Geneva: free public transport for tourists, but locals prefer the bike

I was in Geneva, Switzerland for the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. I attended the 24th Meeting of the Parties (MOP24) as a writer with IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin. The Montreal Protocol is hailed as the most successful environmental treaty of its kind, signed by 197 countries. It has led to the phase-out of over 97% of all ozone depleting substances – many which are also greenhouse gases. While complications persist (alluded to in our report) it was an interesting meeting.

It was my first time to Geneva and I enjoyed exploring the city. I have been to Switzerland before and its reputation always rings true: organised, picturesque, quaint… and expensive. Certainly the Swiss living standard is high as are the prices – which may come as a bit of a shock for a visitor. However, while
life is expensive, there are benefits (including for tourists). When you arrive at Geneva Airport, free public transportation from the airport to the city is provided. Moreover, hotels provide a free city transport card for  the duration of your stay in Geneva. Free transport for tourists? What an amazing way to promote Geneva’s public transport amongst visitors and a great idea for other cities as well… While I often prefer to walk, UN meetings go late into the night, and it was nice to have the option for safe, frequent – and free – public transport.

Locals, however, often prefer the bicycle. While Geneva may not have the same bicycle culture as what I take for granted in Amsterdam, it is a safe city and rather well-equipped for cyclists. Cycle paths are often clearly marked, and bicycle parking is found in abundance.

On my final day, I wandered in & around Lake Geneva and the old town. Perusing the city, by foot, was an equally viable option. I also explored some of Geneva’s parks, full of locals and visitors playing life-size chess and checkers, as well as runners or families on weekend bike trips. Swiss cities are noticeably hillier than what I am familiar with in the Netherlands; but this doesn’t stop the cyclists.
Prior to Geneva, I spent a few days with a friend in Basel. She confirmed that also in Basel, city cycling is widespread (which we did). But if you want to escape to the mountains for snowboarding, hiking or rock-climbing, there are always public transport options to get you there fast and efficiently (which we also did). From Basel to Geneva, I took the train; enjoying the organized (and yes, expensive) train service. Sitting in the dining car with white table clothes and leather seats, I enjoyed a tall draft beer and a local seasonal soup served to my table. You get what you pay for in Switzerland; and its reputation for organized, quaint and picturesque are also confirmed – starting with its excellent public transport.

Geneva trams & bicycle parking
On the way home from the park: Sunday cruising
Advertisement: encouraging cyclists to use a light
In and around the centre, there are often separated bridges or paths for cyclists or pedestrians.
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6 thoughts on “Geneva: free public transport for tourists, but locals prefer the bike

  1. you get what you pay for, indeed! it is a nice model for a small, highly skilled nation – think it can be applied to a large, diverse one like the US?

    1. No matter where you are in the world, people always like the word ‘free’… 😉 So yes, supplying public transport cards would be a way to increase bus usage – in cities with dense urban centres. Why not try? For roughly 5 USD more a night in the cost of the hotel… I’d be curious to see if some cities would go for it!

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