As quoted, ‘Developed country is not where the poor people have cars but where the rich people use public transport. Public transport provides a true alternative to private cars- a major reason for socio-economic disparity and a significant contributor to environmental degradation in cities. Well-designed public transport systems are fast, comfortable, affordable, and most importantly, accessible. Public transit systems are beneficial in ensuring cities serve as hubs of employment and socio-economic growth. Public modes of transportation comprise buses, light rail, and metro, which serve as means to connect business with labour and households with offices or places of leisure.

As transportation is the largest source of global climate emissions concerning the environment, public transportation enables congestion levels to be better distributed across different transport modes. It thus reduces the emission in the cities, which can be significant in the case of the use of private vehicles.

Features of high-quality service for urban public transport as per UNECE:

  • Good Accessibility: – A sound mass transit system needs to connect the location where citizens live with where they go to work, study, shop or for recreation or medical care. Moreover, these connections need to be adequate in terms of mode choice, capacity, and intermodality.
  • Comfort & Aesthetic: – Urban public transport requires to be clean, temperature-controlled, and technically sound. The station infrastructure shall remain weather-protected and noise-proof.
  • Safe: – Availability of real-time information in the vehicles and stations adds to its safety. Public transport is considered safe if separated from cars and two-wheeler traffic to prevent injuries and fatalities.
  • Affordability: – The ticket fare should not exceed the level of affordability as too high prices can shift the demand for mobility from public transport to other modes.

Spatial Planning and Public Transport

As an urban planning measure, the distribution of space is critical and varies for different modes of transportation. It is determined by street carrying capacity, i.e., the number of passengers a system can handle per one lane. For instance, the carrying capacity of a 3.5 metre road for buses and bicycles is the same as 4000 consumers per hour, which is four times higher than that of motor vehicles. Rail transport has the highest carrying capacity of all; it can handle 12,000 consumers per hour and up to 50,000 consumers per hour without intersection. Thus, public transport is highly desirable in cities to utilise total carrying capacity.

The trend across European Cities 

The performance of transport in a city shapes the performance of its urban environment. Public transport is central to ensuring the city’s accessibility to all and promoting healthy living. Illustrated below are the utilisation of different transport types for major European cities. Soft Mode represents walking and cycling which is predominant in European cities. It is observed that journeys taken by car are still high and public transport system utilisation shows a comparable amount of uptake.

Graph Source: – EMTA 2017 : Model Share of European Cities in 2017

Graph Source: – EMTA 2019 : Model Share of European Cities in 2019

In the early 20th century, most public transports were provided privately, however, during the world war, governments in many countries centralised public transportation. The fundamental reason for the operation to be privatised or be public is reliant on the interest of citizens.

In England, 51% of bus journeys take place in London and during 1985-2017 London saw a bus growth of around 94%. This rise is majorly linked to policies introduced by Transport for London during that time and other government arrangements in the wake of the new century. In 1996, British underground railways were privatised and 25 regional lines were tendered to 10 different private companies. This movement led to the end of the public monopoly in railways in Britain.


A Way Forward

A greater share of public transport is currently seen as necessary in addressing the important environmental objectives of improving urban air quality and controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Improving the degree of coordination of different public transport agencies, particularly across the modes, is a key to increasing its attractiveness and patronage level. Also, shifting from single-occupancy private cars to high-capacity transport corridors would result in reduced emissions.

The environment within which public transport operates has evolved in recent decades and continues to grow. Since cities have different sizes, microclimates, urbanisation structures, and weather extremes, there is a no one-size-fits-all approach. Thus, the transport planning and delivery system must enable coherence, efficiency, and competitiveness required to address their local circumstances for a sustainable transport system.


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