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How to Choose a Seat on a Bus in Switzerland

Two Swiss Postauto Busses
Swiss Postautos - Sommaruga Fabio  /
It's very common in Switzerland to take a bus to work. Since public transportation in Switzerland is quite convenient and punctual this is perfectly fine alternative to driving yourself to work. Of course, public transportation in Switzerland isn't cheap but putting gas into your car is definitely becoming expensive as well plus you get the traffic jams that are very hard to avoid and cost a lot of time and nerves. According to the Swiss Ministry of Statistics almost 30% of working people use public transportation to go to work

So if you're part of that Swiss group, lets do the math: if you take the bus to and from work and work five days a week, we can safely assume that you ride a bus in Switzerland at least ten times a week. This was true for myself as well for many years as well but I have since completely switched to remote work.

An interesting observation

While riding the bus to work a few years ago, I observed a most interesting phenomenon. People chose their seat on the bus according to a repeating pattern: If the bus was empty or almost empty the passenger chose any free seat with older people usually choosing one in the front of the bus and younger people one in the back. If the bus was full or almost full newly boarding passengers chose any free seat available without giving much importance to its location.

passengers preferred to stand rather than sitting

However, a very strange thing occurred if the bus was half empty (or half full depending on your point of view): At first, newly boarding passengers chose either a free singular seat or a free seat in a free double seat (two free seats next to each other). Once all singular and double seats were taken, most passengers actually preferred to stand even though there were still seats available in the double seats (although only one of the pair was free).

Do not sit down next to strangers

Apparently, there is a strong tendency not to sit down next to a stranger. Couples or friends boarding the bus seem to have no problem sitting next to each other. Thus, I concluded from my observations that Swiss people are generally hesitant to sit down next to someone they don't know.

The following picture illustrates the situation: The blue dots represent passengers who are already seated. In this situation, most boarding passengers would prefer to stand in the area of the left red dot rather than sitting in one of the still empty seats.

Choosing a seat on a public bus

Do as the Swiss do - or not!

My suggestion for anyone traveling in Switzerland with the intention of experiencing the country just as the Swiss do, would be to board a half empty bus and remain standing for the whole ride despite empty seats being available to sit down. I can assure you it is a very Swiss thing to do.

However, for those who do not mind being recognised as foreigners and/or visitors, I suggest you try sitting down next to a Swiss person on one of those ominous double seats and start a conversation. Despite their obvious preference to sit by themselves, the Swiss are very friendly and sometimes even quite chatty. You are a tourist and most likely will draw attention so you might as well overstep some unwritten rules. And after all, it's not like you're doing something prohibited!

An even stranger observation

If you think I was exaggerating when I described how many Swiss people prefer to stand in a public bus rather than sit down next to someone they don't know, you'll be surprised at this even more peculiar behaviour can be observed in the seat an average Swiss person chooses on a public bus.

leerer bus
Empty Bus - Fabio Sommaruga  /

Imagine the following scenario: A passenger boards an empty bus and sits down in the rear part of the bus. A second passengers enters and now has to decide where to sit down. He takes into consideration personal preferences (e.g. window or aisle seat) and proximity to the driver (older people generally sit closer to the driver in the front part of the bus, younger people at the back). According to my observations, the most important factor in the choice of seating, however, is the presence of one or more other passengers on the bus. In an almost natural inclination the new passenger sits down in a seat two rows away from an already sitting passenger. This means, there is at least one row of empty seats or one empty seat between the two passengers.

any new passenger sits down at least two rows away 
from any other passenger

To illustrate, let us assume that the first passenger is the blue dot. He (or she) is already seated when the second passenger enters the bus. In most cases the green passenger will choose a seat outside the blue circle, which means at least one empty seat away. This is marked with green dots. A lot of passengers intuitively make sure that the distance between themselves and other passengers is maximised.

Swiss Rules for Choosing a Seat on a Bus

Thus, if several passengers enter the bus, the distribution of passenger throughout the bus would work as follows (keep in mind that this is only an observation, no proof exists of this peculiar behaviour):
1) The blue passenger enters first and sits down.
2) The light blue passenger(s) board the bus and sit down at a conveniently and comfortably large distance from the blue passenger.
3) The yellow passenger(s) enter next and sit down with the greatest possible distance to the blue passenger and the light blue passengers. In fact, they tend to sit down right in the middle between the blue and the light blue passenger.
4) Any further passengers (green passengers) will abide by the unwritten rule of not sitting next to a stranger and pick the empty seats in the rows between the blue, light blue and yellow passengers.

I am not sure if this is a strictly Swiss behaviour in public transportation vehicles. I can imagine that Germans would behave in a similar way but I honestly never paid too much attention.



  1. Now as we complete nearly 3 weeks in Swiss as tourists and having used the bus quite a bit , I googled to check if anyone has made these observations and came across your blog :)


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