Photo credit: Kwan Jun Yu

Six unique features of public transport around the world

From free bus rides to special lanes just for students, we look at how different transportation systems are outside of Singapore.

Tilve Tarini Sachin

Published: 15 October 2019, 12:00 AM

Our transport system is in the news again as fares have been announced to go up from December 28.

As people vent their frustrations about their current public transport woes (other than the polytechnic students who can finally enjoy student concessions), we take a look at some of the highs and lows of public transport around the world. Here are six unique ways cities are doing public transport overseas.

1. Cutting through traffic in Metro Manila 

Ever look at a traffic jam and wish you could have your own lane? Well in Metro Manila, you can have your own lane if you are a student, person-with-disabilities (PWDs), elderly passenger, or pregnant. Oh, and students travel free too. 

But before you start making plans to migrate to escape our rush hour crowds, do note that Metro Manila has the “worst traffic on Earth”.


Metro Manila is more congested than all the other sampled cities.
Photo credit: Iwona Castiello-D-Antonio


2 . Free bus rides in Dunkirk 

It doesn’t sound like a profitable idea, but free bus rides are a trend catching on in many parts of Europe. For example, the city of Dunkirk, in France, decided to make bus transport completely free.

This lead to many people deciding to ditch their private transport. The city also saw carbon emissions drop by a significant amount as travelling by bus produces less carbon emissions than travelling by car.

Now before you run off to tell SBS about this new idea, it is worth noting that Dunkirk is very different from Singapore. Being a small city, Dunkirk’s buses were usually empty, so making the rides free did not have a huge impact on their budget.


Buses in Singapore carry 4 million people per day.
Photo credit: Law


In contrast, Singapore, like most metropolitan cities, has an already saturated public transport scene. Making bus rides free would be a drastic change for our economy, and the crowds at peak hour.

 3. Going broke in London 

In terms of public transport prices, the most expensive city in the world would be London. For those who thought it was Singapore, public transport in London costs you around $179 monthly. That is more than a trip to Bangkok on a budget flight!


London’s iconic buses carry around 6.5 million passengers a day.
Photo credit: Jacob Shutler


In contrast, the most affordable public transport can be found in San Francisco. A study done by Nanyang Technological University ranked 11 major cities on the public transport affordability, and while San Francisco was the clear winner, Singapore ranked second.

4. Speeding around in Japan

Imagine going from Pasir Ris to Joon Koon in 8 minutes. While that is currently a wild fantasy for us Westies trying to get to the airport, it’s currently a reality in Japan with their bullet trains going at up to 320 km/h!

Also known as Shinkansen trains, these bullet trains have to be cleaned within 7 minutes. Tessei staff wipe down all the tray tables, floors and washrooms, collect forgotten articles, turn all the seats around, and generally keep the trains clean and tidy.


Tessei staff put on a “performance” for 7 minutes while the train is at a station.
Photo credit: Victoriano Izquierdo


With a train like this, you could get to Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes for that weekend family trip. If only we had a high speed line that could get us there…

 5. (Successful) bike sharing in Taipei 

There was a time in Singapore when bike sharing, as a business, looked promising. Then everything changed when indiscriminate parking by users and abuse of the bicycles attacked.

Jokes aside, Singapore’s bike sharing scheme might have been an absolute disaster, but it took off brilliantly in Taipei.

Taipei has a highly successful public bike-sharing scheme known as YouBike (or Ubike). The city has established bike lanes downtown, making cycling safe and convenient.


Youbikes even have fixed stations for parking, clearly a better alternative to throwing your cycle in a drain.
Photo credit: Adli Wahid


The bikes also have certain codes that you can follow if your bike is faulty: If you can’t fix your bike on your own, just turn the seat around and let it hang. This wards off other cyclists and signals to Youbike workers that the cycle needs to be fixed.

6. Reducing carbon emissions in…China? 

China isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think “environmentally friendly”. However, Shenzhen is the first city to introduce a complete fleet of electrical buses.

These buses only need 4.5 hours of juice to serve for the entire day, and the city has charging plots littered all around (just don’t charge your phones there please).


Shenzhen currently has over 16,000 electrical buses. Photo credit: Chilam Siu


Although Singapore has not hopped onto this trend yet, we aim to do so by 2020. This will be a great step to reducing our own carbon emissions as well.

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