When it comes to trains, Switzerland is a world beater. In May, the SBB came out top in a survey of European rail operators in the inaugural Great Train Comparison conducted by British travel portal Loco2, winning plaudits for its "sophisticated offering" for people with disabilities, cycle-friendly trains and opportunities for bike rental at stations.
And a month earlier, the country’s railways were named Europe’s best in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index which looks at factors including quality and safety of service.
But despite the glowing reviews, regular users of Swiss trains know that there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to the thorny issues of pricing and free, on-board internet.
Recently, we asked readers of The Local Switzerland to tell us how they would like to see the country’s train system improved and got feedback from the SBB. Here is what we found out.
1) Ban smoking at train stations
The fact that you can still smoke at Swiss train stations was one of the most frequent complaints among our readers, with people raising concerns about both health and a lack of cleanliness.
Fortunately, we can offer some possible good news here. Back in February, the SBB began a limited trial of smoke-free areas at six train stations around Switzerland. If the results are positive, the limited ban could be introduced at all stations around the country. On the negative side, there is no talk of a complete ban on smoking at train stations for now.
2) Include Swiss Pass information with the mobile app so you don’t have to carry the actual half-price (halb-tax/demi-tarif) card when you travel
The SBB told The Local this is currently being worked on, and that an electronic form of the Swiss Pass will soon be fully integrated into the app. This means passengers will not have to carry their Swiss Pass card in future.
3) Introduce free Wi-Fi on board all trains
The lack of free, onboard Wif-Fi has long been a bugbear for many regular users of Swiss trains. While there is free Wi-Fi available (for 60 minutes) at 80 train stations around the country, it’s a different story in train carriages.
Only last month, the SBB appeared to rule out free internet on trains, with reports the train operator would instead work on improving 3G and 4G mobile services on trains with the use of so-called repeaters.
But in an about-turn, the SBB Chairman of the Board Monika Ribar recently told Switzerland’s NZZ paper that the SBB is now planning to roll-out free, onboard internet. Further details can be expected in the second half of 2018.
4) Make the SBB mobile app more user-friendly
Several readers commented that the mobile app is not particularly user-friendly, with one person commenting that user settings are not always saved in the app meaning personal data has to be re-entered from time to time.
According to the SBB, the following settings are saved locally on people’s smartphones: Touch-Timetable, the Start Page, information on half-price or GA/AG travel cards and details of fellow passengers.
But the SBB told The Local the following data is lost when people log out: regional transport travel card settings, the Touch ID function, and settings allowing for the password-free purchase of tickets up to 40 francs.
The rail operator said this data was deleted after users logged out for security reasons.
5) Eliminate the half-price travel card and charge everyone the same rate
The idea that Switzerland should abolish its half-price travel card has been doing the rounds this year, with public pressure mounting on the SBB to bring down the cost of its notoriously pricey tickets.
In fact, and partly in response to the arrival of new, private, long-distance bus lines, the SBB has started to bring down some fares – mostly in the form of cheaper Supersaver tickets (only available online) and a larger supply of cheap day travel cards.
But despite the support of customer rail organisation Pro Bahn Schweiz and an apparent willingness on the part of the SBB to consider the concept, the idea of scrapping the half-price card for cheaper prices across the board is still controversial. Some people argue there is a serious psychological benefit in offering people a ‘half-price’ ticket in terms of promoting increased use of the train network.
6) Get rid of the paper Junior Travel Card and Children’s Co-Travelcard
One reader told us the SBB children’s travel cards, currently made of paper, quickly fall apart. In this case, we have some good news: these should be integrated into the Swiss Pass when the new timetable is introduced in December 2018. That means no more carrying ratty paper cards around in your wallet for 12 months.
7) Increase luggage space
It's a common sight: train aisles filled with suitcases around airports and major hubs. This makes getting on and off carriages difficult and can be a source of aggravation when people also leave bags on seats.
The SBB told The Local it worked with experts to maximise space for baggage including overhead areas and space between and under the seats, as well as dedicated luggage areas. The railways company also pointed out that its new double-decker trains come with multi-functional areas where seats can be folded to make space for more luggage when necessary.
8) Lack of respect for prams and bicycles
One reader pointed out that passengers on trains often fail to respect the areas set aside for prams, strollers and bicycles, and that this made if very difficult if you were travelling with those items.
She said the SBB should make greater efforts to inform passengers how essential such space is to passengers who need it.