Best and worst cities for public transport

Efficient, effective and extensive. The best public transport systems in the world embody the three cardinal ‘E’s. Happily, for the most part, ‘expensive’ is not one of them

Here are NMTBP’s best:


As befits a cosmopolitan city of Montréal’s stature, a well-run public transport system fills in the gaps for those wise enough to eschew both a car and life in the suburbs. The Métro de Montréal serves over 1.1 million passengers a day, on average, good enough for tops in Canada. Factor in manifold bus lines, the Bixi cycle-share programme and commuter rail service and only New York City exceeds Montréal’s public transport mix in North America in scope and per capita ridership


Melbourne’s status as the most liveable city in Australia rests, in no small part, on the shoulders of a public transport scheme that includes the most prolific tram network in the world, a metro railway network, hundreds of bus lines, inter-city railway services and a popular bike-hire system. Life in the urbane capital of Victoria is lovely without a car


The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is a behemoth and duly services over 8 million passengers a day in the manic capital of Korea. For a metropolis with close to 24 million people, the system’s hyper-efficiency, immaculate state and logistical facility will blow your mind. Cheap, zippy and oh so simple to use, the subway covers some 18 lines, 328 stations and 930 km.


Yes, really! We may hate it, but visitors marvel at its coverage. The oldest underground on the planet was also the first to retrofit the entire network with Wi-Fi coverage. Ah, the power of the Olympics. While the 2012 Summer Games did hasten the odd upgrade to London’s Tube, the foremost urban zone in the European Union makes car-free travel a carefree affair


A photogenic bastion of Art Nouveau, the Métropolitain of Paris has few rivals. Only Moscow’s metropoliten, on average, welcomes more passengers on the continent. The compact capital of France was not made for cars and, indeed, less than 10% of trips in Paris use a motor vehicle. Despite the fact that 4.5 million plus take the metro every day, the system is a model of accuracy. The city’s bike-hire scheme was a pioneer

New York City

The Big Apple is a city of icons: Central Park, Wall Street, the new One World Trade Center. The New York City Subway is another. Only six transit systems on the planet eclipse the average ridership of the network (Beijing, Guangzhou, Moscow, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo). The stats alone boggle the brain: 5.3 million weekday rides, 468 stations, 1,355 km of track and 24/7/365 service

The New York City Subway is far from alone, however. A passenger ferry service is a wonderful, unsung hero in Gotham’s public transport mix and a transit bus system operates 4,300 vehicles on 219 lines over the five boroughs


Many think of canals and bicycles when it comes to the capital of the Netherlands (ok, cannabis coffee shops too) but the Amsterdam tramway network is definitely as emblematic. The system, a city staple for over 135 years, covers Amsterdam at large and the likes of Haarlem and Zandvoort. Other than a pair of comfortable trainers or a whizz-bang Dutch-made bicycle, a tram is the best way to comb the city by far. A car in Amsterdam? Never!

And the worst……

No not abysmal infrastructure. It would be unfair to pick on the likes of Kabul or Karachi, Kinshasa or Kathmandu

Instead, we’re pointing a finger at the under performers. Cities which, under the circumstances, should be doing better. So while we agree that Cairo’s congestion is no picnic and that traffic-choked São Paulo is far from logistical nirvana, these 7 cities fail expectations miserably:


You’d think that a city that hosted the Summer Olympics relatively recently (1996) would have beefed up and modernised its metropolitan infrastructure. London and Athens certainly did (let’s not get into Sydney’s transport woes, shall we?). But Atlanta’s priorities, it seems, have been elsewhere. Facilitating cars, mainly. A 2011 study by the prestigious Brookings Institute on transit accessibility in large urban areas placed Atlanta close to dead last in the United States. It certainly doesn’t help matters that right-wing-leaning, staunchly conservative states like Georgia seem positively allergic to sustainable public transport initiatives. Talking green, apparently, is just bad politics in the South. But, as we shall see, Atlanta is hardly alone in America


Is Auckland’s public transport system as despicable as, say, Mumbai’s or Bogotá’s? Of course not. Again, this is about expectations. New Zealand’s showcase city should be a model and, sadly, it isn’t anything close to that in the realm of forward-looking public transport. Embarrassingly, Auckland recently took last out of 14 cities in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States for the average number of public transport trips taken annually by residents. Fares are high, service isn’t up to snuff and car-use is overwhelmingly preferred. Ironic for a city that supposedly loves to sail


See Atlanta. Houston is yet another big, hulking metropolis below the Mason–Dixon Line that prides itself on three-car-garages, trucks and horsepower. Of course, this isn’t all that stunning considering what made Houston the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. Two words: oil money. Less flatteringly, the city was recently named “fattest” in America – again – by a prominent fitness mag. Could there possibly be a connection?


It can’t be easy digging up subway tunnels when you have to negotiate archaeological digs at every turn. Someone at UNESCO might have a fit. Still, no excuse Rome – not when London, Paris, Madrid and Berlin pull it off so well. It’s not that getting around Rome is a complete quagmire. But for a city to be truly world-class it needs a world-class public transport system. The Eternal City’s is lacklustre at best


While we concede that equipping a metro region of 28 million people with a state-of-the-art transport network probably takes decades, Jakarta, mentality-wise, often feels mired in the Stone Age. With China outfitting cities with rapid rail networks at an Usain Bolt-clip, residents must look longingly at a Shanghai, even a Bangkok, and wonder, why not us? As usual, it boils down to politics and, tragically, gross mismanagement of the public purse. It’s never good when clips of your city’s traffic jams become social network sensations


South Africa looks good in comparison to much of Sub-Saharan Africa but, on the whole, has enormous infrastructure challenges yet to be met. Vuvuzelas, the brilliance of Uruguay’s Diego Forlán and Spain’s dominant run may be the most enduring memories of the 2010 World Cup but the host nation was chided mercilessly by FIFA in the run-up to the tournament for its logistical – how shall we put this – unfriendliness. Notably, the home of the Soccer City complex earns the most dubious grades. Johannesburg is South Africa’s urban showpiece but until it corrects sprawl and upgrades a less-than-stellar transport system, it will continue to slip on the global stage

Los Angeles

Sprawl, of course, is a perpetual buzzword in Southland a.k.a. the Greater Los Angeles Area. Home to 18 million people, it ranks second in the U.S. behind the New York metropolitan area’s 22 million people. In stark contrast, however, Gotham operates a relatively zippy public transit system. So why is L.A. so stubbornly synonymous with traffic jams (the city is the worst in the country for road congestion by a mile)? Part of the problem is this: Greater Los Angeles stretches over 87,940.5 km2; metro New York, on the other hand, covers a paltry 30,670 km2

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October 18, 2012

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