Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Living without a car in Switzerland... the European Way

I just realized the other day, that we have been living in Switzerland without a car for over a year and a half. Try to pry the American man's best friend, his car, away from him for even 24 hours and you will no doubt hear the cries of pain. But here in Europe, where the world is built to support mass transportation, the time ohne Auto seems to have passed by somewhat painlessly. Here is how we make do:
  • Annual Train Pass - Both Jace and I have an annual train pass that allows us to travel an unlimited amount within a 12 month period for the zones on our car. There are multiple options here - I have a two zone pass and when I paid for 12 months, I got 3 months free. Jace has a pass that allows him to travel anywhere within the Zurich Kantonal zones and his card is subsidized by his work so he pays next to nothing to travel around. If you are lucky and have the cash, I recommend a GA card which allows you to travel limitlessly in Switzerland for 12 months. This is the best deal and really should get you motivated to get out and about.

  • Mobility - Although I have only used this system once as I prefer the trains, the option is there to use this car sharing program in Switzerland. You simply get a membership, they send you a card after checking out your creds, and you are ready to reserve one of the thousands of cars available for when you need it. On the day, just tap the card on the window, the car opens and the keys are inside... zoom, zoom, zoom. Easy.

  • Travel by Train in Europe & Switzerland - When we want to get out and about outside of Zürich, there are many ways in which we do so - 1) We buy supersaver tickets. These are only available through September 15th, so don't delay if you want to save a bundle on train tickets within Switzerland. 2) We buy day passes if we are traveling within Switzerland and will return on the same day. These are a great deal once the supersaver tickets are gone. 3) We buy in advance - if you buy in advance for trips around Germany for example, you can save a lot of money! You also save if you are traveling in a group of 5 and if one of the people's names is Juergen. Just kidding, but there are really good deals out there - just keep your eyes and ears open. And I guarantee, the prices for your tickets will probably still be less than what you would pay for car insurance! Oh and don't forget the Swiss Pass for tourists! And the Snow & Rail Pass come ski season! And above all the half-fare pass!!!!

  • We walk... I walk to the grocery store and carry my bags back - and about 20 pounds of Diet Coke - thank you Jace for helping me to have toned arms. And I walk all around Zürich to do my shopping - if a tram doesn't come on time that is! We don't have a gym membership here and we probably don't need one as we do much more walking and get a lot more exercise (can you say garden?) here than in the States - all because we decided to forgo the car (and save a BUNDLE of money) and use the excellent public system. And if we weren't such tight-wads, we would get bikes, too... and oh boy would that be fun!
I get asked all the time if you can live in Switzerland without a car - and we are living proof... living, healthier, happier (I think so - my budget is happier) proof. So go ahead and give it a go - the worst that can happen is you need a ride to IKEA once in awhile, but that is a crutch I myself can allow. :) Good luck!

How many others live without a car!?
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Amanda said...

Hi Jessica - I envy you actually. I would much prefer to forgo our car, but in our neck of the woods it is pretty necessary to have one. (Isaiah's car commute is 25 minutes versus an hour and a half on 2 different buses and one train.) We know some expats around here that went a year and a half without a car, but recently bought one because they just couldn't take it anymore. Buses and S-trains only come once or twice per hour - so annoying! Oh, to live in the city (or super close to it)...

Stephersplatz said...

I've been living here since March and have had no problems without a car...I love it!

I have a good friend who has a car, so it's been convenient to drive with her sometimes, but everywhere we've gone we could have gone by train.
This weekend was the first time that I used Mobility. I stayed at a friend's family house in Sachseln and went back and forth to Lucerne. After being there I realized we probably could have done the weekend without a car as there was a train station 20 minutes away from the house...and then we wouldn't have gotten stuck in traffic for an hour getting back into Zurich on Sunday night...

DRosie said...

We have been here for about 3 months now and today was my first day getting back inside a car. Felt super weird. I am loving the train system. I highly recommend selling those cars before venturing over.

M'dame Jo said...

Never owed one. I actually have a Californian driver's license, but not the swiss one... yet.

M'dame Jo said...

Oh, that was s a cute lapsus.

Never owned one, I meant.

MP said...

