When we arrived here we have received, from the Gemeinde (a local authority office), an envelope with some basic things for every newcomer. Amongst different offers for mobile phones, upcoming shows tickets at a discounted price, the schedule with the recycling days, there was also a form for a company called BVB. This is the company that takes care of the “small” public transportation around.
To make it clear: a BVB subscription, that costs 80 CHF/month for a person (with this form, I’m not exactly sure it’s the same price for people that do not live here), covers all public transport in Basel and the whole north-east area of Switzerland, the so-called TNW area. For local transportation, the most used are the trams, which are quite enough for the traffic, and also modern; the second place goes to the buses, and they don’t have a metro system in place (and they don’t need it either).
For local transportation one can use also the local trains that have a similar role as the trams, the only difference being the distance. These trains cover about three cantons, but their schedule is as for commute trains, so they have plenty of stops.
Still, this subscription does not cover a ride from Basel to Zurich, for example, but if you can combine the tickets and you have part of your journey covered by the subscription, you only have to pay for the remaining part, and the condition is that the train stops at a station right before going out of the TNW area (if you start in Basel and the subscription includes a ride to Olten, if the first part of the trip is Basel-Olten and the second is Olten-Zurich, you will only pay for the second one).
Of course, it doesn’t matter if the trains are used mainly by commuters, they are very clean (but this depends mostly by the people using the service and not only by the ones maintaining them) and they have toilets, so you don’t feel exactly like in a subway. The only difference from an usual train is that, when using the second class, you don’t have a seat assigned, so you just go there and search for a spot, as you would do on a tram, and I couldn’t tell you about the first class since of course, I didn’t see it.
Depending on where you decide to live (a decision that can depend on the taxes, as I have explained before), you can use the train and/or the tram to go to work daily. Some people live two or three cantons away from work but spend less than half an hour commuting.
The longest trip we managed to do without exiting the TNW area was to Laufenburg, and it took us one hour. Less than what we would have spent if we would have tried to go from Militari to Pipera, by metro (these are two neighborhoods in Bucharest, Pipera being an area where lots of companies have offices, so an intensively visited location).
Because the train is a widely used transportation method, the train station represents the center of the town. In Romania, no one wants to live near the train station because it usually becomes a place where different weird and potentially dangerous people stay, but in here this is the central area of the town, and having a house or the office in here is a very helpful thing in terms of time.
For us to buy the subscription, we first had to send them a form with our data and to receive the confirmation by post, then we have installed an app on our phones to make the payment easier (we need exactly one click on the Renew button and that’s it) and we have filled in another on-line form with our photos; three days later we have received the cards with our names and faces.
The app was quite enough, to be honest, but I thought about the case when my phone may end up damaged, so I prefer to also have a physical card. This card can also be refilled or the subscription can be renewed from the machines in every station, but it feels really easy to use the app instead.
Next to these local trains, there are also the SBB ones, the trains for longer distances. We didn’t try them yet because they are not exactly cheap if you don’t happen to have a half-fare type of subscription, but I have read some things about them.
What amazed us was that they are not late; ever. At the Basel train station, there are also trains from Germany and France that use their infrastructure, and the SBB officials feel the need to specify that they are not to blame for the delays of trains that come or go outside of Switzerland.
This is some sort of a trash talk where the on-time companies say bad things about the not-quite-on-time ones. And yes, Germany is one of those that are not considered on-time. There are full journeys that one can take using only the train and there are some tourist subscriptions that can be used for about a month to see all of Switzerland by train. And the views are amazing!
The tram is now our favorite means of transportation. It’s fast (we live in the suburbs and we can reach the city center in 20 minutes, 12 minutes being spent in the tram), it’s clean and it’s always on time. It’s also not very crowded because the schedule is being scaled to match the rush hours, so we rarely get to stand.
They also have air conditioning and no one wants to open the windows and have the talk about ”drafts”. I’m not even sure those windows can be opened.
Every station has an electronic display where one can see when the tram is going to arrive. And it does arrive exactly when it says it will. If the tram will be late for some reason, the display is being updated so that it reflects this, and they usually try to recover this amount of time if they are late.
As a joke, once we got in the tram and were keeping track of the exact minute when the tram should leave the station – it was there earlier than expected and it wouldn’t have left earlier than the schedule allows it. My husband was taking a look at his watch and when it reached that exact minute, the tram started to move towards the next station. You can set up your watch after it.
Inside the trams, there are displays with the next stations and they are also announcing them, and these announcements match the reality. On the same displays, there are also some news shown, and these are also announced in the speakers.
For example, if something happens on any line within the city, there’s an announcement made in all trams so that people that were going to use that route know about this and can make some changes. Once, there was a big bottleneck due to intense traffic right on our planned route and they announced it in the tram; so everyone got off the tram at the first station.
We did the same, based on the general behavior, and we saw on the screen from the station that the next trams were estimated to be very late around 20 minutes.
Because we don’t speak the language and the announcements are in German, we are very grateful we have the BVB app, which is also available in English, and we can use it to find out everything.
This app tells us when should we leave home so that we catch the tram in time so that we spend less time on the roads altogether. We haven’t gotten used to it yet, but we saw people that arrive at the tram station right when the tram arrives, so they don’t waste their time waiting for it.
