Public transport

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

(Redirected from Mass transit)
Jump to: navigation, search
Skytrain Bangkok.
Skytrain Bangkok.

Public transport (Commonwealth English) comprises all transport systems in which the passengers do not travel in their own vehicles. It is also called public transportation, public transit or mass transit (US English). While it is generally taken to include rail and bus services, wider definitions would include scheduled airline services, ferries, taxicab services etc. - any system that transports members of the general public. A further restriction that is sometimes applied is that it should take place in shared vehicles, which would exclude taxis insofar as they are not shared.

Public transport is the primary form of motor transport on Earth. Whilst in the Western World private cars dominate, in poor countries (which represent the majority of human population) most people can not afford a private car (or in dense urban areas the cost for parking), so walking, (motor)cycling or public transport are often the only options, with only the latter being viable for larger distances (which by their nature represent the majority of transportation). This usually takes the form of mini-buses (jitneys) that may follow fixed routes but are usually flexible, including the option of taxi-style door-to-door transportation.

Public transport can be faster than other modes of travel where a separate infrastructure is used and thus much higher speeds are possible than are permitted on roads. Prime examples are in cities where road congestion can be avoided (metro), and for long distance travel (trains). On roads this is also possible if the public transportation has its own separate lanes. However, in reality the lanes are often shared, in which case public transport on roads is usually slower due to the (frequent) stops and changeovers. Additionally, pubic transport system may be poorly developed and thus may take up to two or even three times longer than an equivalent trip in a private vehicle.

Increased road traffic congestion and improved transit systems are reducing or eliminating this disparity in many areas, and public transport use rises sharply with population density. Ultimately, if all transport were public (in the sense of shared), more people per vehicle would mean fewer vehicles on the roads, thus reducing and probably even eliminating traffic jams. Additionally, it would be easier to centrally coordinate the flow of traffic with phased traffic lights, eliminating the usually frequent stops at traffic lights and the absense of parked cars would even create space for extra lanes. Thus, public transportation is potentially much faster than private transportation.

The term rapid transit refers to fast public transport in and around cities, such as metro systems (metropolitan rail). The distinction between (national) rail, metro and tram is sometimes blurred, such as in Amsterdam and the wider Randstad area, where trains often run once every 10 minutes, thus taking on the role of a metro, the metro is only partly underground and the so-called light rail is basically a tram that runs on metro lines.



Early trolley car in Newton, Massachusetts.
Early trolley car in Newton, Massachusetts.

Conveyances for public hire are as old as the first manned ferries, and the earliest public transport was water transport, for on land people walked or rode an animal. This form of transport is part of Greek mythology - corpses in ancient Greece were always buried with a coin underneath their tongue to pay the ferryman Charon to take them to Hades.

Some historic forms of public transport are the stagecoach, travelling an appointed route from inn to inn, and the horse-drawn boat carrying paying passengers, which was a feature of canal systems from their 17th-century origins.

The omnibus, the first organized public transit system within a city, appears to have been originated in Nantes, France, in 1826.

Modern forms of public transport

Bush taxi
Bush taxi
London Underground Jubilee line
London Underground Jubilee line

Public transportation comes in many forms:

Cairo metro
Cairo metro
Singapore light rail
Singapore light rail




Mekong River ferry, Laos.


Sloped or vertical

Some of these types are often not for use by the general public, e.g. elevators in offices and apartment buildings, buses for personnel or school children, etc.

Emerging transportation technologies

Intermodal transport

In recent years, an increasing emphasis has been placed on intermodal transport facilities. These are intended to help passengers move from one mode (or form) of transportation to another. An intermodal station may service air, rail, and highway transportation for example.

See main article: Intermodal passenger transport

Nodes and stops

Gare Du Nord, Paris.
Gare Du Nord, Paris.

