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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


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. 

Heavy rail

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.

Light rail

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.


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

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.

Route maps and schedules

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

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.