Leaving St.Gallen

I’m sorry to say that after many years in this beautiful little town I am moving on. It has been a pleasure to be able to provide this blog and I hope that people to continue to benefit from it for years to come :-). I won’t delete any content, but I’m afraid that eventually most of the information will become out of date.

But who knows. One day I might move back and I will for sure start to blog again. And thanks to everyone who followed the blog and all of the e-mails of support I received.

And if you ever decide to move to Frankfurt next, why not take a look at my new blog: www.frankfurtexpat.wordpress.com

As if I would actually stop blogging entirely 🙂

Enjoy St.Gallen!!

Not buying a car

When I came to St.Gallen years ago, I sold my car in the UK but only because it had right-hand side steering. I fully intended to buy a new one in Switzerland once I got settled. Living within the city limits meant that I didn’t need a car urgently as the bus and train network is excellent. But for certain things like day trips to the mountains or shopping for bulky items mean that you need to have a car.

The answer is Mobility for most of these occasions.  Mobility is a car share system that works remarkably well. I have been using it for 6 years now and have never once had a problem with the cars or the hire system. Cars are scattered around the city with a large selection at the train station. Once you have signed up (at the main post office) the whole system is remarkably easy to use, particularly as the whole booking system works smoothly off their smart phone app. I calculated that for the number of times I actually need a car, it is cheaper just to hire than to buy in Switzerland. The cost of upkeep, parking, taxes, winter/summer tyre changes is just so much higher.

In addition, they have the website all in English and their help desk have always been able to help in English as well. In addition, they will let you sign up for the first year with a foreign driving licence but after that you need to switch to a Swiss licence.

There is one downside though. The Mobility system works by charging per hour and per kilometer. This is perfect for day trips but once you go much beyond 24 hrs, it is no longer cost effective and you need to look at regular car hire. For example, I needed a car recently for 9 days and 1000 km which would have cost just over 1000 CHF with Mobility. Europcar charge around 900 CHF for the same period and vehicle but the service is shoddy and it takes ages to get the paperwork done and get hold of the vehicle. Hertz is all the way over by Bruggen which is fine if you live there, but also doesn’t give a great choice of vehicles or service.

The trick is with Mobility again though. On the Mobility site there is ‘Hire Car’ option. If choose this you will see that there is a discount booking rate for both Hertz and Avis (Avis being marginally more expensive. Now, Avis doesn’t exist in St.Gallen – they use a local garage (Zil Garage) as a partner. Amazingly Zil don’t even advertise that they work with Avis. So I followed the links and booked a car for 9 days at only CHF 580, turned up and got a really quick friendly service, and all done in English. In addition, the car they gave was a brand new Peugeot 308, far better than I would have got at Hertz or Europcar for a fraction of the price!

Cost of car ownership

Thanks to a comment on a previous blog post I am reusing my answer here to give a little information on whether or not you should buy a car when coming to St.Gallen.

Firstly the costs.  For the numbers below, I have not factored in the actual investment in a buying a vehicle. You can bring one across the border, but the tax implications often make that impractical. It is worth checking this depending on the value of the car you are importing.

Insurance – CHF 1200
Service costs – CHF 500-1000
Bluezone (city) parking – CHF 1400
Private parking at home – CHF 1000
Road/highway taxes – CHF 400

This assumes an average family car which is in good condition.

Considerations:
1) Are you cost sensitive? 
If you are then you will probably stay away from having a car. I  ran the numbers a couple of different ways but each time it comes out a lot more expensive.
2) Convenience. Having a car is convenient, especially when you want to go shopping in Austria or if you want to go to the mountains. But for parking in cities or intercity transport, you will find that having a car is fairly annoying.
3) Public transport. If you live on a frequent bus route then you will find that a car is not needed regularly. But if you find that you are relying on buses 9, 10 or 11 (or just a postbus) you will find that buses are not frequent enough or just stop in the evenings and Sundays.
4) Mobility. Mobility is a car share company across Switzerland. There are 20 different locations around St.Gallen where cars are located and around 50 vehicles available. If you decide to go without a car, then signup for a year membership with Mobility. The cost is low, particularly for journeys less than 24hrs, and it is very quick and easy to pick up a car.

