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.
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 :-).