Stations are an important aspect of any public transportation system. Specific types include:

In addition one can alight from and usually board a taxi at any road where stopping is allowed. Some fixed route buses allow getting on and off at suitable unmarked locations along that route, typically called a hail-and-ride section.

Ticket systems

See also fare, Category:Fare collection systems

Octopus fare card used in Hong Kong.
Octopus fare card used in Hong Kong.
New York City subway token, now obsolete.
New York City subway token, now obsolete.

Different arrangements for fare collection are in use. Depending on the type, fares:

  • must be bought in advance, one cannot physically enter the railway platform, vehicle, etc. without, due to a turnstile, fare gate or human guard (usually found in metro)
  • must be bought in advance as a voucher for a user-determined amount of money, which is encoded on a ticket or smartcard by electronic, magnetic, or optical means. A fare is deducted automatically each time the ticket is used — either just upon system entry, or at both entry and exit where the fare is variable by distance. The latter is often found in newer public transport installations.
  • must be bought in advance, one is checked by a conductor or Revenue Protection Inspector etc., upon entry (usually found on buses in North America and Western Europe, and on commuter rail systems)
  • must be bought in advance, one is checked randomly by a ticket controller (proof-of-payment system, usually found in Europe and occasionally the United States)
  • can be bought both in advance or during the ride, with the fare sometimes being higher in the latter case, see also Conductor; in this case purchase in advance is often possible at major stations, but usually not at a typical tram or bus stop

Riders may be issued a paper ticket, metal or plastic token, or an electronic card.

Multi-use tickets

Special tickets (other than for a single ride at the regular price) include:

  • passes for unlimited travel within a period of time
  • passes for unlimited travel during a given number of days that can be chosen within a longer period of time (e.g. 8 days within a month)
  • multi-ride tickets
  • discount tickets valid for someone with a discount pass, etc.
  • season tickets

Electronic fare card

Electronic fare cards are designed to be read by a computer input device and include:

Free systems

Sometimes public transport is free for riders, and thus no tickets are needed:

  • Commerce, California - free bus services
  • Hasselt, Belgium - free bus services
  • Gent - free night bus services (weekends only)
  • Renesse (mun. Schouwen-Duiveland), Netherlands - free bus services in the area (in summer only)
  • Dordrecht - bus and ferry, some saturdays at the end of each year
  • Noordwijk/Oegstgeest - Leiden Transferium - The Hague, express bus, running on weekdays during daytime, free of charge as a test during 2004; it is intended for commuters working in The Hague and living in Leiden or beyond who would otherwise travel by car to the Hague, to promote parking the car at the Transferium and continuing the journey by bus; the aim is to reduce road traffic congestion between Leiden and The Hague. The test is paid by the province of South Holland. It will not be continued in 2005.
  • Washington, D.C. - Congressional Subway - small free metro system
  • some ferries, such as the Staten Island Ferry, the Woolwich Ferry and the IJ ferries in Amsterdam, which are used as an alternative to bridges, which would have been very high in the port. These are for free, just like a bridge would have been.
  • short-distance 'public transport' such as elevator, escalator, moving sidewalk (horizontal and inclined); these are often part of a larger public transport system or business (e.g. shop) of which the products and services are not free.
  • Community bicycle programs, providing free bicycle for short-term public use.
  • Portland, Oregon (the "Fareless Square") and Seattle, Washington (the "Ride Free Area") offer free public transit within their downtowns.
  • Melbourne in Australia offers free tram services around their city center, connecting to other tram lines, train stations, buses and significant landmarks.
  • Brisbane, Australia offers free bus trips around a set city route on certain "City Tour" buses.


Funding for public transport systems is generally some combination of government subsidy and fare collections, though a few systems are run as unsubsidized commercial enterprises or are entirely paid for by governments. The percentage of revenue from passenger charges is known as the fare-box recovery ratio. Transit systems earn incidental revenue from advertising, parking fees, leasing space to shops and vendors, and lately, leasing their tunnels and rights-of-way to carry fiber optic communication lines.

