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.

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.