Public Transit Systems, Ranked
It goes without saying that it’s much easier to enjoy a city when you can easily get around it. That's why the best tourism cities boast superb public transit systems — publicly subsidized networks of trains, subways, buses and boats that can quickly and cheaply get you where you want to go.
According to John Fairfield, professor of history and urban development at Xavier University, public transit systems have other benefits, too, including a reduced energy footprint and improved safety, since cars are a far more dangerous way to get around. And the best systems have charm and character to boot.
So, which metropolises offer the best public transit systems in the world? It’s a somewhat relative question since some people value affordability over efficiency or sustainability over ease. But experts agree that the following city systems are among the finest you’ll ever have the pleasure of using.
Spoiler alert: If you want great public transportation, Asia and Europe are the places to go!
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25. Santiago, Chile
Professor Fairfield, notes that Latin American cities are too often overlooked, but deserve kudos. Among these, the system in Santiago stands out.
The capital of Chile got off to a shaky start when it launched its bus and metro network, stymied by communication and implementation issues. But since then, things have improved significantly, and there are plans for further enhancements in the coming years.
Santiago's Public Transit System
Santiago's Metropolitan Mobility Network allows users to easily and affordably transfer from buses to the metro using the same smart card. If the transfer is within a certain amount of time, no additional charge is applied.
Though buses certainly provide access to more places, they are not always reliable or convenient. Because of this, most people prefer to ride the metro, which is fast, dependable and easy to navigate — though it's often overcrowded.
Where to stay: Abba Presidente Suites Santiago
24. Taipei, Taiwan
While often overshadowed by its neighbors, Taipei's public transport system also deserves praise. The Taiwanese capital is often lauded as an incredible place to live, partly because of the ease of getting around with the MRT.
Metro lines are differentiated by color and number and are elevated for the most part. Stations also include English signage to accommodate international travelers and immigrants.
Taipei's Public Transit System
About 35 percent of Taipei residents rely on the MRT for transport. As in other Asian cities, the system tends to be punctual and reliable, thanks to an organized system and advanced technology.
While it only has six metro lines, this is more than enough to service the relatively small city. It connects to the airport as well as other main points of interest.
Where to stay: Shangri-La Far Eastern Taipei
23. Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Amsterdam rapid transit system, the GVB, consists of metro lines, buses, trams, trains and — of course — ferries. Given the city's famous channels, it's important to have an option for getting through water.
Still, the system is somewhat limited, with only four metro lines. Given its relatively small size and the 15 tram lines and 43 bus lines that complement it, however, most people find it adequate for their needs. Night buses supplement the interrupted tram service after midnight.
Amsterdam's Public Transit System
Amsterdam locals often opt for monthly passes that let them get around without worrying about getting tickets. This and the cleanliness of the stations contribute to relatively high satisfaction with the system.
The GVB is also convenient for travelers, allowing for a single-use card that includes transfers within a one-hour period. Unlimited day and week passes are also available. Amsterdam is famous for its wide use of bicycles. Coupled with an efficient system, the city's infrastructure means that a large percentage of the population doesn't rely on cars to get around.
Where to stay: NH Collection Amsterdam Barbizon Palace
22. Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki's yellow-and-green trams have become a symbol of the city. But they are not the only option the transport system (HSL) provides. Like Amsterdam, the city has ferries that connect people to neighboring islands in addition to metro and bus lines.
That said, the 20 tram lines are the main way people get around since the metro only has two lines. Both locals and travelers have expressed that this is a plus, as it makes transportation more scenic and pleasant.
Helsinki's Public Transit System
The HSL boasts the northernmost metro station in the entire world. Given the city's harsh winters, its effective system is impressive. That said, its overreliance on trams can make it inconvenient during extremely cold weather, which lasts for numerous months of the year.
Another drawback of the HSL is that its system is not very affordable, with a single ticket costing more than $3.
Where to stay: Marski by Scandic
21. Washington, D.C.
It's unusual for a capital city not to have the best transit system in the country, but it's even rarer for it to come out in third place. Still, D.C. is well connected, especially by American standards. The city's Metro (yes, that's what the system is called) takes residents and travelers on almost 200 million annual trips.
