Public transport

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A taxi serving as a bus

Public transport comprises all transport systems in which the passengers do not travel in their own vehicles. It is also called public transit or mass transit. While it is generally taken to mean rail and bus services, wider definitions would include scheduled airline services, ferries, taxicab services etc. — any system that transports members of the general public.

The term rapid transit refers to fast public transport in and around cities, such as metro systems.

Public transport can be faster than other modes of travel; prime examples are in cities where road congestion can be avoided, and for long distance travel where much higher speeds are possible than are permitted on roads. However, in the United States public transport trips can take up to two to three times longer than an equivalent trip by automobile. Increased road traffic congestion and improved transit systems are reducing or eliminating this disparity in many areas.



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.

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.

Since 1876, the Sundbt ("Harbor Boat") of Norwegian coastal city Kristiansund N has been carrying passengers between the four islands that the city is built on. Still running, the Sundbt is the world's oldest regular public transport service in continuous operation.

Modern forms of public transport

Public transportation comes in many forms:

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.

Intermodal transport

One of the challenges of intermodal transport is changing between modes. Despite proximity, transfers can be difficult. Such irony is illustrated by this bus stop inside the grounds of London (Heathrow) Airport, England. The aircraft is a South African Airways Boeing 747
One of the challenges of intermodal transport is changing between modes. Despite proximity, transfers can be difficult. Such irony is illustrated by this bus stop inside the grounds of London (Heathrow) Airport, England. The aircraft is a South African Airways Boeing 747

In the United States, 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. In the United States, such facilities exist at South Bend, Indiana; Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, DC; San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California; and O'Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois.

At the Hong Kong International Airport, ferry services to various piers in the Pearl River Delta is provided. Passengers from Guangdong can use these piers to take a flight at the Airport, without passing through customs and immigration control, effectively like having a transit from one flight to another. The Airport is well-connected with expressways and an Airport Express train service. A seaport and logistics facilities will be added in the near future.

Nodes and stops

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.

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

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

  • must be bought in advance, one can not physically enter the railway platform, vehicle, etc. without, due to a turnstile or guard (usually found in metro)
  • must be bought in advance as a voucher for a user-determined amount of money, which is encoded on the ticket by electronic, magnetic, or optical means. A fare is deducted automatically each time the ticket is used upon system entry, or both entry and exit where the fare is variable by distance (newer installations)
  • must be bought in advance, one is checked by a conductor, 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; Honor System (usually found in Eastern Europe and the United States)
  • can be bought on entering the vehicle or during the ride
  • sometimes can be bought both in advance or during the ride, with the fare 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

Special tickets include:

Sometimes public transport is free, and thus no tickets are needed, such as in Hasselt in Belgium.


Funding for public transport systems differ widely, from systems which are run as unsubsidised commercial enterprises to systems that are free of charge:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Yellow bicycle programs, providing free bicycle for short-term public use

Other transportation services may be commercial, but receive benefits from the government compared to a normal company, e.g.,

  • direct payments to run unprofitable services.
  • government bailouts it 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 environmental or safety grounds.

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.

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 covers the partial cost of construction, but not operation, of the urban rail systems. Similar arrangments are available to the ferry piers of franchised ferry service providers. Franchised bus operators are exempted from paying tax on diesel.

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 reliving themselves in public areas. While there are occasional highly publicized incidents, 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).

Sleeping in public transport

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 [1] (, 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 2 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.

See also

External links

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