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Public transportation

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Public transportation

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    This article is a travel topic

Public transportation (or simply public transport) includes bus, rail, taxicab, ferries, and other services whose purpose is to move people between two places, mostly within a city or region. In most urban areas, a public transportation system of some type exists. It is usually open to all without any prior reservation, all for the payment of a modest fare.

Vehicle types[edit]


Buses are the most common form of public transport

The most common type of vehicle used for public transport is the bus. Nearly all cities that have other types of vehicles operating part of their public transportation systems also have buses. Buses come in a variety of sizes and styles and vary in seating capacity.

All buses have a human driver whose duty it is to drive the bus. On some buses, the driver also collects fares, while on others, there is another person who performs that task, and on some buses, fares are placed in a box.

Buses typically have routes that are identified by a number or letter. A sign, which could be fixed or electronic, often states the route number and final destination of the bus.

Fixed-route bus lines will operate along a predetermined route, and will stop at designated stops along that route, typically marked by bus stop signs on the street. Some bus stops will have benches and/or shelters; others will not. 

In some places, flexible bus routes exist that may deviate from their route in order to provide door to door transportation. When this is the case, the deviation may need to be arranged through the transit company in advance.

Heavy rail[edit]

Subway U3 Berlin Heidelberger Platz.jpg

Many large urban areas have heavy rail systems. Often referred to as "subway," "metro," or similar, these trains operate on a closed off track that could be above, below, or at grade level, varying depending on the part of the route. 

Heavy rail stations generally have large stations, where riders can purchase tickets from machines, then proceed through gates to a platform, where trains arrive. In dense urban areas, the stations are usually located underground, and the corridors leading to them can sometimes have shops and other functions. Sometimes, special pathways connect to important buildings, enabling riders to go straight from the building to the station without taking foot outside.

In most systems, where multiple lines meet in one station, it is possible to transfer between the two lines without exiting the gate. Signs with arrows will point to where to go to get to the boarding platform of the other train. This may entail walking up or down a flight of steps, riding an elevator or escalator, or walking through a tunnel. In some stations, the boarding platforms for trains on the same line heading in opposite directions may not be directly accessible to one another.

Heavy rail is usually powered by a "third rail." This rail lies on the track together with the two rails the train runs on. Touching the third rail means instant death, so never go onto the tracks for any reason!!!

Light rail[edit]

Light rail is also a common form of public transport. Light rail trains typically operate at grade level, and on some parts of their route may share the street with vehicle traffic, very much like trolleys or streetcars. Some light rail trains tunnel underground for part of their route, very much like heavy rail. Light rail trains are powered by overhead lines.


Trolleys or streetcars are vehicles that operate along rails built into the street with overhead electrical lines. Trolleys are an old form of public transport that have been dismantled in many places. But some cities have retained or rebuilt their trolleys and streetcars for nostalgic purposes.

Trolleys and streetcars can be boarded in the same way as buses at fixed stops along the street. They essentially perform the same function as buses.

In some places, the trolleys move slower than buses at a more relaxed pace.


Ferries are maritime vehicles used to transport people and sometimes automobiles across bodies of water. Ferries vary in size and distance covered. Some municipal ferries operate frequently along a route, taking just minutes to transverse a body of water. Others can be hours long and operate between two different cities.

Cable cars[edit]

A cable car

In some places, particularly mountainous regions where roads are absent, cable cars are used to transport people over a distance.


Some mountains have inclines that carry passengers up and down the mountain. Inclines are very much like elevators, except that they are not completely vertical.


Most public transportation require payment of a fare in order to ride. On buses, the fare is typically paid upon boarding. Rail services generally have machines at stations from which tickets or tokens can be purchased, and these are placed in a slot, after which the passenger passes through a turnstile. Some rail services use a proof-of-payment system in which the ticket is displayed to a conductor or fare enforcement officer who either is present on all trains, or may check random trains.

On some systems, there is a flat fare, regardless of the distance traveled. Others use a zone system, where the fare varies, depending on the number of zones in which one travels.

When it comes to a multi-vehicle trip, some systems offer transfers that allow riders to change vehicles, which may be for a fee or no charge. Some systems sell all day passes that allow for unlimited travel within a region.

Multi-trip tickets exist in most places too, allowing people to use the service often to save money. Some systems sell packets where a fixed number of trips can be purchased at a fixed but reduced average price. These usually can be shared between more than one person. Other systems offer passes in which unlimited rides can be obtained for the period of time for which it is purchased, which could be a day, a certain number of days, a week, a month, or more rarely, a year. These cannot be shared between multiple people, and to do so is fraudulent. In some cases, multi-trip tickets and passes may come at a savings even for tourists who are visiting a city or town.

Accidental non-payment[edit]

On some transportation systems, it is difficult to board without paying a fare. Other services use an honor system that physically does not prevent people from boarding without paying. But there could still be consequences for riding without payment. And police officers whose job it is to enforce payment of fare may not be so merciful to those who simply do not know.

The proof of payment system is common on many light rail and regional rail services. Riders are required to buy a ticket from a machine, which they are required to show to an officer on demand. Riders may or may not be checked; often checks are done at random. But being caught without proof of payment may result in a heavy fine or even arrest and criminal prosecution.

Route maps and schedules[edit]

Most bus lines follow a fixed route along a single street or road or a series thereof. Generally, a map is published of this route, showing riders that route.

Bus and rail lines also have schedules of when trips run. The schedule is generally published in a timetable which usually reads in chart form.

Routes and schedules are usually published in printed brochures available in the area served by the line (and sometimes on buses) and/or on the internet.

The schedule of a bus or rail route may vary by time of day or day of the week.

Hours and frequency[edit]

Each service has operating hours, which in most cases, are not around the clock. Some lines may be limited to certain days of the week or peak hours.

