Once you move to Basel, Switzerland, the tram is the most convenient way to get around the city. The trams come frequently between 5-30 minutes apart depending on the time of day, from the very early in the morning until late at night. The hours of operation also depend on what day of the week it is and whether it’s a holiday. You’ll see both green and yellow trams as the network is operated by two separate transport providers, but you don’t really have to worry about the color, the ticketing is the same.
In order to ride the tram, you need a valid ticket. While you are supposed to have a ticket for every ride you take, it’s an honor system, with random spot checks on trams and buses. If you are caught without a ticket, you’ll be fined a substantial amount. It’s also quite embarrassing to be fined, as the other tram riders give you dirty looks till the ticket agents finish (loudly) processing you. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for the ticket taker!
I wanted to use this post to inform you of the different ticket types available and how to use the ticket machines, so you can decide what kind of ticket or pass you need. Also, the prices change quite often, so what is listed here might not be the most current. I’ve tried to provide links to appropriate sites, so be sure to go to them for the most current costs!
Types of Tram Tickets
The GA Card – If you have a valid first or second class General Abonnement (GA) travel card, in addition to taking the train anywhere in Switzerland, you can also use all the trams and buses in Basel (and most other cities in Switzerland). You don’t have to worry about buying a ticket, just hop on and you’re good to go! Costs depend on your age, if you hold a first or second class card, or if you have a disability. Details and ordering is possible on the SBB website. You can also get card packages for you and your spouse, the whole family or even for your dog!
The Tram Pass (one year/ Jahresabo) – These can be purchased at the BVB counter in Barfusserplatz, or online (German only right now). Costs depend on age and where you want to travel. Details are available on the TNW website.
The Tram Pass (month by month /U-Abo) – U-Abo cards can also be bought at at the BVB kiosk in Barfusserplatz, or online. Costs depend on age and where you want to travel. Details are available on the TNW website. Once you have the card, it can be renewed on a month to month basis at any of the tram machines (see below). The U-Abo card in combination with a machine-printed monthly ticket is valid on all tram and buses, in the zones selected.
The Mobility Card (from hotels) – Hotel guest in Basel will be provided with a Mobility Ticket upon check-in to the hotel. This allows free travel on the public transport system within Basel during their stay.
The Tram/Bus 6-trip Card – The multi-trip card is good for six rides and gives a discount of about 10% over the standard tickets. These cards can be purchased at any Kiosk shop. The card must be punched prior to each ride, including the first.
The Tram/Bus Tickets – Both day tickets and single trip tickets are available from the tram machines located at every tram stop. The day ticket is an excellent option if you plan to take more than two tram rides in a single day.
Reduced ticket prices are possible to get with certain discount cards. If you purchase a half tax card (available and the Bahnhof SBB) for one, two or three years, you’ll be entitled to reduced costs for both trains within Switzerland, as well as buses and trams. Children who are six years old to 16 years old who hold a Junior Travelcard (approx. 30 CHF) can travel on trains, trams and buses, in the company of a parent holding a valid ticket, for free.
Using the Tram Machine
Below is photo of one of the tram machines from Basel. These are located at every tram stop, generally one machine for each direction. At some of the platforms that have multiple trams stopping, machines are shared for two or more trams, and you need to look around for them (but they are very easy to find for the most part). All the machines have a touch-screen interface.
There are language buttons in the bottom right corner of the screen so you can select English, or the language you are most comfortable with.
Use the left hand side of the machine if you do not have a half tax card. Use buttons on the right hand side of the screen if you do have a half tax card. (Photo below).
If you have a very short trip, less than four stops, you can get the short distance ticket with the top-most button. However, for most trips in Basel, you will need the 1 zone ticket. If you are going to the airport or somewhere of similar distance, you need a 2 zone ticket. The zones are defined on the map of all tram and bus lines. You need one zone to stay in the same zone and a 2 zone ticket if you are crossing zones.
Once you have chosen a ticket type, press the corresponding button on the screen, and the machine will display how much you owe. If you want to purchase tickets for multiple people, you can at these with the + button at the bottom of the payment screen.
The validity of your ticket is also time dependent A two zone ticket is valid for a longer duration than a one zone ticket or a short distance ticket. How long your ticket is valid until, is indicated in the upper right had corner of your ticket, next to the date.
Please also remember that you’re not allowed to eat or drink on the tram, play loud music or touch the emergency brakes!
I hope this makes your first encounter with a Basel tram machine simple! Just be thankful you don’t have to get tickets from the old machines from a few years ago, before they had the digital displays. The old machines had about 70 different buttons, confusing symbols and indecipherable German abbreviations!
Enjoy life in Basel and the rest of the website!