With 91 Metro stations, as well as numerous bus and train lines that connect the city to its Virginia and Maryland suburbs, the capital caters to its large number of commuters.
D.C.'s Public Transit System
About 37.6 percent of D.C. residents commute by public transit. This isn't as high a number as in cities like New York and Chicago, but it's impressive given the car-centric infrastructure of the U.S.
While you can get almost everywhere in the city by Metro, some of the cars are outdated and the system isn't exactly affordable. You'll pay based on how far you go. For people living in the city, this is advantageous. But for a large number of people, it can present a significant commuting cost.
Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Washington On Capitol Hill
20. Toronto, Canada
Toronto's subway is limited compared to that of other metropolitan cities. It only has four lines, two of which have fewer than six stops.
However, the city complements its subway with an intricate system of street cars and buses that make it easy for locals and travelers to get around.
Toronto's Public Transit System
According to a 2018 McKinsey & Company report, Toronto's rapid transit system is among the world's top 10 for both convenience and efficiency. Delays are not common, and alternative routes are provided when maintenance is carried out. Frequent stops provide convenience, and Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has readily available route maps and a trip planner online.
However, Toronto could do better in terms of affordability, as the system also ranked among the lowest 10 systems in terms of cost.
Where to stay: The Omni King Edward Hotel
19. Barcelona, Spain
While it can't compete with Spain's capital, Barcelona is proud of its transportation system. And it has every right to be. Though the city and its suburbs are big by European standards, you'll be able to navigate it easily with 12 metro lines, 230 bus lines, trams and night buses. To reach certain places in the hills that surround the city, you'll also find cable cars.
The system is intuitive and fairly affordable, which is why a large part of the city's population uses it on a daily basis.
Barcelona's Public Transit System
One of the greatest advantages of the Barcelona metro is that its trains come within minutes of each other. Thanks to this, you're never left waiting for too long. Delays sometimes happen, though, especially with buses. This can be inconvenient for commuters or during inclement weather.
Given how many people commute in the city, the system is complemented by the FGC commuter trains. Travelers often take advantage of these trains to go on day trips to points of interest in Catalunya.
Where to stay: Hotel El Palace Barcelona
18. Milan, Italy
Milan stands out as Italy's only city to make it to the top 20 cities for public transit. It has earned its spot by being convenient, efficient and affordable. In fact, in the 2018 McKinsey report, the city ranked No. 1 for affordability.
The entire system counts with four metro lines, 18 tram lines and more than 80 buses.
Milan's Public Transit System
Although it only has four metro lines, Milan's metro is actually the most extensive in the country. Smart planning has allowed those four lines to service all corners of the city, boasting over 60 miles of coverage.
Day passes are available for travelers who want unlimited rides, and metro stations are accommodating to people with limited mobility, which not all European cities have managed to do. Additionally, tickets can either be bought in person at kiosks or online in a convenient app. If you choose to go the digital route, you'll use a QR code to get around rather than a physical ticket.
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Et De Milan
17. Seoul, South Korea
With just nine lines, the Seoul Metropolitan Subway manages to mobilize people to almost every part of the city. Buses complement the metro, though most visitors will find it unnecessary to use them. An extended network of subway and bus lines connects to nearby cities, including Incheon, where South Korea's main international airport is located.
The system is incredibly efficient, with delays being an extremely rare occurrence.
Seoul's Public Transit System
The most impressive thing about Seoul's public transit system is that it handles a city whose metropolitan area is around 25 million people — that's almost half the entire population of South Korea. But despite its high traffic volume, carts are never as full as in cities like Tokyo or Paris, where people need to be pushed in to fit.
Order is expected as people make lines and go in as their turn comes. English signage is readily available in every metro station, though not necessarily on bus routes since these are rarely used by non-resident foreigners. However, Seoul could do better at making the system more affordable and offer day, week or month passes for visitors who do not have a South Korean bank account.
