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Public transport

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.



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 Sundbåt ("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 Sundbåt is the world's oldest regular public transport service in continuous operation.

Modern forms of public transport

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, freight trains, 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

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).

  • must be bought in advance, one can not physically enter the railway platform 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 can not physically enter the vehicle etc. without, due to a turnstile or guard (usually found in metro)
  • 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 the ticket can be bought both in advance and during the ride, then the fare may be higher in the latter case, see also Conductor (transportation); in this case buying in advance is often possible at the point of departure, but usually not at a tram or bus stop

Special tickets 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.
  • Token
  • Magnetic strip card
  • Smartcard
  • Season ticket
  • SMS tickets

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.
  • free bicycle services have been run in some places.

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

Class conflict

Public transport facilities are sometimes used by homeless people. Because such persons are usually mentally ill and lack regular access to showers or a clean change of clothes, they often exude a strong odor which many public transport users find annoying.

Such persons often use bus shelters and train stations as temporary homes. They may relieve themselves in such public facilities or even aboard a public transport vehicle.

Public transport as a sleeping place

Public transport and its terminal buildings are sometimes used by homeless people and budget tourists as a sleeping place. This can vary from the tourist who travels on purpose at night in order to sleep while travelling and dispense with the cost of a hotel, to people for whom the 'sleeping accommodation' is the purpose, and the displacement of the vehicle a somewhat inconvenient irrelevance.

For the latter a key requirement is that travelling through the night costs less than a nearby hotel. This may especially be the case with a rail or bus pass.

Where the homeless can sleep

One example 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 dollars and one for a month 45 dollars, much less than a hotel, house or apartment. The line is quite popular with homeless people.

Where tourists or commuters can sleep

An example of this is the Interurban rail services operated by CityRail out of Sydney, Australia. Fairly comfortable trains operate as moving accommodation 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.

Wealthier commuters from the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and South Coast also commute to well paying jobs in Sydney on CityRail Interurban rail services, and are often known for sleeping on services during the morning peak to compensate for the early rise. It is customary not to speak on such services, to give evil stares to people who (knowingly or otherwise) use their voice above the slightest whisper without moving into the vestibule, and to give even filthier looks to any train guard who dares to use the public address system when disembarking from such services.


Sometimes having public transport (especially rail transport) nearby one's home is considered a dis advantage because providing easy access also facilitates violent crime by the poorest of the poor (those who cannot afford to rent, borrow or buy private vehicles and lack the intelligence to steal one without getting caught).

For example, a few residents of Orinda, California have been assaulted or murdered at random in their own homes by transients who rode Bay Area Rapid Transit trains to the Orinda station and then walked around until they spotted a suitable house to attack. Such crimes simply do not occur in other wealthy San Francisco Bay Area towns like Danville or Los Altos Hills which have no train service and are extremely difficult to access by bus.

Also public transport users are often more susceptible to crime committed by one another — that is, a person who commutes by public transport is more likely to be mugged or pickpocketed just because he will be in close physical contact with the bodies of many more persons, as opposed to driving to work.

Many transit agencies use police and cameras onboard vehicles and in terminals to prevent such occurrences. Also, many public transport users do not have to worry about car theft, people breaking into their car, or carjacking, where the car is taken from the occupants by force.

See also

External links

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