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Public transport (also public transportation, public transit, or mass transit) comprises passenger transportation services which are available for use by the general public, as opposed to modes for private use such as automobiles or vehicles for hire.

Public transport services are usually funded by fares charged to each passenger, with varying levels of subsidy from local or national tax revenue; fully-subsidised, zero-fare services operate in some towns and cities.

Public transport can consist of subways, trolleys and light rail, commuter trains, buses, van pool services, paratransit services for senior citizens and people with disabilities, ferries, water taxis, or monorails.

Public transport is provided by a company or authority that operates a fleet of vehicles. They may or may not be regulated or subsidized by authorities. The infrastructure used may be exclusive, or shared with private vehicles.

For historical and economic reasons, there are differences internationally regarding use and extension of public transport. While countries in Old World tend to have extensive and frequent systems serving their old and dense cities, most cities of the New World have more sprawl and much less comprehensive public transport.



A 2002 study by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute found that public transportation in the U.S uses approximately half the fuel required by cars, SUV's and light trucks. In addition, the study noted that "private vehicles emit about 95 percent more carbon monoxide, 92 percent more volatile organic compounds and about twice as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide than public vehicles for every passenger mile traveled".

A controversial 2004 study from Lancaster Universitymarker concluded that a family of four in a modern car traveling from London to Edinburgh would be more efficient than traveling in a diesel-powered UKmarker trains. The study showed that trains had failed to keep up with the advances that the automotive and aviation industries had made in improved fuel efficiency. A representitive from Modern Railways magazine said :Studies have shown that there is a strong inverse correlation between urban population density and energy consumption per capita, and that public transport could play a key role in increasing urban population densities, and thus reduce travel distances and fossil fuel consumption.


Public transport infrastructure is considerably more dense than that of private transport, allowing cities to be built more compactly than if they were dependent on automobile transport. If public transport planning is at the core of urban planning, it will also force cities to be built more compactly to create efficient feeds into the stations and stops of transport. This will at the same time allow the creation of centers around the hubs, serving passengers' need for their daily commercial needs and public services. This approach significantly reduces sprawl.


An important social role played by public transport is to ensure that all members of society are able to travel, not just those with a driving license and access to an automobile—which include groups such as the young, the old, the poor, those with medical conditions, and people banned from driving. Automobile dependency is a name given by policy makers to places where the those without access to a private vehicle do not have access to independent mobility.

Above that, public transportation opens to its users the possibility of meeting other people, as no concentration is diverted from interacting with fellow-travelers due to any steering activities. Adding to the above-said, public transport becomes a location of inter-social encounters across all boundaries of social, ethnic and other types of affiliation.


Public transport allows transport at an economy of scale not available through private transport. Through stimulating public transport it is possible to reduce the total transport cost for the public. Time costs can also be reduced as cars removed from the road through public transit options translate to less congestion and faster speeds for remaining motorists. Transit-oriented development can both improve the usefulness and efficiency of the public transit system as well as result in increased business for commercial developments.

Investment in public transport also stimulates the economy locally, with between $4 and $9 of economic activity resulting from every dollar spent.

Well-designed transit systems can have a positive effect 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 can be based on the concern about the impact on neighborhoods of this new economic development. Few localities have the ability to seize and reassign development rights to a private transit operator, as Hong Kong has done. Increased land desirability has resulted around stations in places such as Washington, D.C.marker.

Several websites have been founded, notably, that give directions through mass transit systems.

Conversely, the existence of a transit system can lower land values, either through perceived influence on a region's demographics and crime rate or simply through ambient noise the system creates.



A bus is a road vehicle capable of carrying numerous passengers. Buses operate with low capacity, and can operate on conventional roads, with relatively inexpensive bus stops to serve passengers. Therefore buses are commonly used in smaller cities and towns, in rural areas as well for shuttle services supplementing in large cities.

Coach are buses used for long distance services. They have higher standard, but a limited stopping pattern. Bus rapid transit is an ambiguous term used for buses operating on dedicated right-of-way, much like a light rail. Trolleybuses use overhead wires to get electric power for traction.


Passenger rail transport is the conveyance of passengers by means of wheeled vehicles specially designed to run along railways. Trains allow high capacity on short or long distance, but require track infrastructure and stations to be built. Urban rail transit consists of trams, light rail, rapid transit, people movers, commuter rail and funiculars.


Trams are railborne vehicles that run in city streets or dedicated tracks. They have higher capacity than buses, but must follow dedicated infrastructure with rails and wires either above or below the track, limiting their flexibility. Light rail is a modern development of the tram, with dedicated right-of-way not shared with other traffic, step-free access and increased speed.