Where to stay: Park Hyatt Seoul
16. Moscow, Russia
McKinsey ranks Moscow highly in affordability, convenience and efficiency. The system also does well in terms of sustainable development, with careful thought going into its expansion.
Twelve metro lines transport millions of people around the city on a daily basis. Buses, trams and trains are also available to city dwellers. Plus, the metro stations are famously some of the most beautiful in the world, with many being lavishly decorated with intricate motifs reminiscent of Imperial Russia.
Moscow's Public Transit System
The city stands out in terms of payment convenience, accepting numerous forms of payment that are convenient for visitors from different countries.
That said, international travelers may find it difficult to navigate the system without basic knowledge of Russian since signage in other languages is unavailable. To counter this, the Moscow Metro website does offer an English map that you can access or download to your phone.
Where to stay: Crowne Plaza Moscow - Tretyakovskaya
15. Berlin, Germany
It’s impossible to talk about the best public transit systems in the world without mentioning Berlin.
TripAdvisor notes that the system is “affordable, straightforward, usually punctual and very comprehensive,” thoughtfully serving 937 million passengers every year.
Berlin's Public Transit System
What's more, Berlin's transportation system is poised to only get better in the coming years: In 2019, the city announced it will be spending nearly $32 billion to beef up its public transit offerings by 2032.
There are plans to make the tram system 28 percent more extensive than it is now, to significantly extend the S-Bahn city-rail network and to make every bus in the city electric by 2030.
Where to stay: NH Berlin Alexanderplatz
14. Stockholm, Sweden
Like other cities on this list, Stockholm offers an efficient network of buses, trains, subways and ferries. The subway system — aka The Metro, The Tunnelbana or T-bana — is particularly highly regarded, known for its cleanliness, safety record and extensiveness.
Boats are also a wonderful way for travelers to get around, offering affordable, scenic access to major sights like the amusement park Gröna Lund and the grand Drottningholm Palace.
Stockholm's Public Transit System
What really sets this transit system apart is, believe it or not, its art. The Stockholm subway has been dubbed the “world’s longest art gallery.” Out of 100 stations, more than 90 are adorned with paintings, mosaics, sculptures and other artistic marvels, with inspirations ranging from women’s rights to video games to immigration.
Look up from your map (or phone) while you travel around the city, and take in the unexpected wonder.
Where to stay: Hotel Hellsten
13. Beijing, China
The second-most populous city in the world understands and embraces the need for an uber-efficient public transit system.
That said, the subway and buses can get extremely crowded here. The system is generally good at still keeping things running on time, but be prepared to get close to your fellow travelers, especially if traveling during rush hour.
Beijing's Public Transit System
To keep up with demand, Beijing isn’t shy about expanding its subway offerings to keep pace with demand. An additional 12 subway lines are slated to be in operation by 2021.
American travelers are also pleased to learn that the system touts plenty of English signage. You don’t need to speak a Chinese dialect to get around the metropolitan area relatively quickly.
Where to stay: Radegast Hotel Cbd Beijing
12. Prague, Czechia
Exploring Prague’s picturesque castles, bridges and cathedrals is easy, thanks to a transit system that, as TripAdvisor puts it, is “frequent, punctual, clean and safe.”
An efficient network consisting of a metro line, trams and buses are used by two-thirds of Prague's population, and locals give the system sterling reviews.
Prague's Public Transit System
Many appreciate the city’s unique ticketing system, which charges based on how long you travel instead of where you’re traveling — an approach that’s both simple and fair.
And the city gets bonus points for historic panache. Historical Tram Line No. 41 carries travelers in a streetcar dating back to the 1920s; preserved touches include wooden benches. The line is open April through November on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
Where to stay: The President
11. New York, New York
Yes, yes, we know: New York City’s subway system has some serious issues. Tales of rat-infested stations, busted air-conditioning and comically delayed trains (the city has a less-than-stellar 58.1 percent on-time record) have dominated headlines in recent years. In May 2019, there were even reports of a “supervillain” vandal pulling the emergency brakes on trains, seemingly just to be a jerk.
