Public transportation has many advantages: it helps reduce traffic congestion, cuts pollution, and offers greater mobility to people without access to cars (or who choose not to drive). But not all public transit is created equal. Read on to learn about some of the most innovative and exciting forms of public transportation around the globe.
5 ways to experience the world’s most amazing public transportation
Nearly 190 cities around the world have metro systems (defined by The Economist as “any high-frequency, high-capacity urban system separated from other traffic”). Some are above ground, some are below ground, and many are a combination of both. London’s metro system is the oldest, dating from 1863. Seoul’s system is the longest, with 584 total miles of track, and Tokyo’s is the most active, carrying 3.3 billion riders a year. The metro in Pyongyang, North Korea, is likely the deepest at over 100 meters below ground. But which system is the coolest?
That honor might go to Hong Kong, where mass transit is used for 90 percent of all travel. The Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway has a specially designed artificial intelligence system that manages over 10,000 engineers per week doing maintenance work. It boasts a 99.9 percent on-time rate. And riders can pay via an advanced card called Octopus, which can also be used at parking meters, fast-food restaurants, and grocery stores.
In Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, residents get a commute with a view. The Metrocable, an efficient network of cable cars, links the downtown to low-income neighborhoods in the foothills. Before the cable cars were installed, getting to the town center required a treacherous bus ride or a long, difficult walk, limiting access to jobs, shopping, and healthcare. The Metrocable has not only made getting into the city much easier and more pleasant — it’s helped to revitalize the hillside neighborhoods as well.
If you’re all about the destination, not the journey, you’ll love riding on Japan’s famous “bullet trains” (shinkansen), which reach top speeds of 177 mph. Not fast enough for you? You’ll be pleased to know that Japan has an even faster train in the works — the maglev. Short for “magnetic levitation,” this train floats a few inches above the tracks and is propelled by electrified coils rather than an engine. This past April, the maglev set a new speed record of 374 mph during a test. Central Japan Railway is aiming to begin commercial service between Tokyo and Nagoya by 2027.
There’s plenty of sun Down Under, which may be one reason why the city of Adelaide, Australia, was the first to introduce a completely solar-powered transit system. These Tindo buses (Tindo is Aboriginal for “sun”) don’t feature solar panels on the vehicles themselves — the buses get their energy from an array of panels located atop the city’s central bus station. Each bus is Wi-Fi equipped and can go more than 125 miles between charges. Oh, and the service is free.
Will computers one day drive our buses, trains, and planes? With driverless cars already making appearances on city streets, it seems likely, though widespread use is still a ways off. In the meantime, the next best thing is a PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system. PRTs feature small transit modules that run on a network of tracks or guideways. What makes them “personal” is not only the small size of the vehicles, but also the on-demand, automated system that allows passengers to travel to their selected destination without having to stop at intermediate stations.
One of the most influential of these systems is the PRT at West Virginia University, which moves around 15,000 passengers a day between downtown Morgantown and 3 separate WVU campuses. Though technically it could fall under the category of Group Rapid Transit, since the cars hold up to 20 people, it was nonetheless groundbreaking — when it opened in 1975, it was the first fully computerized mass-transit system in the world and is still the only operational PRT system in the U.S.
In recent years, 3 other PRT systems have opened around the world. A 10-vehicle, 5-stop system launched in 2010 in Masdar City, a sustainable development in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. London’s Heathrow Airport then debuted its 21-vehicle, 3-station system in 2011. And South Korea’s Skycube, a 40-vehicle system that services the Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, opened in 2014.
But, as cool as these systems are, they’re fairly small and limited. Will we ever get a system that truly solves the traffic congestion problem? Maybe so. A new, solar-powered PRT system known as JPods is being considered for Secaucus, New Jersey, a suburb of Manhattan that sees a lot of commuter traffic. The pods, which hang from an overhead track like a ski lift, are able to communicate with each other through a multi-computer network, eliminating empty cars and allowing the system to operate on demand.
What’s your favorite way to commute? There are strong arguments for walking, biking, and mass transit, but over 80 percent of Americans still commute by car. If you’re one of those, make sure your auto insurance is top notch.