A love letter to public transport


Sometimes you really need to be without something you took for granted in order to appreciate it again. Like public transport.

Over the past 2 years I have been spending large amounts of time in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere. A few weeks ago I came back to Stockholm for more than just a few days. And since then I have extensively made use public transport. And for the first time ever, I am raving about it.

Because as is widely known, the U.S. is a car country and public transport generally does leave a lot to be desired, with the notable exception of New York. The city’s public transport even managed to score the first rank in survey about safety for women. In comparison to other metropolitan areas of the States, the Bay Area’s public transport is still quite ok. But really only in that specific comparison. If you do not live in downtown San Francisco or if you are not willing to spend significant sums on on-demand transportation services such as Uber or Lyft, you either will need a car or feel very limited in satisfying your mobility needs.

So now I am back in Stockholm and feel awesome every time I take the subway or the bus. There is always a fairly fast way to get to wherever I want to go. Certainly I could start to complain about the high prices of Stockholm’s public transport in comparison to many other cities. But this is a love letter, not a rant. Also, if you use public transport regularly, it is still way more cheaper than in the Bay Area. And of course, extensive, modern, clean, with a higher perceived safety, better service hours (with 24 hour trains during weekends) and frequented by people from all social groups. With some exceptions, in the U.S. the wealthy are even less inclined to use public transport.

How I describe Stockholm’s public transport certainly would fit for many major cities in Europe and Asia.

When I was young I always tried to convince my parents to take the car when we went to places. It just felt so much more convenient. Later, I simply had no alternative to using the public transport, but I did it without any positive emotions. I never appreciated it. But now, after a period without access to a high-performing public transport network, I realize how fantastic this concept is, and how great European cities stack up in that regard, despite a somewhat aging infrastructure.

That does not mean that public transport over here could not be improved. It definitely can. And it is being improved, for example in Tallinn or Helsinki. But we for sure have a reason to be extremely thankful for the great level of affordable mobility that is offered to us here and elsewhere.

Let’s praise public transport.

(Photo: Flickr/Tony Webster, CC BY 2.0)

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