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Want People to Use Public Transit?  Make It Better
August 26, 2011
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A new study from Statistics Canada finds that Canadians generally find public transit "inconvenient," and that only 12% of us actually use it to get to work. Not only that - it takes, on average, 44 minutes to get to work by public transit versus an average of 24 minutes by car.

These results got us thinking: what would make people use public transit more often? Finding ways to make it more efficient (so that it doesn't take nearly twice as long to commute, for instance) would be a good start. But there are other factors to keep in mind, as well. Many other countries have exemplary transit systems, and Canada might be able to learn a thing or two from some of them.

We're no transit experts, obviously. But we decided to look at some common features of successful transit systems around the world to see if they offer a way forward for transit here.

So what makes the best transit systems in the world great?

They're Frequent

Moscow's Metro system is incredibly reliable and efficient, even though it's one of the busiest in the world (in 2009, it moved 2,392,200,000 passengers). What's the secret? Simple: there are lots and lots of trains. During rush hour periods, the usual interval between trains is 90 seconds.

They're "Smart"

From Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway to Britain's Underground to Seoul's Metropolitan Subway, transit systems around the world have become very good at automated ticketing using "smart" cards. The Octopus card in Seoul, for instance, allows all riders to pay their fares automatically. It makes riding easier, quicker and more convenient.

They Have Dedicated Lanes

Curitiba, Brazil had a transit problem back in the 1960s - they had grown into a city without clear plans. How did they fix it? By creating dedicated lanes for public buses. By 1974, the city had an entire system of bus lanes that got people exactly where they needed to go, fast. Now 85% of the population uses the service. It's been copied around the world. Why not here?

They're Integrated

In Munich, Germany, transit riders can use the U-Bahn (a subway system), S-Bahn (an inner-city tram network), and buses to get where they're going. By efficiently coordinating below-ground and above-ground services, the city offers commuters a seamless ride from A to B, which might convince some drivers to switch to transit.

They're Comprehensive

Tokyo's subway is the most extensive rapid transit system in a single metropolitan area. The city's commuter-rail networks make 10.6 billion trips per year. And in addition to a massive network of underground trains, the city has a huge system of buses, allowing people to get where they need to go easily. A comprehensive system that actually reaches everywhere that people live? That's a recipe for transit success.

If you've got any ideas to improve transit, or get more people using it, we'd love to hear 'em.

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