Cheap Skiing day trip to Davos

Skiing can be an expensive hobby, but there are some bargain deals to be had. The main costs for a skiing trip are: equipment, hotel, skipass and transport.

I can’t help much with equipment other than the tip that if you expect to ski more than 10 days, at least buy a pair of boots. End of season always has lots of bargains in town, or head down to Dornbirn in Austria and get them really cheap.

The hotel can be eliminated, and transport and skipass reduced with this simple tip: use the Heini bus and do a day trip to Davos. It picks up from outside the Walhalla at 7:00 and from Blumenwies swimming pool at 7:05. You get your discounted ski-pass on the bus. Bus leaves Davos at 16:30 and will have you back by about 19:30.

The nice thing about this is that you don’t need to think about parking or that sleepy drive home after a long day on the piste. And you don’t have to settle for a low resort with dubious amounts of snow – Davos has plenty.

Cost:
adult with skipass CHF 62
Child with skipass CHF 27

Book online here:
http://www.heini-car.ch/reisen.html

Heini-car

How to use a bus!

This may sound strange, but I have found that many new arrivals struggle to use the bus system until someone has shown them the basics. And yet many locals assume it is obvious.

Firstly, there are city buses and post buses. The main difference (aside from being yellow) is that the post buses leave the city and connect all of the region’s small villages and towns.  For this reason the post buses tend to only stop at the main stops.  The city buses don’t leave the limits of ‘Zone 10’ (St.Gallen city area).  If you buy a ticket for the city then it is valid on any bus, but if you leave Zone 10 on a post bus, you will need to pay extra.

Buying tickets
You can buy bus tickets in the following places:
– Ostwind office (little square building opposite main train station)
– At major bus stops from self-service machines e.g. Bahnhof, Marktplatz, Kantonspital
– On city buses (self service only)
– On post buses (from driver only)
– SBB website (pain in the neck though)
– SBB mobile app (pretty pointless for anything less than a train journey)

Easiest way to buy anything from a single journey to a month pass, is to hop on a city bus and use a self-service machine (see below). For annual passes you have to go to the Ostwind Office and you need to already have a Halb-tax.

There are normally two of these on each city bus and one takes coins and cards, the other coins and notes. If they are both out of order though, don’t expect the driver to help..! The important options here are:
– Einzelbillett Zone 10 – single ticket, valid for 1 hour, only one direction, but unlimited changes within the hour
– Tageskarte Zone 10 – day ticket, unlimited travel in city, costs about the same as 2.5 single tickets
– Mehrfahrtenkarte Zone 10 – Multi-journey ticket, includes 6 individual journeys, no expiry date, about 20% cheaper than buying 6 single tickets, same conditions as single ticket above. Before using this ticket though, you must stamp/validate it in the little red box on the bus or at the bus stop (see below)

Travelling without a ticket
Most buses have no conductor and ticket checks are random. I travel several times a day on city buses, and get checked only 3 or 4 times a year. Travelling without a ticket is wrong and unfair, and I absolutely don’t condone, but if you decide to take this calculated risk you should know that the fine is CHF 80 for no ticket, inspectors travel incognito and only announce themselves once the bus starts moving. Buses 1 & 4 (mainlines) and 5 to the university are most frequently checked.

If you have a valid ticket, but forgot to carry it, you will be given a receipt and you need to go to the Ostwind office, show the valid ticket, receipt and pay CHF 5 penalty. Plus you look really silly giving your excuse in front of all the other passengers…!

Late night buses
After about 00:30, city buses stop running until about 05:00. Between these times, there are still a limited number of post buses running but normal tickets are not valid. You will need to buy a new more expensive ticket. Also, there are police on each postbus to keep an eye on things – could be good or bad depending on your behaviour :-).