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TRANSPORT

EXPLAINED: Why PostBuses are true Swiss icons

They may not be as well known abroad as Swiss army knives, but those yellow buses that travel the widths, lengths and heights of the country are true cultural classics. This is why.

The ubiquitous yellow PostBus is a Swiss icon. Image: Pixabay
The ubiquitous yellow PostBus is a Swiss icon. Image: Pixabay

If you live outside of urban centres (which have their own public transport system), you have likely seen yellow post buses — 2,400 vehicles covering a network of 936 lines that span almost 17,000 kilometres of country roads, no matter how narrow and winding.

In fact, if you want to go to the mountains but don’t feel like driving, a PostBus will bring you all the way up, practically to the top.

And you should not be concerned that you will have to sit on top of a stack of mail — these days, the buses transport passengers only.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

The first buses took to the roads in 1849, replacing horse-drawn coach services that were used to deliver mail until then. However, the early buses encountered — figuratively and literally — quite a few bumps along the way.

According to an article on House of Switzerland site, ran by the  Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), “the first official PostBus journey took place between Bern and Detligen in 1906. But the buses used up a lot of fuel and had numerous technical issues”.

As more Alpine passes were dug after World War I, including Simplon, Grimsel, Furka, St. Bernard and Oberalp, 40 military trucks were converted into  post buses, gradually extending the  network of postal lines throughout Switzerland.

“PostBus turned from a simple public transport service to a veritable social institution, linking rural folk with the modern life of the towns and cities”, the FDFA article says.

“Not only did it venture into remote and mountainous parts, PostBus also operated in Switzerland’s central plain in order to serve the villages and towns”.

In those days though, “buses weren’t just transporting school kids, villagers and tourists – they also had letters, parcels, milk cans, fridges and even chickens on board”.

A smaller PostBus navigating Swiss towns and villages. Image: Pixabay

A smaller PostBus navigating Swiss towns and villages. Image: Pixabay

You know it’s a post bus when…

Unlike ‘regular’ public buses, postal buses have two unique features: they are bright yellow and have a distinctive three-tone horn.

While in the first half of the 20th century post buses sported different hues, in 1959 they were all painted ‘Swiss Post yellow’, as the colour is officially known.

The next milestone came in 2002, when Swiss Post’s trademark yellow colour was registered and granted trademark protection.

What about the horn?

As the narrow Alpine roads were (and still are) used not only by post buses but also by an ever-growing number of private cars, accidents were frequent. So the Swiss Post decided that its drivers should sound a horn to warn other road users about blind spots.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s roads are among the safest in the world

But the post bus’ three-tone horn is distinct and different from the way other horns sound. It is more melodious, and for a good reason: it comes, appropriately enough, from the overture of Rossini’s opera “William Tell”.

You can hear the horn, and see when it is being used, here:

Over the years, post buses have evolved, taking new forms.

In 2016, an electric shuttle pilot project known as SmartShuttle was launched in Sion, Valais.

The driverless vehicles now include on-demand services, allowing travellers to book a shuttle free of charge for the route they want. 

And in 2017, a new convertible coach was unveiled in Chur, Graubünden. It has a retractable roof and is equipped with a fridge to store food and drinks, making it suitable for tour groups.

READ MORE: Postbus launches new open-top coach

Not always a smooth ride

Scandals sometimes befall cultural icons and post bus is no different. Fortunately, it happened only once in its long history.

It was revealed in 2018 that post bus used accounting tricks to illegally obtain at least 90 million francs in state subsidies for the operation of its regional transport services.

READ MORE: Swiss PostBus scandal: ‘It’s much more than the money. It’s a cultural shock’

But this one bump in the road has not permanently tarnished the image of Switzerland’s yellow, three-tone-horned bus.

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TRAVEL NEWS

How much will I be fined for not having a train ticket in Switzerland?

Being a fare dodger — whether on a Swiss train or another mode of public transportation — is considered an offence. This is what your penalties could be.

How much will I be fined for not having a train ticket in Switzerland?

If you take public transportation often and don’t have your half or full-fare Travelcard, then tickets can get quite expensive.

This could be the reason why people may choose to ride ticketless, hoping they fall through the cracks of random and sporadic checks.

But what happens if you get caught?

No matter what lame excuse you will concoct for not having your ticket, chances that the train inspector will take pity on you and wave the fine are slim to none. They have likely heard all the excuses made up by humankind already.

As Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is a national company, fines will be the same throughout the country.

According to their website, travelling without a valid ticket will cost you 90 francs (in addition to the price of the ticket) if this is your first offence — or at least the first time being caught. For the second and third offences the surcharges are 130 and 160 francs, respectively.

But that’s not all.

Since 2019, people who travel on Switzerland’s trains, trams and buses without a valid ticket have had their details placed in a national register, where they remain for two years.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been caught on a national or regional mode of transport: fare evasion data is shared among all the operators in Switzerland. For instance, if you got caught traveling without a ticket on a SBB train, and then again on regional transport a few months later, this will be considered a repeat offence and a surcharge will apply.

READ MORE: Swiss pensioner fined 90 francs for buying train ticket one minute late

What about fare dodger fees on regional transport?

About 120 transport companies are currently operating throughout Switzerland.

No matter if you travel on a local train, bus, tram, or ferry, regional transport company will fine you for riding without a ticket and include your name in the digital database.

Though the amount of fine varies somewhat from one city to another, one rule remains the same: the more often you get caught, the higher the fine.

These are the fines you will receive in Switzerland’s four largest cities on any mode of transport that is operating in that particular area:

Zurich

In addition to the price of ticket, you will have to pay 100 francs the first time you are caught without a valid ticket, 140 the second and 220 the third.

Geneva   

In addition to the price of ticket, you will be charged 100 francs for the first offence, 180 for the second and 210 for the third.

Basel

Fare-dodger rates here are the same as those charged by SBB:  90 francs, 130, 160, respectively.

Bern

Here you will pay 100 francs for the first offence, 140 for the second, and 170 for the third.

Why you should never, ever travel without a ticket?

The most obvious answer is that this practice is illegal, and being a good citizen means obeying the law.

Secondly, ticket dodgers are responsible for substantial losses of earnings in the public transport system — losses which eventually are passed down to the public in the form of fare increases.

Can being included in the national register of fare evaders diminish your chances of getting Swiss citizenship?

There are no statistics available that show specifically whether being in the offender database impacts naturalisation.

But if you are a foreign national and are applying for naturalisation, travelling without a ticket — that is, knowingly breaking the law — does not bode well for you.

That is  because “respect for public safety, security and order” is one of the conditions of becoming a Swiss citizen.

And if you think this would be much too trivial to count, think again: Swiss municipalities had rejected naturalisation requests for lesser ‘offences’ — for instance, complaining about cow bells, or for wearing sweatpants in public.

READ MORE: Travel: This interactive map shows direct trains from every Swiss city

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