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It’s Time to Learn to Love Mass Transit

Who likes public transport anyway? Buses never arrive on time, travel time is rather unpredictable, and during rush hours you most likely have to go standing at an uncomfortably close, almost intimate distance from someone you see for the first time in your life.

But often cities leave us no other choice. For example, long distances and traffic jams may force people to switch to public transit to spend, let’s say, an hour instead of two commuting to work. Or there can be a parking problem, and in this case riding a private car is also not really feasible. And so we, sadly looking at the car keys, leave them at home and go to the bus stop to relive an unpleasant ritual of interaction with the city’s public transportation system.

But the experts keep saying public transport is a good and extremely necessary thing for the city, its economy, ecology and society. Statistics look convincing: for example, in the US public transit reduces carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually; every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $32 million in increased business sales, etc. Not to mention how much urban space can be released once the number of private cars on the roads is reduced – and this space can be used for small parks and other pedestrian amenities.


So what should cities do to make public transport attractive for residents? First of all, make it efficient in terms of its main function – carrying a large number of passengers from point A to point B. There are several criteria for assessing the effectiveness of public transport:

  • Frequency and predictability. Waiting is everyone’s least favorite part of a trip. To reduce the level of discomfort from interaction with public transport, residents need to know for sure that the next bus will arrive within an adequate amount of time, including nighttime and weekends.

  • Network. A more extensive network allows meeting the needs of a larger number of residents, and though this criterion has an inverse relationship with the specific level of ridership, this should not stop the city authorities from increasing the number of routes.

Nevertheless, this is not always enough. World practice shows that the most successful cities in terms of the popularization of public transport are those which not just provide effective transit services, but also adhere to the client-centric approach.

It’s not just about the right marketing, the right network design, attractive vehicles, courteous drivers, etc. It is rather about understanding the needs of passengers and finding a way to meet them. For example, wi-fi on subway trains and buses significantly improves ride comfort. Or bus stops, fitted with displays showing real-time information, creating shade during summer, and heated during winter may predetermine the choice between taking a bus or taxi.

Another important aspect here is to improve the user experience for public transport passengers. Different cities address this issue by applying the concept of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), which in practice means the use of a single application for planning the optimal route for the trip using different modes of transportation, and also, payment, ticketing, and validation.

Many cities have already begun to rethink the idea of public transport, placing the needs of residents on a high priority. Helsinki, Paris, Eindhoven, Vienna, Hanover, Los Angeles, Singapore, Barcelona, and many other have all piloted local versions of MaaS system that span the spectrum to combined mobility services that include private-sector players.

It’s pretty obvious that it’s difficult for public transport to compete with private cars comfort wise. But in a sense, it only increases the creativity and quality of the solutions implemented by the cities that significantly improve the daily life of their residents. Hopefully, in the near future we’ll stop looking at our car keys so sadly.

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