October 27, 2003

Which country has the best transport system in the world?

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

A chap called Martin Brien sent me an e-mail today:

I am currently an Undergraduate Reading Transport Studies at the Bolton Institute. I am currently investigating which country has the best and which country has worst transport systems. Current reading varies in the authors’ opinions. I am very impressed with your Website and would be interested in your views?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "best". Best for the traveller or the taxpayer? Lots of visitors extol the virtues of French and German railways, trams and buses without ever having to face the tax bills. But you can't in all fairness look at the one without looking at the other. There is also the question of whether transport is such an unqualified "good thing". Economists talk about the Opportunity Cost of something. In other words, if you do X you can't do Y. I am glad that Staying Put is an option that we occasionally discuss here. High density living is, I suppose, another (because that way you can walk everywhere).

So, what is my answer? Britain? I think not. I do tend to rule out France and Germany precisely because their systems cost a fortune. I think I'd have to rule out Japan for similar reasons, even if I do think the world of her railways. America? I know we terribly sophisticated Europeans tend to be very sniffy about America's obsession with 40-lane highways but (at least in my experience) you can get around the place.

Personally, I wouldn't pick a "where" but a "when". When I read about London and Britain's transport system of 80 to 100 years ago I'm dumbstruck. At the time there was a white heat in transport technology. Trams, buses, cars, taxis, tubes, 100mph trains, electrification. And it was well-managed. And it was profitable. And (for the most part) it was easy on the taxpayer.

Yup, that would be my pick.

Trackbacks

The Worst Transit in the World?
Patrick Crozier had an interesting post on Transport Blog several weeks ago looking at what country has the best transit system. While the jury is still out on that topic, Olso, Norway, has Europe's worst transit, according to an customer...
Live from the Third Rail on November 12, 2003

Comments

You are so right about London it WAS great in its heyday and it is a complete shambles right NOW.

We have the highest subway fares in the world and yet the system remains woefully underfunded with the government and tube bosses, spending more time arguing about who should fund this rather than actually doing anything about it.

We've had two derailments in 48 hours last weekend and the knock on effect of delays is enormous and badly effects the lifestyle of Londoners and businesses in one of Europe's fastest growing cities.

Many people say that the tube in London is in the state it is in because it WASN'T badly bombed or destroyed in the second world war, so we are still in the main living with a 140 year old system that was not built to accomodate the three million passengers that travel on the tube every day.

I'd love anyone to continue to the long debate which is running on my blog

http://www.haloscan.com/comments.php?user=themole&comment=106688991272390315&doctitle

Many thanks

Annie

Posted by Annie Mole on October 28, 2003

Well, I might vote for "Hong Kong ten years for now". They are in what might be described as the "London 1890" stage, in that they are building the system rather than maintaining and extending the system, but what they have is great, if everything that is planned is built it will be very extensive, and they are financing it the right way (ie with private money raised through real estate development.

Of course, that is only really one city, rather than a whole country. Tokyo has splendid transport too.

Posted by Michael Jennings on October 28, 2003

I spent a wee while touring Holland last year and I thought the transport system was superb. The locals I should add generally thought it needed improvement though but then they haven't had to put up with the shambles we have in the UK.

Everyone thinks bicycles are so popular in Holland because it is so flat but I believe that is only a small part of the reason. Much of the cycling in Holland, rather than constituting an entire journey, is only to the nearest train station. One of my favourite pictures taken just outside Amsterdam Centraal shows this rather well...

On the trams there are ticket machines so there isn't the big queue for the driver that you get with buses meaning that boarding is via several doors and very quick. The buses and trains all seem much roomier than they are here too as well as cheaper. I can't compare trams because I've never used one in Britain but the Dutch ones seem very good.

Despite that fact that it seems everyone smokes in Holland, no one seems to smoke on the buses or the trams. There are smoking sections on some trains. Generally services are much cleaner than I have found in Edinburgh with hardly any vandalism.

One of the key features, which I believe should be introduced in Britain, is traffic segregation. For the cyclists this is obviously much safer as the cycle routes are generally kept well clear of the roads but there also many separate routes for trams and cars. This is much fairer than having 20 cars carrying 20 people holding up one bus with 100 people on board like we do in th UK. There's no need for congestion charging, gliding past endless queues of cars in a tram is incentive enough for most to leave their cars at home.

The various modes of public transport are truly integrated! At every train station there is a tram station and a bus station for the next leg of your journey making point-to-point public transport as close to a reality as possible. I've even heard rumours of a scheme that enables passengers to pay a small premium on their fare to get a taxi to their house paid for. One of the best things I saw was in Utrecht where they have combined a shopping mall with the train station. Could anything make more sense? It really removes people need for a car.

I dare say people in the know will be able to shoot holes in my enthusiasm for the Dutch transport system but my experience of it was excellent and it would always be an incentive for me to stay there. I don't know how much it costs but I do know that it was cheap at the point of use and that the overall Dutch tax burden is less than that of the UK.

Posted by Gordon on October 28, 2003

Public transport in Holland IS good!
I go there regularly with work, and always find trains buses etc connect well, and are frequent enough to mean I don't have to use timetables.
Bear in mind Holland is EUs most densly populated country - they NEED efficient public transport or they're stuffed.
Add to this their massive building projects - new or upgraded passenger and freight train routes, plus new/extended light rail systems)
Despite all this, people do drive a lot - the roads around Schipol for example are always congeated even with 4-5 lanes.
Bikes and the bike lanes are good too.
Holland gets my vote!

Posted by David on October 30, 2003

America is great when it comes to going between cities (by road, air, or, in the dense Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington corridor, rail), but most urban areas and their associated suburban agglomerations are hopelessly congested as a result of overdevelopment, sprawl, and vastly underfunded public transit. As far as good public transit, though, I'll nominate Israel. The population is fairly concentrated, the highway network is constantly being upgraded and busses, both intercity and intracity are frequent, cheap, and well-used. Even the train system, long the step-child of Israeli transportation, has just gotten a beautiful new set of rolling stock for the Tel Aviv-Haifa corridor, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train line is due to reopen soon, Jerusalem is actively building light rail, and Tel Aviv's light rail is about to break ground. Having an extensive transit system is, of course, of prime importance to the military which relies on the bus system to bring thousands of soldiers between weekend leave and their bases, sometimes in remote areas, and to allow reservists and other office soldiers to commute to their bases. Excluding Eilat, 250mi south of Jerusalem on the Red Sea, it's possible to get from nearly anywhere in the country to nearly anywhere else in the country in 3 hours' time, and rarely for anything more than, say 20-25USD.

Posted by Matthew :) on November 1, 2003

If we talk about good public transportation we have to name Mexico. I was there last Winter and they have a really good and cheap bus system in the country. All the buses are new (some of them are even better that the airlplane) and they have all the high tech includes. Also in the cities you can reach almost any point by bus. The mexico city's subway is also very good, unfortunaly very crowded, but is very large and you can also reach almost any point in the city at a very low price.

Posted by Giovanni C. on January 12, 2004

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