But it’s hard to deny that New York remains an extremely easy city to get around in via public transit — so much so that more than half of the city’s households don’t own a car. The metropolis boasts the world’s largest metro network, 472 stations strong, combined with a sprawling bus system that ensures you’re pretty much always within striking distance of a way to get where you want to go.
New York's Public Transit System
The McKinsey report lists New York City’s public transit system as one of the best in the world, noting that — for all their grumbling — 77 percent of residents are satisfied with the city's offerings.
The report also highlights the city’s innovations (like adding dedicated bus lanes to reduce travel times) and commitment to reducing the system’s energy footprint. Oh, and this is one of the world’s leading systems in terms of electronic services, too.
Now, if only the city could do something about those rats and supervillains…
Where to stay: Arlo SoHo
10. Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich prides itself on being a walkable city, but it also offers a wonderful public transit system — made up of boats, trams, cable cars and trains — to cater to those who tire of hoofing it.
TripAdvisor calls public transit in the city “first class,” and singles out the “very clean, inside and out” trains. (Would you expect anything less from the largest city of famously clean Switzerland?)
Zurich's Public Transit System
Not only is traveling throughout Zurich easy and clean, but traveling outside the city is just as accommodating.
You can buy a Swiss Travel Pass that allows you to easily connect from the inner-city system to a network of trains, buses and boats that travel to the countryside and charming nearby towns.
Where to stay: H+ Hotel Zürich
Shanghai's Public Transit System
This high level of performance is all the more impressive when you consider the system is catering to so many passengers; Shanghai is the most populous city on Earth, and public transportation is responsible for getting more than 2 billion people annually where they need to go.
Plus, the city takes transit seriously and is ambitious in its future plans. By 2030, it aims to have a subway system that’s five times as long as Hong Kong’s MTR, Airport Express and Light Rail lines combined.
Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Shanghai, Wujiaochang
8. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is becoming increasingly popular among travelers, and its public transit is keeping pace to cater to the throngs.
The city has invested heavily in metro, bus and tram systems, pledging over 100 billion Dirham (or $27 billion) to enhance infrastructure in order to keep up with demand.
Dubai's Public Transit System
Another perk of the system here? Transit options that live up to the city’s reputation for decadence.
In addition to ferries, a tram, a monorail, buses and trains, the city offers unique, stylish wooden water taxis to get around. Purchase a “Nol card” to seamlessly transfer between all the transit options as you explore this dazzling metropolis on the rise.
Where to stay: Atlantis, the Palm
7. Tokyo, Japan
Traveling around big, bustling Tokyo is both efficient and easy — assuming, of course, you’re able to navigate what’s considered the world’s most extensive urban rail network, serving more passengers (nearly 3.5 billion annually!) than any other system on Earth.
Access is extraordinary here: 80 percent of jobs and the population in the city are within one kilometer of a metro or suburban rail station, making Tokyo among the best in the world for rail infrastructure.
Tokyo's Public Transit System
Though rush-hour jams can cause delays, Tokyo is famous for its dedication to punctuality.
In 2018, the city made headlines when an official profusely apologized because a train left a station 25 seconds early.
Where to stay: Pullman Tokyo Tamachi
6. Chicago, Illinois
The second-largest public transportation system in the U.S. (after New York, of course) is the best in America, according to McKinsey. And it stands out from the pack in some important ways.
For one thing, the system is very affordable; prices haven’t risen since 2013, and disabled people, military personnel and seniors enjoy options for reduced or complimentary fare.
The city also does a commendable job on both the accessibility and sustainability fronts. Currently, 100 percent of buses and railcars and 70 percent of metro stations are accessible, and new buses tout clean-diesel engines, with plans to add more electric buses to the fleet.
Chicago's Public Transit System
Perhaps the icing on the cake is that Chicago savvily uses tech to enhance its services. There are no fewer than 20 apps available to passengers to make transit easier, offering real-time arrival information, detailed route maps, travel planning features and more.
Tourists who want to get around the Windy City without a rental car would be wise to take advantage.