The trams are at the same height as the platforms, so one can get on with a baby stroller or a wheelchair without needing help from anyone; I find this amazing, being able to walk your child anywhere even if you’re single. Also, these trams are very silent, they can sneak up on you and you can discover you are being followed by one, and you can have a phone conversation while on a tram.
This doesn’t mean you can shout out your whole personal life while on the phone like they do it elsewhere; one also does not eat so that the trams stay clean, does not occupy the special seats assigned to people in need or to people that have strollers.
No one listens to music without using proper headphones, no one shouts at their friends on the other side of the tram, no one thinks it’s OK to put their feet on the seats or to take up a seat with their bags and everyone allows people inside the tram to get off before trying to get in.
For some of these rules, there are some short videos played on the monitors inside the tram. The first time you see them, they look kind of silly, but if you see them long enough they probably stick to your brain and you apply these rules without even knowing why you’re doing it.
And because we have also brought our car in Switzerland, I can give you some information about this too.
The vignette is about 40 francs, which is not a big difference from the one in Romania, but the roads are in a different state. Highways are first of all present and second of all very well-kept. They look amazing, don’t have any potholes and are always being improved – we often get past some working areas where the highways will become better.
And because the topography is challenging, there are lots of tunnels made for this sole purpose, of being used by highways, which makes them even harder to build, but it doesn’t mean they are not doing it nonetheless. In the meantime, we cannot build highways in Romania on straight fields.
The only roads that have a separate tax, apart from this vignette, are 2-3 roads in the mountains, and one of them is a train track where you get on with your car and are being transported, by train, on the other side of the mountain, like a ferry for the mountains, and this is because that road is not accessible in any other way.
Another one is a very long tunnel that goes through the Alps and takes you to Italy. In the meantime, we’re paying a road tax in Romania for a bridge that looks awful, in Fetești.
Our car still has Romanian license plates since we have one year to change them, and we don’t want to do that until we know more about our future here. Until then, we are getting stopped by any police crew we happen to meet, it’s like they’re being fascinated by our foreign number.
We were stopped at the border so many times, asked about the quantity of each product we’re transporting (more than a kilogram of meat or a liter of alcohol is considered import, and we should pay import taxes for it), they even asked for my papers to prove we live where we say we are.
A few days ago, they stopped us at the same border we usually cross and they told us we need some paper from the Customs Office that proves they know about us having our car here, and of course, we had no idea about any paper of this kind. We didn’t get a fine for this, they are not interested in collecting fines but in people respecting the laws.
They told us where to go and what to ask for, they checked our car intensively, saying they’re looking for produce, but they even checked the spare tire, and they told us they’ll see us soon, with the proper papers. We do have them now, we’re good, but we want to see the guy again to show them we’re good people.
We use the car also for longer trips since it’s cheaper for two people compared to the train tickets for both of us, but we don’t use it in the city apart from shopping and longer trips. The poor thing is also suffering right now.
Right after we arrived here it started complaining about the brakes, so we rushed to find a garage; there, they told us to leave it as it is for now and to fix it before registering it in Switzerland since in that case, the car needs to pass the technical checks anyway.
At least we bought a CD with the new maps for Switzerland, France, and Germany, so it becomes easier to not get lost in tunnels. We also had to take it to a repairing garage because we managed to bump it a little bit in Strasbourg. After it managed to carry all of our stuff here, we should be grateful it’s still alive.
About the traffic
In the city, there are almost no cars. The infrastructure is so well done that no one thinks it’s worth it to use the car. There are bike tracks everywhere and almost everyone uses the bike for short trips.
There are no parking slots in the central area, and the few that are available have a price that is not exactly affordable if you use them for 9 hours a day while you’re at work. People do not park their cars outside of the specifically marked areas because the fines for this are really big since they’re implemented not as a specific amount, but as a percentage of one’s income.
In Basel, parking in public spots is free for one hour. We have a special cardboard device made for this purpose: to be displayed in the car and to show the time of arrival. Where we live, outside the city by ten meters, parking on public slots is not limited in time, but still, you cannot see any abandoned cars taking up spaces for no good reason.
What’s more important is that the areas where there cannot be any parked cars are free, like before and after crosswalks and crossroads and in areas where the visibility is not good.
It happened to us only once to come to the central area by car, with some friends, and we took their car at the only parking place we knew. In the end, we panicked a little bit when we came back and found the doors closed. No new cars could enter after 10 PM, but we managed to talk to someone at an intercom and found out how to take our car from there.
Drivers are very careful with all traffic participants, and the highest priority is assigned to pedestrians, then to cyclists, and only, in the end, they count in the cars, on the base of ”who is more vulnerable in case of an accident”. Some pedestrians cross the street without even looking if cars are coming, that’s how much they trust the drivers.
Children learn early how to ride a bike and to respect the rules, and I didn’t see anyone crossing the street by a crosswalk while riding a bike; everyone knows they have to not ride the bike while using the pedestrian crosswalk. We saw huge parking areas only for bicycles and we wondered how would that place have looked like if it would have had the same number of cars.
And all of these factors are connected. Because there are fewer cars on the streets, trams are always on time. Because trams are on time, you don’t have any reason to use the car, since you’ll get there faster by tram or by bike.
If you use the bike, you get faster at your destination, you can easily find a place to park it, and you won’t create any traffic jams and pollution. It’s all connected in a very organized manner and everyone learns early how to enjoy it, but also what’s their part in maintaining and improving it.