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2014 UPDATE: Click here to check out our more recent post, Riding Geneva’s Buses and Trams Just Got Easier

If you don’t know, the TPG = Geneva’s bus and tram system. It is an “on your honor” type system.  So, you can freely board buses and trams without showing your ticket.  Sometimes, controllers hop on, they lock the doors, and they check the entire vehicle to ensure everyone has a valid ticket.    If you do not have a ticket, you must pay something like 100 CHF on the spot.   If you don’t have the money, they’ll refer to your ID card, take your information and charge you in the mail a heightened fine.  If you don’t have ID, I heard they take you away immediately.  This doesn’t sound fun.

For the first year I lived here, I was only checked five times; however, this summer, I have been checked every day on the TPG.  I have a record of 30 days and counting.  One day, I was checked twice.   However, my husband has never been checked.

If you are new here, the TPG can be a bit confusing.

I wanted to explain how it works.

You have the option of buying a full year abonnement.  With this, you can ride unlimited TPG buses, trams, boats, and Geneva regional trains (in 2nd class).   If you don’t want to pay for a full year, you can also pay per month, at 70 CHF/ month.   However, if you know you’ll use it a lot, the annual saves you two months at 700 CHF for the year.

Otherwise, you can buy tickets at the machines.    First, I’ll explain the types of tickets, then I’ll explain the machines.

There are a few types of tickets:
-One hour (most popular)*
-Short ride – 10 minutes on bus/tram or one-way on a yellow boat
-Full day – purchased after 9am*
-Full day – purchased before 9am*

The tickets with * also quality for a discount if you have a half fare card.  It’s not a half discount though.  For instance, a one hour ride is currently 3.50.   The 1/2 fare discount makes your fare 2.50.

If you plan to ride 3 times in a day, it generally is cheaper to get a day pass.  However, it depends on the number of rides you plan and the time you buy your ticket.  After 9am, the full day ticket is a no-brainer!

There are two types of machines.

There is the OLD MACHINE.   With this, you hit your selection. Then the machine shows you how much you owe, you slip in the change, and voila! out comes your paper ticket.

Pros:  This machine accepts the pre-paid card, which is nice, because it prevents you from having to use cash or credit card.  You also get a free 20 CHF card when you turn in old cards worth 200 CHF in total combined.

Cons:   Beware, as some of these machines do not give change.  I also had one on the bus eat my 8 CHF for a day pass one day.  That was not a good day.

And there is a NEW MACHINE.

The new TPG machine

Pros:  it can be converted to English so you can understand it better, it takes credit cards (sometimes), it gives change

Cons: it doesn’t take the pre-paid TPG card.  This is a con for me, because I stocked up on 100 CHF of them for my hubby.  He can only use them 1/3 of the time.

With the new machine, make sure to hit “Valider” so that it readies the machine to accept your payment. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.   Those who are used to the old machine struggle with this.

Is there such thing as a free ride?

If you are staying in a hotel, you can also ask for a free TPG pass.

Landing at the Cointrin airport, you can hit the machine in baggage claim for a free ticket; however, you must keep your flight proof as well if you are checked.

Otherwise, if you don’t have an abonnement, you need to buy a ticket.

But wait, how do I know where I am going???

You should know the number you want to take by referencing a map, or having us tell you which one to take. The tram runs two ways though so be careful to go the right way. They will be labeled with their end destination. You should reference on a map which direction you want to go, based on where you are. Each tram/bus stop also has the list of stops for each # on a sign that you could look at as well.

Careful that some lines have different destinations to provide frequency during rush hour. For example, the #5 in the northern direction goes to Aeroport usually (the end of the line) but sometimes there is also a #5 Nations. If you are going to the Aeroport (end of the line), don’t get on the Nations #5 or it won’t go far enough.

Here are some others that I know do this:
#12 Palettes and #12 Carouge
#14 Meyrin and #14 Cern
#8 OMS and #8 Appia

What is the difference between a bus and a tram?
They work in effect the same way. You have to hit the red button on the bus to make it stop for you. However, on a tram, it stops every time. You only have to hit the red button to open the doors so that you can exit.

Why do some buses have numbers and some letters?
The numbers travel in town and the letters travel out further into the countryside.

Are there other public transportation methods I can use?
Why yes, you can take the mouettes, the boats. For a one-way, you can buy a ticket simple [D] for 2 CHF that is good for one crossing. Your hour pass or day pass also covers travel on these, if you already have that type of ticket, you are good to go.

Is there anything else I need to know?
Yes….when your stop is approaching, you need to stand up and by the door. If you do not show initiative to exit, the people waiting to get on the tram/bus could end up boxing you in.

And…watch your wallet/purse. Pick pocketing is very common in Geneva. Just be smart!