Ganz verkehrt

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Those who know me may also know I'm something of a public transport nerd. This stems from a time when as a seven-year-old my family went to Hannover for six months and I was most impressed to discover it had a tram network, which was at the time in the process of becoming the Stadtbahn with progressively more sections being moved into tunnels in the city centre. I've been fascinated by trams, trains and transport networks in general ever since.

Imagine, then, what I discovered upon moving to Switzerland. Zürich feels as if it was designed entirely by transport nerds. As well as having a copious and famously punctual (this is Switzerland - if a train's more than a few minutes late people start calling for a public inquiry) suburban railway network (the S-Bahn), there's a decidedly old-school tram network with turning loops at the ends of the lines due to the trams only having cabs at one end (and doors along one side) and even a number of trolleybus lines. About the only thing that is missing is a proper métro or U-Bahn - people decided in a referendum some time ago that they were quite happy with trams, thank you. There are still some underground bits - the decidedly odd S18 (the Forchbahn) combines on-street running with seperated railway routes plus a couple of stations underground, as if it isn't sure what sort of railway it is either, and the vestigial remnants of Zürich's original planned U-Bahn result in the number 7 tram route running underground for a couple of stops too.

It's all ridiculously comprehensive, very efficient, almost completely integrated - timetables for one service coordinate with others to make transfers simple - and reliable. More than that, it's cheap, even if by comparison with other transport systems across the border in Germany it's more expensive due to the higher cost of living. A CHF150 half-fare card gets you half price travel for a year, for starters, and if you travel at all regularly there are some ridiculously reasonably-priced season tickets for the network. With few exceptions, the same ticket works whatever transport medium you're using thanks to the local unified ticketing organisation, the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund. Things are so integrated, in fact, that even a cable car and a couple of mountain railways share the same ticketing system!

The upshot of this is that it's absurdly easy to get around. I've twice arrived far, far too early at the airport due to still working on UK assumptions and not really believing that I'd be able to get from my temporary apartment to the airport terminal in 25 minutes flat. Under most circumstances you simply don't need to own a car - but even if you do find something for which you need wheels of your own, the Mobility car-sharing scheme keeps hundreds of vehicles in hundreds of places across town. The main Swiss railway operator, the SBB, is so famously reliable that when a set of points got damaged recently leading to trains from Bern to Zürich having to be diverted and taking ten minutes longer as a result, it was one of the top items on the TV news. Even after heavy snow things keep moving.

I'm sure I'll get used to all this sooner or later. But in the meantime, hey, I'm lovin' it.

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