Where to stay: The Langham Chicago
5. Madrid, Spain
Not only does Madrid have an excellent inner-city transit system, but its system also links up seamlessly with light-rail trains to take locals and tourists all around Europe.
Of all the systems analyzed in the McKinsey report, Madrid touts the greatest coverage — more than 89 percent of the population is within a one-kilometer radius from a station.
Madrid's Public Transit System
Travelers also appreciate the system’s comfort and accessibility; for instance, 60 percent of metro stations and 100 percent of bus stations are wheelchair-accessible.
And as McKinsey puts it, “the quality of transportation service is constantly controlled.”
Where to stay: Artiem Madrid
4. Paris, France
With its incredible art and culture, there are plenty of reasons to want to get around Paris. And thanks to its superior public transit system, that’s easy to do.
The extensive train system in the City of Lights operates almost 24 hours per day, with about 6.75 million riders using its services.
Paris' Public Transit System
The system here is known to be one of the world’s safest, thanks to ingenious measures like a program to install more than 40,000 cameras at train stations.
Paris also touts the most sophisticated electronic services in the world; 2,400 real-time information screens help Parisians and visitors easily navigate the system.
Where to stay: Mercure Paris Opéra Garnier
3. Hong Kong
Hong Kong has one of the most impressively extensive transit systems in the world, used by around 5.8 million people every day.
The sheer breadth of the metro network ensures that 75 percent of the population is within one kilometer of a station. And despite the intense amount of daily foot traffic it sees, the system maintains an extraordinary 99.9 percent on-time rate.
Hong Kong's Public Transit System
This system's reliability doesn’t cost a pretty penny, either. Rates are very reasonable — about 50 cents to $7.50 — and in a rarity for public transit systems, passengers don’t feel like they’re being nickel and dimed.
“Hong Kong residents are generally satisfied with the dynamics of public transport costs, while the perception is usually negative for all other cities,” the McKinskey report notes.
Considering all this, it's little wonder that 83 percent of people are satisfied overall with public transport in this bustling metropolis. But there's a caveat: Though the system is easy to maneuver once you understand it, it's still quite complicated and can take a minute to get used to. Do your due diligence beforehand to get a grasp on the available options.
Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Hong Kong Tsim Sha Tsui
2. London, U.K.
Eighty-five percent of the population is satisfied with public transportation in London, and for good reason: The system here is affordable, efficient and innovative.
The city’s mayor famously froze public transport fares at the 2016 level until 2020, saving up to $280 for an average household over the four-year period (while keeping costs low for travelers heading to London for a vacation).
Despite being quite complex, the system is also very easy to navigate; the map system for the underground “Tube” subway is so streamlined and simple to understand, nearly half of pedestrians use it as an aid in walking the city, too.
London's Public Transit System
Another beloved feature? Hop-on, hop-off buses. While not unique to London, these buses are widely used in the city, and provide an easy, fun way for visitors to get around and see the sights.
As an added dash of fun, The Tube is something of a Hollywood star, having appeared in films including “Love Actually,” “Skyfall” and the “Harry Potter” films (the famous Platform 9 ¾ can be found at King’s Cross station).
Where to stay: Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel
Singapore can boast of a truly impressive honor: the highest passenger satisfaction rate in the world. Eighty-six percent of people are happy with public transit in the city, according to McKinsey.
Why are so many people pleased?
To start, Singapore boasts cutting-edge electronic services, including a newly enhanced trip planner, and ticketing options, like an easy-to-use EZ-link card that handily connects to an app. (Did you expect anything less from this tech-savvy mecca?)
Singapore's Public Transit System
Perhaps most importantly, Singapore’s system ranks first in terms of affordability, and this extends to tourists as well. Special tourist passes offer unlimited travel for just $7 for one day or $14.50 for three. And kids travel scot-free.
The government is undertaking ambitious plans to further expand and increase the reliability of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system in anticipation of explosive growth in the city; by 2030, the population is expected to balloon by 6 million people.
Where to stay: Raffles Hotel