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Best and Worst Public Transport Systems Globally

The merits of public transportation systems is something that has been far from our thoughts in recent times. Unless you’re an essential worker, the quality of the transit in our cities has become less significant to our everyday lives, however we will return to normality in the not-so-distant future and can begin to enjoy city life, attending live events, meeting up with friends and welcoming tourists to our shores again.

What makes a good public transportation system?

There are lots of different ways for public transport to be ranked but when you look at the characteristics of those that always appear in the top 10, there are a number of key things they have in common which the public place varying degrees of importance on.

  • Frequency

Frequency is one of the most important factors in a good transit system. In cities with a climate like Toronto, it’s understandable why users wouldn’t want to be hanging around for a bus or train. Increasing the frequency of transit options is a simple way to improve customer satisfaction and attract more passengers.

  • Speed

There’s little point in having frequent transit options if cities are too congested to get the public where they’re going quickly. In most cities, journeys via public transport still take longer than a car journey, however most are willing to pay that price as a trade for lesser costs, less stress and reduced environmental impact. Nevertheless, cities that can reduce the time of a commute will win out. Many have already introduced dedicated bus lanes and deterrents to car drivers entering the city at peak times, such as the congestion charge in London, UK.

  • Cost

According to the Metro magazine, the average American spends around $800 on transit passes whilst driving to work costs around $2,200 annually. Cost of transit usage as a proportion of income varies markedly across global cities due to differences in gas prices, commute distances and how much from the taxpayers’ pocket is allocated to public transport methods. There doesn’t seem to be a clear correlation between the best or worst transit systems and affordability.

  • Comfort and safety

This has already been pushed up the agenda for many transport execs who will be thinking about how they get passengers back on public transport safely and maintain profitability. Whilst reducing the capacity of buses, planes and trains will make it more comfortable, there will be an obvious challenge in managing and policing it under stricter hygiene and safety protocols.

  • Multi-modal choices

Having a range of transport options on offer is the best way to meet the needs of riders and encourage more people to ditch the car. Historically, the challenge has been integrating public and private transport options in a seamless way for the consumer so that they only need to plan one journey on one app and not lots of smaller ones using multiple platforms; the advent of new technologies is starting to change this for the better.

Which countries and cities boast the best and worst transit systems?

If you’ve travelled around the world at all, you’ll probably have noticed that cities that are part of the ‘old world’ in Europe and Asia, tend to have much more efficient and superior transit systems than those in North America for example. This could be due to the fact that North-American cities are more sprawling and it’s expensive and difficult therefore to invest in new infrastructure. Or perhaps It's because municipal authorities are mainly responsible for running transport networks in North America, and arguably, they’re not as motivated to drive volume and profit.

So as of October, 2020, according to ‘Far and Wide’, the top 10 cities with the best public transportation were;

  1. Singapore

  2. London

  3. Hong Kong

  4. Paris

  5. Madrid

  6. Chicago

  7. Tokyo

  8. Dubai

  9. Shanghai

  10. Zurich

Singapore’s public transit system boasts the highest passenger satisfaction rate in the world at 86%, embracing cutting edge technologies to improve customer experiences.

The worst 10 cities for public transit in the global public transit index 2019 were;

  1. Istanbul

  2. Sydney

  3. Dublin

  4. Warsaw

  5. Sao Paulo

  6. Mexico City

  7. Riyadh

  8. Bangkok

  9. Mumbai

  10. Johannesburg

Improving for the future

We will probably see a subdued period for public transit usage as the public regains confidence in mingling safely with others, after which some normality will resume and perhaps other issues around sustainability will get some attention once again.

So long as it continues to be cheaper to use public transport, improving on all the other factors will only make it more appealing to those seeking to benefit from cost-savings and achieve a home-work balance.

Public and private transit companies will need to work more closely in bringing together their offerings to make their services faster, more reliable and enjoyable to use if they are to appeal to people in the higher-income brackets who would still typically drive to work given the option.

Cities lagging behind when it comes to transit will have new technologies such as 5G coming of age, providing scope for real-time traffic management and autonomous cars without the need for prohibitory investment in widespread infrastructure.

How do transport networks affect commercial real estate

Essentially, property values within walking distance of a transit point appreciate faster and have higher sales and rental values than others without the benefit of public transport in the vicinity. The land value uplift is a direct consequence of the time that can be saved travelling which manifests in increased property value.

Additionally there’s the knock-on effect of investments to transport infrastructure, which has a halo effect on the surrounding area in terms of increased development, investor interest and concentration of retail plazas around a new transit node. Properties close to transit also tend to be more resilient to economic downturns, something that may become more significant as we realize the extent of damage the pandemic has had on the economy.

It’s thought that Amazon’s decision around where to locate their new HQ2 headquarters was based predominantly on the availability of mass transit at the site, along with the requirement for an international airport no more than 45 minutes away. This meant that even if cities had the correct profile with regards to qualified employees and growing populations, they missed out on a 25,000 job boost to their local economy due to lack of an efficient transportation system; something that cities like Detroit and Phoenix found out to their disappointment.

There are many jobs that will be required to return to a base and employees that are keen to do so but more and more companies are realizing that it’s unrealistic to have thousands of people driving to work and needing a place to park. For larger corporations, locations near to public transit will be a crucial part of their decision-making process.


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