Some systems are owned and operated by a government agency; other transportation services may be commercial, but receive greater benefits from the government compared to a normal company, e.g.,

  • direct payments to run unprofitable services.
  • government bailouts if the company is likely to collapse (often applied to airlines).
  • tax advantages, e.g., aviation fuel is typically not taxed.
  • reduction of competition through licensing schemes (often applied to taxi and airline services.)
  • allowing use of state-owned infrastructure without payment or for less than cost-price (may apply for railways).

One reason many cities spend large sums on their public transport systems is that heavy automobile traffic congests city streets and causes air pollution. It is believed that well maintained, high volume public transport systems alleviate this. Many complex factors affect the outcome of spending in public transport, so success in reducing car traffic is not always assured.

Another reason for subsidies for public transit are the provision of mobility to those who cannot afford or are physically incapable of using an automobile and those who reject its use on convenience, environmental or safety grounds.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong MTR Corporation Limited and KCR Corporation are given the rights to utilise lands near stations, depots or tracks for property development. Profits from land development cover the partial cost of construction, but not operation, of the urban rail systems. Similar arrangements are available to the ferry piers of franchised ferry service providers. Franchised bus operators are exempted from paying tax on diesel.

United Kingdom

See: Passenger Transport Executive

United States

In the United States, operations of most public transit services are financially subsidized by local and state governments, who provide small amounts of matching funds to receive 80% capital grant aid from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. This agency administers programs which provide funding and support services to state and local agencies which operate a wide range of public transportation services.

These include local urban and suburban bus and paratransit services, light rail, heritage streetcar systems, cable car, subway, rapid transit, and commuter rail services.

Special rural transportation programs of the FTA and some state governments provide assistance for bus and paratransit services in some areas.

Currently, Arlington, Texas is the largest city in the United States without public transportation.

Transit Planning or Public Transport Planning

The professional discipline responsible for developing public transport systems. It is a hybrid discipline involving aspects of transportation engineering and traditional planning. Indeed many transit planners find themselves involved in discourse with urban landuse issues such as TOD (Transit Oriented Development) and the like.

Areas of Responsibility

Transit planners are typically responsible for developing routes and networks of routes for urban transit systems. These may follow one or more models depending on the character of the communities they serve. For example, in traditional urban areas a system may attract enough ridership to support high frequencies of service. At these high frequencies services can operate at demand service levels where the specific frequency of service in each corridor can be independent and where transfers can reasonably occur at random. In less-densely developed areas service may operate somewhat infrequently. To optimize the quality of trips for customers, some systems compensate by operating a timed transfer system. In this model routes are designed to bring buses (or trains or ferries) together at a central location at predetermined times. Customers then transfer between the vehicles which leave a few minutes later. In systems committed to this system, routes are designed taking into account the route travel time.

Economic impact

Development generated since 1985, when Alewife station opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Development generated since 1985, when Alewife station opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Many cities find that new public transportation systems have substantial economic benefits, attracting development and increasing real estate values. Well planned, fixed guideway systems, such as rail, seem to have more impact, apparently because they imply a long term commitment to providing transportation to specific locations. Transit oriented development attempts to maximize the economic and environmental benefits of public transit investments by encouraging greater development density within walking distance of stations.

Translating economic impact into a steady source of revenue for public transport construction and operation has been a dream for most urban planners. Few localities have the ability to assign development rights to a private transit operator, as Hong Kong has done, though their success illustrates the potential of this idea.

Others argue that public transit is a failed initiative because of its high expense and ineffectiveness. They claim per-mile construction and maintenance cost of constructing a subway or light rail line often equals or excedes that of a urban freeway, yet do not divert the same number of automobiles (though supporters of public transport dispute this for urban areas). Furthermore, public transit projects often does not include long term operating costs, which are usually not covered by fares. At times, transit unions have staged strikes, threatening to hold the city population hostage until their demands are met. However, automobile congestion continues to grow [1] and since 1995, U.S. public transportation ridership has risen 21 percent – more than the same period's increase in roadway vehicle miles or airline passenger miles. [2] Several U.S. states that were considerd bastions of highway-only thinking, such as Colorado and Utah had approved major public transportation investments by 2005.