Rapid transit

A rapid transit system is an electric passenger railway in an urban area with high capacity and frequency, and grade separation from other traffic. Rapid transit systems are typically either in tunnels or elevated above street level. Outside urban centres rapid transit lines sometimes run grade separated at ground level.

Service on rapid transit systems is provided on designated lines between stations using electric multiple units on rails, although some systems use magnetic levitation or monorails. Rapid transit is faster and has a higher capacity than trams or light rail, but is not as fast or as far-reaching as commuter rail. It is unchallenged in its ability to transport large amounts of people quickly over short distances with little land use. Variations of rapid transit include people movers, small-scale light metro and the commuter rail hybrid S-Bahn.

The first rapid transit system was the London Underground, which opened in 1863. The technology quickly spread to other cities in Europe and then to the United States, where a number of elevated systems were built. Since then the largest growth has been in Asia and with driverless systems. More than 160 cities have rapid transit systems, totalling more than of track and 7,000 stations. Twenty-five cities have systems under construction.

Personal Rapid transit

Personal rapid transit is an automated cab service that runs on rails or a guideway. A fully implemented system might provide most of the convenience of individual automobiles with the efficiency of public transit. The crucial innovation is that the automated vehicles carry just a few passengers, and turn off the guideway to pick up passengers, permitting other PRT vehicles to continue at full speed. Conventional transit simulations show that PRT might attract many auto users in problematic medium density urban areas. A number of experimental systems are in progress.

Commuter rail

Commuter rail is part of an urban area's public transport; it provides faster services to outer suburbs and neighboring towns and villages. Trains stop at all stations, that are located to serve a smaller suburban or town center. The stations often being combined with shuttle bus or park and ride systems at each station. Frequency may be up to several times per hour, and commuter rail systems may either be part of the national railway, or operated by local transit agencies.

Intercity rail

Intercity rail is long-haul passenger services that connect multiple urban areas. They have few stops, and aim at high average speeds, typically only making one of a few stops per city. These services may also be international.


High-speed rail is passenger trains operating significantly faster than conventional rail—typically defined as at least . The most predominant systems have been built in Europe and Japan, and offer long-distance rail journeys as quick as air travel.


A ferry is a boat or ship, used to carry (or ferry) passengers, and sometimes their vehicles, across a body of water. A foot-passenger ferry with many stops is sometimes called a water bus. Ferries form a part of the public transport systems of many waterside cities and islands, allowing direct transit between points at a capital cost much lower than bridges or tunnels, though at a lower speed. Ship connections of much larger distances (such as over long distances in water bodies like the Mediterranean Sea) may also be called ferry services.


An airline provides scheduled serves with aircraft between airports. Air travel has high up to very high speeds, but incurs large waiting times prior and after travel, and is therefore only feasible over longer distances or in areas where lack of ground infrastructure makes other modes of transport impossible. Bush airlines work more similar to bus stops; an aircraft waits for passengers and takes off when the aircraft is full.


Interchanges are locations where passengers can switch mode. Most interchanges are predominantly for passenger to change from being pedestrians to passengers (such as a bus stop), while each system will have a few hubs that allow passengers to change between vehicles. This may be between vehicles of the same mode (like a bus interchange), or it can be between local and intercity transport (such as at a central station).


Conveyances for public hire are as old as the first ferries, and the earliest public transport was water transport: on land people walked or rode an animal. This form of transport is part of Greek mythology — corpses in ancient Greece were buried with a coin underneath their tongue to pay the ferryman Charon to take them to Hades.

Some historical forms of public transport are the stagecoach, traveling a fixed route from inn to inn, and the horse-drawn boat carrying paying passengers, which was a feature of canals from their 17th-century origins.

The omnibus, the first organized public transit system within a city, appears to have originated in Nantesmarker, Francemarker, in 1826 and was introduced to Londonmarker in July 1829.



Urban transport is dominated by people making many short trips multiple times per day; this creates focus on headway and ease of use.


Intercity transport between cities is dominated by rail, coaches and airlines. Long journeys give air travel a large time advantage over all other modes of transport. On distances up to high-speed rail can compete time wise with airlines, while conventional rail and coaches only can offer time-competitive services on shorter distances. Comfort is a much more important part of long-haul than short-haul transport.

Using interconnected public transit lines to travel from city to city is called megaloping.


A travel class is a quality of accommodation on public transport. Higher travel classes are more comfortable and more expensive. Not all modes and operators offer class differentiation.


