Free public transport in Switzerland: What progress has been made?

Free public transport in Switzerland: What progress has been made?

While it may seem unlikely, as proposals for cut-price tickets in Switzerland are struck down regularly by politicians in Bern, several Swiss cantons are on the brink of holding referendums on whether public transport should be made free. Here’s what you need to know.

Free public transport in Switzerland unpopular with government

It may sound strange that a country like Switzerland is considering making public transport tickets completely free. Even the idea of a nine-euro-style cut-price ticket in Switzerland was roundly rejected by lawmakers in 2022, so it may seem ridiculous to argue that a proposal where passengers pay nothing has a better chance of passing.

The reason for the hesitance on the national level is down to two factors: the cost and the Swiss constitution. Opponents of free public transport note that Clause 2, Section 81 of the constitution states that passengers on Swiss trains, buses, boats and trams should cover “an appropriate portion of the cost,” meaning many believe that offering free public transport nationally would be breaking the law.

Second is the enormous cost associated with implementing the policy. The government already subsidises up to 50 percent of public transport costs to the tune of 5 billion francs a year, so it remains difficult to see how the state could afford the idea without raising taxes.

Swiss cantons and city start to test free public transport

However, while proposals for free public transport have little to no chance of succeeding on the federal level, several Swiss cantons have voted on the idea in the past. Basel (1972), Geneva (2008) and St. Gallen (2012) have all had referendums on free public transport, although none were approved.

Even on the local level, some councils (Gemeinde) in Switzerland have also begun their own trials. In June 2022, for example, Kreuzlingern became the first Swiss city to offer free public transport for its residents.

Which Swiss cantons are going to vote on free public transport?

Currently, three cantons - Geneva, Vaud and Fribourg - are due to hold votes on free public transport. All three are popular initiatives that have enough signatures to be made into referendums, but officials have argued that the proposals are not legal and cannot be voted on. 

In Canton Geneva, The “For free, ecological and quality public transport” initiative would see public transport made free “mainly through the usual tax measures,” noted 20 minuten. The proposal is currently being analysed by the cantonal council, who worry that the text of the initiative makes it impossible to vote on.

Meanwhile, authorities in Canton Fribourg have declared their own free public transport initiative to be illegal. They argued that they would be breaking federal law if the referendum passed. The matter has now been referred to the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne, which will make a final decision on whether the vote is held or not.

Canton Vaud in Switzerland will vote on free public transport

Finally, Canton Vaud is due to hold a referendum on its own free public transport plan. The proposal would see the government pay for 100 percent of the running and ticket costs for local public transport. It is expected to be voted on in the next few years.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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