Social issues

Critics of public transportation systems often claim they attract "undesirable elements" and tell of violent criminals preying on passengers and homeless people sleeping on trains and relieving themselves in public areas[3]. On a few occasions, passengers have reacted by taking the law into their own hands (as in the notorious 1984 case of the "subway vigilante," Bernhard Goetz).

Despite the occasional highly publicized incident, the vast majority of modern public transport systems are well-patrolled and generally have low crime rates. Most transit operators have developed methods to discourage people from using their facilities for overnight shelter. Well designed transit systems are used by many social classes and new systems have a major positive impact on real estate prices. The Hong Kong metro MTR generates a profit by redeveloping land around its stations. Much public opposition to new transit construction protests the impact on neighborhoods of the new economic development public transportation attracts.

By contrast, car accidents cause an estimated 1 million fatalities per year world wide. In the United States alone there were 42,643 automobile accident fatalities in 2003, almost three times the total number of murders (14,408). Over 9 in 10 commuters in North America travel to work by car

Food or drink on public transport

No Food Or Drink On Metro, Washington, D.C.
No Food Or Drink On Metro, Washington, D.C.

Some transport systems forbid food or drink when riding on public transport. Sometimes only types of food are forbidden with more risk of making the vehicles dirty, e.g. icecreams and French fries.

Rules tend to be more strict in metros, trams, and buses than in non-metro trains (also in other regards, see sitting). In fact, the latter sometimes sell food and drink on board, or even have a dedicated buffet car and/or dining car. Also consuming brought-along food and drinks is allowed, except in these special carriages.

Sleeping in public transport

Bus shelter with seats designed to deter proximity and sleeping.
Bus shelter with seats designed to deter proximity and sleeping.

In the era when long distance trips took several days, sleeping accommodations were an essential part of transportation. Today, most airlines and long distance trains offer reclining seats and many provide pillows and blankets for overnight travelers. Better sleeping arrangements are commonly offered for a premium fare (e.g. first class, business class, etc.) and include sleeping cars on overnight trains, larger private cabins on ships and airplane seats that convert into beds. Budget conscious tourists sometimes plan their trips using overnight train or bus trips in lieu of paying for an hotel.

The ability to get additional sleep on the way to work is attractive to many commuters using public transportation. Some regional rail operators provide "quiet cars" where loud conversation and cell phone use are banned.

Occasionally, a local transit route with a long overnight segment and which accepts inexpensive multi-use passes will acquire a reputation as a "moving hotel" for people with limited funds. Most transportation agencies actively discourage this and even a low fare often deters the poorest individuals, including homeless people.

One example of this is the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) bus route 22 [4], dubbed 'Hotel 22', between Palo Alto, California and San Jose, California, (Silicon Valley), in the United States. A pass for 24 hours costs 4 U.S. dollars and one for a month, 45 dollars, much less than a hotel, house or apartment.

Another example is the Interurban rail services operated by CityRail out of Sydney, Australia. Fairly comfortable trains operate between Sydney and Lithgow or Newcastle during the night, trips of approximately 2½ hours. Age, Disability and Sole Parent pensioner excursion fares are $3.30 and $2.20 (Australian Dollars) for an all day ticket.

See also night bus, freighthopping.


^  Achs, Nicole. "Roadblocks to public transit: for reasons ranging from prejudice to pragmatism, many suburbanites are fighting tooth and nail to keep mass transit out of their neighborhoods." American City & County 106, no. 1 (January 1991): 28-32.

See also

Advocacy organizations

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Personal tools