In the era when long distance trips took several days, sleeping accommodations were an essential part of transportation. Today, most airlines, inter-city trains and coaches offer reclining seats and many provide pillows and blankets for overnight travelers. Better sleeping arrangements are commonly offered for a premium fare 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 a hotel. The ability to get additional sleep on the way to work is attractive to many commuters using public transport.

Because night trains or coaches can be cheaper than motels, homeless persons often use these as overnight shelters, as with the famous Line 22 ("Hotel 22") in Silicon Valleymarker. Specifically, 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. For this and other reasons passengers are often required to exit the vehicle at the end of the line; they can board again in the same or another vehicle, after some waiting. Also, even a low fare often deters the poorest individuals, including homeless people.


Bus ride through Downtown Seattle (time-lapse)


All public transport must either operate after a predefined schedule, or operate at a sufficient frequency that travelers do not need to use a schedule to correspond with the services. Operators will publish timetables, often supplemented with maps and fare schemes to help travelers coordinate their travel. Public transport route planner online, sometimes combined with pre-sold tickets, help make planning task more user-friendly. To further aid travelers, operators often run at fixed times of the hour, so passengers only need to memorize the minutes past the hour the service leaves, and can apply that to any hour of the day.

Coordination between services at intersections is important to reduce the total travel time for passengers. This can be done by coordinating shuttle services with main routes, or by creating a fixed time (for instance twice per hour) when all bus and rail routes meet at a station and exchange passengers.


All public transport runs on infrastructure, either on roads, rail, airways or seaways; all consists of interchanges and way. The infrastructure can be shared with other modes of transport, freight and private transport, or it can be dedicated to public transport. The latter is especially true in cases where there are capacity problems for private transport. Investments in infrastructure are high, and make up a substantial part of the total costs in systems that are expanding. Once built, the infrastructure will further require operating and maintenance costs, adding to the total costs of public transport. Sometimes governments subsidize infrastructure by providing it free of charge, just like is common with roads for automobiles.


The main sources of financing are ticket revenue, government subsidies and advertisement. The percentage of revenue from passenger charges is known as the farebox recovery ratio. A limited amount of income may come from land development and rental income from stores and vendors, parking fees, and leasing tunnels and rights-of-way to carry fiber optic communication lines.

Fare and ticketing

A contactless ticket validator used in Oslo, Norway

Most—but not all—public transport required the purchase of a ticket to generate revenue for the operators. Tickets may either be bought in advance, at the time of the ride, or the carrier may allow both methods. Passengers may be issued with a paper ticket, metal or plastic token, or an electronic card. Tickets may be valid for a single (or return) trip, or valid within a certain area for a period of time. The fare is based on the travel class, either as a function of the traveled distance, or based on a zone pricing.

The tickets may have to be shown or checked automatically at the station platform or when boarding, or during the ride by a conductor. Operators may choose to control all riders, allowing sale of the ticket at the time of ride. Alternatively, a proof-of-payment system allows riders to enter the vehicles without showing the ticket, but riders may or may not be controlled by a ticket controller; if the rider fails to show proof of payment, the operator may fine the rider at the magnitude of the fare.

Multi-use tickets allow travel more than once. In addition to return tickets, this includes period cards allowing travel within a certain area (for instance month cards), or during a given number of days that can be chosen within a longer period of time (for instance eight days within a month). Passes aimed at tourists, allowing free or discounted entry at many tourist attractions, typically include zero-fare public transport within the city. Period tickets may be for a particular route (in both directions), or for a whole network. A free travel pass allowing free and unlimited travel within a system is sometimes granted to particular social sectors, for example students, elderly, children, employees (job ticket) and the physical or mentally disabled.

Zero-fare public transport services are funded in full by means other than collecting a fare from passengers, normally through heavy subsidy or commercial sponsorship by businesses. Several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their entire bus networks to zero-fare. Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than city-wide systems.


Both local and national government may opt to subsidize public transport, of social, environmental or economical reasons. Key motivations are the need to provide transport to people those who cannot afford or are physically or legally incapable of using an automobile, and to reduce congestion, land use and emissions of local air pollution and greenhouse gases. Other motives may be related to promote business and economic growth, or urban renewal in formerly deprived areas of the city. Some systems are owned and operated by a government agency; other transportation services may be commercial, but receive greater benefits from the government compared to a normal company.