Frequency refers to the intervals between scheduled runs. The frequency of a bus or rail service may vary by time of day or day of the week.

Getting on the correct bus/train[edit]

When you are using public transportation, it is not uncommon for buses to share common stops or sections of routes, or train lines to share common track. When this occurs, it is necessary to read the destination sign of the bus or train to make sure you are getting on the line you plan to. If you are uncertain, ask the driver.

Getting on the wrong bus or train can be a costly mistake that can waste a lot of time and get you seriously lost.

Multi-branch routes[edit]

Some bus and rail services have routes with two or more branches. On such routes, all trips have a common origin on one end, and two or more destinations on the other. On such routes, the part that is shared by all trips could have a heavy demand for service, and the parts that only some trips operate on have a lower demand.

When traveling on a route with multiple branches, be sure to read the destination sign to make sure the bus or train goes where you are. Catching the wrong bus may result in you being brought far from your destination, and getting to where you want to go would then require you to catch a bus on the wrong branch in the opposite direction, followed by catching a bus with the correct destination at the split point, all with the lower frequency of service.

Short turns[edit]

Some bus routes have some trips that make short turns. A short turn is a trip on a scheduled bus route that does not travel the full length of the route, but lays over at an earlier location. On some routes, as many as half of the trips or sometimes even more can have short turns. On others, the short turns may be occasional. Regardless, if you are traveling on a route with a short turn on some of its trips, read the destination sign carefully. If you board a bus or train that is not going as far as you are, you may be forced to get off and wait for another bus, and in some cases, pay another fare.

Overlapping routes[edit]

Sometimes, pairs of routes have substantial overlapping sections. Two or more bus or rail routes may have different origins or destinations at both ends, but have a common section in the middle that overlaps, thereby enabling riders who are traveling strictly within this zone to have a choice of routes. In some systems, schedules are planned carefully so buses traveling in this section have evenly spaced schedules, thereby enabling a doubled frequency of service.

Express/limited services[edit]

Some bus and rail routes function as "express" or "limited stop," meaning that they will bypass at least some of the stops along their route. Such a route may stop where you plan to board, but will bypass the place where you plan to alight, and may even travel a substantial distance before you are allowed off the bus. Before boarding such a bus, be sure it stops near your destination.

Stay safe[edit]

Most rides of public transport vehicles are without incident, and use of these services is generally safe in all places. But there are plenty of dangers that do exist on all forms of public transportation, and anyone planning on using it, especially in an unfamiliar place, should be aware of these issues:


Theft does occur quite a lot in different forms on public transportation. Pickpocketing is quite common where opportunity exists. Belongings that are left unattended, even for a split second while on turns one's head away, can be grabbed by an opportunistic thief. Some personal items, especially valuable ones like purses, mobile phones and laptops, are taken by physical force. And armed robberies do occur, especially in more isolated areas.

It is important to secure your belongings at all times, and make it so it would take a lot of force to remove them against your will. Do not flash cash; keep the bulk of you cash hidden in a less obvious place, and a wad of many pieces of low-value currency in a more reasonable place to carry it, so a mugger who demands it believes they are really getting all your money. Consider keeping your real mobile phone in a more hidden location and a "dummy phone" (an old or non-working phone) in clearer view, so you can give that to a mugger if need be.

Bus stops[edit]

Bus stops are generally out in the open. They are in all parts of town, and they are not secured or patrolled by police full time. Bus stops can be a source of danger, especially in areas known for their trouble.

To evaluate the safety of a bus stop, observe its surroundings. Who is hanging around? Are there any open businesses within a quick jump? Be aware of any dark alleys near the bus stop; they could be the perfect hideout for a would-be mugger or worse. Try if you can to use more popular bus stops where large numbers of people are.


There is proper etiquette that should be followed on all public transportation services:

  • Most public transport vehicles have seats reserved for the elderly or disabled. If no elderly or disabled people are present, you are welcome to sit in them. But the moment you see one, you should vacate that seat, at least temporarily, so the person in need can have it without having to ask. Even if your seat is not a reserved one, you should be willing to sacrifice it to an elderly or disabled person.
  • Public transport can be a great place to meet people and socialize with those you already know. If you ride the same service regularly, there are some people who you may see a lot and be able to get to know. There is nothing wrong with conversation. But it should be kept at a respectable volume. Avoid using profanity or talking about other subjects that are offensive. The same is the case if you talk on a mobile phone during your ride.
  • The operator of the vehicle is doing a sensitive job in which one error could be very dangerous. Therefore, it is important that he not be distracted.
  • When you are about to get on a public transport vehicle, others may be trying to depart through the same door. Give them the right of way and let them exit first.


Many public transportation services are operated by national and local governments. Along with providing and subsidizing this service, the agencies also enforce laws that all users must follow. The laws vary from place to place, but typical laws include:

  • The requirement to pay the fare in full
  • A prohibition against eating or drinking
  • A prohibition against smoking
  • A prohibition against littering
  • A prohibition against using a device that produces sound in a manner in which the sound can be heard by others
  • The requirement to give up seats designated to the elderly or disabled to such people
  • Regulations on profanity or other offensive speech
  • A prohibition against carrying weapons and other dangerous objects on board
  • Restrictions on carrying live animals on board
  • Restrictions on carrying objects of a larger size on board. Some items that may be prohibited or restricted due to size include suitcases, bicycles, large packages, grocery carts, instruments, and more.
  • A prohibition against placing personal belongings on a seat other than the one you are occupying, even when it is vacant and demand for seats is low
  • A prohibition against loitering on a transit vehicle or in a transit station, or riding a vehicle through multiple runs, even with an unlimited travel pass
  • A prohibition against photography of transit vehicles or stations