 6 stops
single ticket: valid for one hour in the city zone, unlimited stops
day ticket: valid for one day, until the buses stop running at around midnight, for the city zone
Then you get to choose again if you want half-fare tickets (subject to eligibility) or first class. The first class normally does not make sense in cities as buses don't have one and in the commuter trains it's not really worth it in my opinion. Again you can pay cash or by credit card.
Now you take your ticket out of the slot below the screen and you're good to go.
As there are only a few sightseeing companies in Swiss cities, you can always get a day ticket and just enjoy a ride on a bus or tram. The routes they drive are usually not that long so in the end you will arrive back at where you departed from in under an hour.