When we lived in China we didn't own a car; just biked and walked everywhere. Or the taxis were super cheap to do heavier shopping/late night noodle runs. Here in the States we have one car, which is also out of the norm. In the summer/warmer months the mister bikes to work and in the winter the little lady and I drop off/pick up. It works for us, although if/when we move I'm looking forward to not driving everywhere!

nadine said...

hey :)
Im not sure if by day pass you mean the ones that SBB sells but if you do there is actually a cheaper option out there. All the Gemeinden can sell GA that are valid for just one day. They are about 30 to 40 swiss francs. You can choose which Gemeinde you want to book from (it doesn´t matter where you live) and pick it up from them. You can also book them online under (the website is in German though). The down side is that they go are often fully booked.

Susan said...

I have lived here in Zurich for almost 3 years, and we don't have a car. Living close to the Lake helps - from our flat I can walk 4-5 minutes and be at a bus, tram, or S-Bahn. Or even a boat! I love not needing a car.

Perhaps if we had school-age children it might be more difficult (ours are grown and back in the U.S.)

And I proudly use my einkaufswagen when shopping!

The Antiques Diva™ said...

This post made me smile... I lived without a car for years, and had I been blogging during those days I might have written this same ode to public transportation, but I have to tell you Jessica, "Come, Come to the Dark Side!"

I've lived in Europe 10 years - the first 5 without a car and the last 5 with and I though I still do my fair share of walking toting groceries home across the river on foot and schleping on the s-bahn across town b/c some places are simply easier to access without a car - I must tell you I love having a car in Europe!!!

In the USA, my husband and I actually only had one car and we've chosen this same tactic here in Europe... but it gives us such freedom! We wake on Saturday morning and while reading the NY Times online I see something in Prague I want to see, 5 hours later we're there with no planning, just a wild weekend road trip reminescent of my days at uni. We meander home through the countryside, stopping at a charming house with Zimmer handpainted on a sign in the drive. No reservations, No advance planning, No looking at train schedules, no nothing!

I love the get up and go aspect of a car. It also just so happens that a car (and a big "American-sized" car at that) is essential for my business leading antique shopping tours (clients need to put their loot somewhere). In September alone, work (hard core antique shopping) will take me to 7 countries in about 3 weeks... all places not easily accessible without a car!

My business and my current lifestyle both of which are tres European wouldn't be possible without an auto! Having a car in Europe has changed & enriched my life!

Come, my friend, come to the darkside! LOL! By the way, you should join me as my personal guest on a tour sometime... we should check caledars and see if our paths cross!

All the best,

juanitatortilla said...

Infrastructure here is great!
I just love how we have one less thing to worry about -- Petrol (how often do you see a petrol/gas station?), Maintenance of the car, Theft even. All these = Stress!

But had we have chosen to live outside of "downtown" Zurich, I might be singing to a different tune.
For now, I'm thrilled to not add more pollutants to the air, really.

Jessica said...

Thanks so much for all the comments! I love it! Great to see I still have some people reading after coming back from vacations in August. :)

Amanda - we do live out a bit but we have an S-train about once ever 15-20 minutes so it is not so bad. That and we have multiple routes we can take depending on the weather, too - so that is nice.

Stephersplatz - you said it... Mobility is great but the traffic is still a killer. I can't tell you how many times I have breezed past some traffic jam and thought - thanks goodness I am on the train!

DRosie - every time I get in a car here, which is very seldom, esp. in the front seat (sit in the back of cabs and those are rare too $$$) I feel so funny...

M'dame Jo - I have the Swiss and don't drive. hahah. All is well in my crazy head, I assure you. :)

MP- I would be scared to drive in China myself... it was CRAZY when I was there. Good choice!

Nadine - that is a great tip. I will have to ask my Gemeide about that. Thanks!!! I hope there are some left!

Susan - I love my shopping cart now, too. I still load it too full but it is so helpful - even if I look like Nanna using it. You are right - if we had kids, I might want a car desperately!!!

Toma - you and your dark side. :) LOL. You are right - we would like a car, but it does not work out really for us in the sense department. We can do all the spontaneous trips with the train actually, too! I would love to be a guest on one of your tours. That would be so fun! I saw a lot of antique stores when we were in Paris and I thought of you. :)

Tina said...

I envy your planning and use of public transport. What can I say? I could never live without a car. I am too much of a pick up and go person. Plus I went to Ikea a lot!

For us, it was about the same price wise as train passes.


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