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What Are the Different Ways to Travel by Public Transportation?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are many ways to travel by public transportation, including buses, trains, and subways. Government-owned and operated airlines, streetcars or trams, and elevated trains are additional mass transit options. Public transport over water typically involves ferries, while more uncommon programs include bicycle sharing. Travel by public transportation is available to the general public and is typically funded by fares but may also be subsidized by tax revenues or be free.

Urban and densely populated areas typically offer the widest variety of travel by public transportation. Cities generally offer buses and subways or other form of light rail. Buses and subways often run on fixed schedules and routes that passengers have to familiarize themselves with prior to travel.

Buses are one of the most common ways to travel by public transportation. Passengers embark and disembark at designated stops or shelters throughout the service area. These vehicles can vary in size but usually offer seats as well as a wide aisle for standing. When passengers wish to disembark, they must alert the driver in some way, usually by ringing a bell or pulling a chord above the seats. Bus service can be available within and between cities or between smaller locales in rural areas.

Subways or metros, elevated trains, and light rail are also common in and between urban areas. While subways operate below ground in tunnels, light rail and elevated trains are above ground. Unlike buses, this type of public transportation typically does not have to negotiate traffic and can move passengers more quickly to their destinations. Such transport operates at a high capacity and can be automated, like the Vancouver SkyTrain.

Some countries own and operate their own airlines as a form of public transportation. Airline travel has the advantage of covering distances rapidly. State-owned airlines may offer cheaper fares than their commercial counterparts because they are subsidized by tax revenues. Bush airplanes may be available where road systems are underdeveloped and generally do not take off until full. Areas surrounded by or near water may operate ferries or seabuses to move passengers between islands or across rivers or bays.

In some parts of Europe and the United States, travel by public transport includes the option of renting a bike. Passengers can purchase a pass or membership online or at a rental station, select a bike from the station, and ride it to their destination. Bikes can usually be rented for one day and can be returned to any station in the service area. A similar service that allows passengers to rent community cars by the hour has been implemented in some cities like Madison, Wisconsin, in the United States.

Most forms of public transportation are funded by fares passengers pay per trip and are subsidized by tax revenues. Many forms of mass transit offer passes at discounted rates for those who commute to work or school or otherwise travel by public transportation frequently. Employers and educational institutions may offer passes for free to their employees and students. Some places may also give free or discounted passes to tourists.

Passengers who travel by public transportation should familiarize themselves with applicable regulations. Smoking, eating, and drinking may be prohibited or confined to designated areas. It may also be prohibited to speak loudly on a cellphone, sleep, or listen to music through headphones at a high volume. Such regulations are in place as a courtesy to all passengers and to keep the transport clean.

Travel by public transportation serves many purposes. Some passengers may not be able to afford or want to own their own vehicle and rely on public transport instead. Public transport can also help alleviate traffic congestion or provide transportation options to residents in rural areas, ensuring that all are able to travel. Additionally, choosing public transport over private vehicles can result in a reduction of a person’s carbon footprint by decreasing gas emissions. The reasons for travel by public transport are as varied as the methods.

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Discussion Comments

By pleonasm — On Nov 14, 2013

@MrsPramm - I always find it quite scary at first, particularly with subways because my home town doesn't have anything like that.

Whenever possible I try to walk when I'm in a new place, but of course with bigger cities that isn't always a good idea.

By MrsPramm — On Nov 14, 2013

I love cities with decent public transportation because they make me feel much more independent when I visit them. Renting or buying a car when you've flown overseas for a visit isn't cheap and it can be really frustrating as well. I always just go to the online public transportation trip planner ahead of time and make sure that I understand how the system works, then I'll get a weekly pass and use it as much as I can.

I've traveled through most of Eastern Europe and many big cities in the United States this way and hardly ever had a bad experience.

By KoiwiGal — On Nov 13, 2013

I read this awesome article the other day about some cities who are trying to enforce public transportation as much as possible in order to improve the community of the city. They do things like ban cars for certain days of the week, and provide a lot more space and funding for bicycles and other forms of transport, like public transit systems.

There's all kinds of obvious benefits, like reducing pollution and road deaths, but the more striking thing is that people become more community minded when they are forced to spend more time in the open. Kids play outside and people meet their neighbors and everyone reports a greater quality of life.

I actually think that one of the major problems of modern society is the lack of community. Public transport might not seem like an obvious solution, but I think it could be good for us in that regard.

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