Subsidies may take the form of direct payments to unprofitable services, but also indirect subsidies are used. This may include allowing use of state-owned infrastructure without payment or for less than cost-price (may apply for railways and roads), to stimulate public transport's economic competitiveness over private transport, that normally also has free infrastructure. Other subsidies include tax advantages (for instance aviation fuel is typically not taxed), bailouts if companies that are likely to collapse (often applied to airlines) and reduction of competition through licensing schemes (often applied to taxis and airlines). Private transport is normally subsidized indirectly through free roads and infrastructure.

Land development schemes may be initialized, where operators are given the rights to use lands near stations, depots, or tracks for property development. For instance, in Hong Kongmarker, MTR Corporation Limited and KCR Corporation generate profits from land development to cover the partial cost of construction, but not operation, of the urban rail systems.

Some government officials believe that use of taxpayer capital to fund mass transit will ultimately save taxpayer money in other ways, and therefore, state-funded mass transit is a benefit to the taxpayer. Since lack of mass transit results in more traffic, pollution, and road construction to accommodate more vehicles, all costly to taxpayers, providing mass transit will therefore alleviate these costs.

Safety and security

On particular transit systems or parts of particular transit systems, some avoid patronizing public transportation out of fear for personal safety. Despite the occasional highly publicized incident, the vast majority of modern public transport systems are well designed and patrolled and generally have low crime rates. Many systems are monitored by CCTV, mirrors, or patrol.

Nevertheless, some systems attract vagrants who use the stations or trains as sleeping shelters, though most operators have practices that discourage this.

Though public transit accidents attract far more publicity than car wrecks, public transport is much safer, due to far lower accident rates. Annually, public transit prevents 200,000 deaths, injuries, and accidents had equivalent trips been made by car. The National Safety Council estimates riding the bus as over 170 times safer than private car.


Food and drink

Longer distance public transport sometimes sell food and drink on board, and/or have a dedicated buffet car and/or dining car. However, some urban transport systems forbid the consumption of food, drink, or even chewing gum when riding on public transport. Sometimes only types of food are forbidden with more risk of making the vehicles dirty, e.g. ice creams and French fries, and sometimes potato chips.

Some systems prohibit carrying open food or beverage containers, even if the food or beverage is not being consumed during the ride.


In the United States, Canada, most of the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand, smoking is prohibited in all or some parts of most public transportation systems due to safety and health issues. Generally smoking is not allowed on buses and trains, while rules concerning stations and waiting platforms differ from system to system. The situation in other countries varies widely.


Many mass transit systems prohibit the use of audio devices, such as radios, CD players, and MP3 players unless used with an earphone through which only the user can hear the device.

Some mass transit systems have restricted the use of mobile phones. The Amtrak system has "quiet cars" where mobile phone usage is prohibited.

Some systems prohibit passengers from engaging in conversation with the operator. Others require that passengers who engage in any conversation must keep the noise level low enough that it not be audible to other passengers.

Some systems have regulations on the use of profanity. In the United Statesmarker, this has been challenged as a free speech issue.

Banned items

Certain items considered to be problematic are prohibited or regulated on many mass transit systems. These include firearms and other weapons (unless licensed to carry), explosives, flammable items, or hazardous chemicals and substances.

Many systems prohibit live animals, but allow those that are in carrying cases or other closed containers. Additionally, service animals for the blind or disabled are permitted.

Some systems prohibit items of a large size that may take up a lot of space, such as bicycles. But more systems in recent years have been permitting passengers to bring bikes.

Other regulations

Many systems have regulations against behavior deemed to be unruly or otherwise disturbing to other passengers. In such cases, it is usually at the discretion of the operator, police officers, or other transit employees to determine what behaviors fit this description.

Some systems have regulations against photography or videography of the system's vehicles, stations, or other property. Those seen holding a mobile phone in a manner consistent with photography are considered to be suspicious for breaking this rule.

See also



  1. Lyndsey Layton, "Study Lists Mass Transit Benefits", The Washington Post, July 17, 2002, Page B05
  2. Newman, 1999
  3. ;
  4. Ovenden, 2007: 7
  5. The London Omnibus
  6. Jane Lii, "Refuge On The Road: Homeless Find Nighttime Haven — The No. 22 Bus From Menlo Park To San Jose", San Jose Mercury News, 9 January 2000, 1A.
  7. Cathy Newman, "Silicon Valley: Inside the Dream Incubator", National Geographic 200, no. 6 (December 2001): 52-76.
  9. Achs, Nicole. "Roadblocks to public transit: for reasons ranging from prejudice to pragmatism, many suburbanites are fighting tooth and nail to keep mass transit out of their neighborhoods." American City & County 106, no. 1 (January 1991): 28-32.
  10. Needle et. al., 1997: 10–13


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