Transport and Driving in Austria
Getting around in Austria is easy due to the country’s small geographic size, efficient rail network and well-maintained road infrastructure. For most expats, travelling by train is the easiest way to travel.
While domestic flights between Austrian cities are readily available, they are relatively expensive and only save travellers a small amount of time. Driving in Austria is a pleasure and while owning a car is not a necessity for those living in a big city, it’s a great way to explore the country.
Public transport in Austria
The national public transport infrastructure in Austria consists of buses and trains operated by the state-owned company, ÖBB. The train and bus networks complement each other well and ÖBB has implemented an integrated ticketing system.
Tickets on buses and trains in Austria are based on the distance travelled, the type of train or bus used and the class of seat. Base fares are fairly expensive, but expats who take some time to do their research will find that there are plenty of discounts available. It is always advisable to pre-book in advance online to save money. It is also possible to purchase tickets at the station and onboard the train or bus.
Trains are the most popular mode of public transport in Austria. Intercity trains that connect the major destinations in Austria are moderately priced and relatively comfortable.
Most train routes are operated by ÖBB, while WestBahn offers competitive services on the Salzburg-Linz-Vienna line. Commuters must be aware that ÖBB rail passes and tickets are not valid for West Bahn trains and vice-versa. Tickets for either service can be purchased in advance online, at train stations or, in some cases, onboard the train. Pre-booking tickets online will certainly save commuters money.
Trains in Austria have various prefixes which indicate the type of service it is. Intercity trains are marked with IC, ICE stands for Intercity Express and WestBahn trains have the prefix WB. RJ stands for Railjet, which are Austria’s high-speed trains.
Depending on the type of train there will be a choice of different class seats. Generally, all seats are comfortable, but in the first class carriages, passengers are offered meals and drinks in addition to more luxurious, reclining chairs.
ÖBB also oversees buses in Austria. The national bus network is not quite as comprehensive as the rail system but has been designed to complement trains. Bus travel in Austria is generally cheaper than the equivalent train journey.
Where there is the option to travel by train or a bus to a destination, most commuters will opt to take the train. Trains in Austria will generally offer a more comfortable and faster service than intercity buses.
Domestic flights in Austria
Austria is a small country, and so there is no real need to fly between destinations. It is, however, possible to fly domestically between cities in Austria, although it does mean that expats who choose this option miss out on seeing some stunning Austrian landscapes.
Domestic flights within Austria are particularly expensive and the time one saves by flying is minimal. Therefore, the majority of commuters that fly within the country do so only on business trips.
Driving in Austria
Generally, most expats living in Austria will be based in a city and therefore will have little or no need to own a car. However, for those wishing to explore the country and visit more isolated rural parts of Austria or certain popular skiing spots, having a car can be useful. Most expats will hire a car for a short period rather than making a long-term investment.
Driving in Austria is generally a pleasant experience as the country is small and roads are well maintained. Outside the cities, there is very little congestion and driving provides a great opportunity for expats to experience the wonderful scenery in Austria.
Parking in Austrian cities can be expensive and difficult to find. Fees vary from town to town, as do parking fines for drivers who park illegally. Parking fees can be paid at ticket offices. Many Austrian cities offer drivers a Park and Ride scheme, which is a cost-effective alternative that allows drivers to park their car at a secure parking lot outside the city and travel into the centre by bus.
Expats who plan on driving in Austria should note that on Austrian motorways (Autobahnen) they are liable to pay tolls. Drivers are required to purchase a vignette, or toll pass, in advance. Digital toll passes, which are linked with a car's license number, can be purchased online, while sticker toll passes can be purchased at any petrol station. Passes are available at increasing prices for 10 days, two months or one year. Driving on a motorway without a vignette will result in a hefty fine. Drivers opting to buy a sticker vignette should display it clearly on the front windscreen of their vehicle. The motorway police regularly check cars and if the vignette is not visible, or the number plate is not linked to a digital vignette, then the driver will be fined.
Driving in winter
Driving in Austria is fairly safe, but expat drivers should be especially careful when driving during winter. Ice on the roads leads to large numbers of accidents each year, so winter tyres are strongly recommended.