Taipei MRT at sunset
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 19 cities with the best public transport in the world – according to locals

From Montreal to Mumbai, these are the world’s greatest public transportation systems – as voted by the people who use them every day

John BillsLiv Kelly
Contributor: Liv Kelly
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Where would we be without public transport? With more and more of us consciously trying to reduce our reliance on car travel, to help our own health and that of the planet, trains, buses and trams are the unsung heroes that could literally save the world.

Sure, a crowded bus on the morning commute isn’t the most pleasant, but when it comes to exploring the world’s greatest cities, it’s the best way to discover a new place through the eyes of a local. And a few of the world’s best public transport networks even double up as cultural treasure hunts, making the mundane spectacular with sublime art and design.

To identify the cities with the world’s greatest public transport, we surveyed more than 20,000 city-dwellers around the world from more than 50 cities, back in 2023, by simply asking: is it easy to get around your city by public transport? 

Many iconic networks didn’t quite make the cut. There was no room for Istanbul’s continent-crossing ferries, the fairytale trams of Lisbon, Melbourne and Manchester, or Bangkok’s elevated Skytrain. But in the cities that were included, at least four out of five locals had good things to say about each of them. And they spanned the whole globe, from Montreal to Mumbai and Stockholm to Shanghai – and even the USA. So, without further ado, these are the best cities in the world for public transport, according to locals.

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Best public transport in the world

1. Berlin

Comfortable, safe and always on time, public transport in Berlin is a delight. So it is no shock to see it swagger away with the top spot here, with 97 percent of Berliners praising their city’s transport network. Locals and travellers alike have been making the most of the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and buses for decades – even when the city was divided in two during the Cold War. The subterranean U-Bahn is particularly delightful, an efficient maze of trains moving people from sight to sight from morning to night. A massive 175 stations across nine lines might sound imposing, but the U-Bahn is magnificently simple to navigate. 

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2. Prague

The Czech capital is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and its public transport network only adds to that. In our survey, a massive 96 percent of Prague locals said their city was easy to get around by public transport. And it’s not just convenient, it’s pretty spectacular too. Prague wouldn’t be Prague without the sight of a tram dashing in front of a Gothic church or Renaissance stunner – but the metro is even better, with three easy-to-use lines covering almost every part of the city. Each line has its own aesthetic character, from the photogenic bubble facades on the A Line (green) to the futuristic designs found at the end of the C (red). The yellow B Line straddles the two, with some curious communist remnants for anyone interested in that period.

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3. Tokyo

New York has the most stations, Shanghai has the most track, but no public transport on the planet services as many people as the one found in Tokyo. You may have seen viral videos of packed subway trains in the Japanese capital, and such sights aren’t out of the ordinary. Plus the sheer size of the network makes it something of a labyrinth. But Tokyo’s public transport is brilliantly maintained and increasingly easy to use for non-Japanese speakers (as well as locals, 94 percent of whom said the city was easy to navigate by public transport). Might be best to avoid rush hour, though…

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4. Copenhagen

It’s not hard to mount an argument for Copenhagen as the greatest city on the planet. Few places are as effortlessly stylish as the Danish capital, and its roster of restaurants, museums and bars is second-to-none (to say nothing of the craft beer). Public transport in Copenhagen holds up its end of the bargain, with a reliable system of trains, buses and waterbuses whizzing folks around all day long. You can pay for everything with one ticket: the Copenhagen Card covers public transport across the entire city. No wonder 93 percent of locals said it was easy to get around.

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5. Stockholm

Unsurprisingly for this Scandi design capital, Stockholm’s metro is as stylish as it gets. They don’t call it the world’s longest art gallery without good reason: the overwhelming majority of stations on the Stockholm tunnelbana glisten with creativity, from mosaics to paintings covering all sorts of themes. But aesthetics are just part of the package: public transport in Stockholm (also including trams, buses and ferries) is every bit as efficient as it is engaging. And 93 percent of locals agree that it’s easy to get around the city.

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6. Singapore

It shouldn’t be a shock to hear that public transport in Singapore is very much on the cutting edge of the modern world. Innovation is standard here, and the city’s buses and mass rapid transit (MRT) leave no stone unturned in their quest for excellence. The MyTransport.SG app makes planning a breeze, the Singapore Tourist Pass takes care of paying, and almost all the main attractions in Singapore are a short stroll from a station. Oh, and did we mention that all buses are wheelchair-accessible and strollers are allowed? Singapore gets many things bang-on, and public transport is very much up there, according to 92 percent of locals.

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7. Hong Kong

Public transport in Hong Kong routinely ranks high among the best in the world, and for good reason. The network is extensive, to say the least, and the city is proud of the fact that 75 percent of the population lives within one kilometre of a metro station – that’s less than 15 minutes’ walk. The whole thing is reassuringly efficient, clean and comfortable too, and the Octopus Card makes paying for it delightfully simple. Getting used to the system isn’t immediate, but putting in the effort is definitely worth it. Locals agree: in our survey, 92 percent of Hongkongers praised their city’s transit system. To make the most of Hong Kong, make the most of its public transport.

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8. Taipei

The capital of Taiwan is one of the most liveable cities in the world, and its marvellous public transport system is one major reason why. The Taipei Metro (or MRT) is one of the busiest light-rail systems in the world, but not a single drop of efficiency has been sacrificed in the process. Taipei is one of the most easily traversed cities in Asia, with 92 percent of locals rating the public transport network positively, and the elevated stations give visiting passengers a fascinating look into everyday street life. The English-language signs are certainly helpful too.

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9. Shanghai

Second only to New York by the number of stations, Shanghai’s metro is the largest in the world if you’re talking about the distance it covers. In fact the subway system in Shanghai was modelled on its famous contemporary in NYC, and unlike its American counterpart, China’s most populous city keeps its system running strictly on time. Alongside the trains, Shanghai’s buses, maglevs, taxis and ferries system can be paid for using the Shanghai Public Transportation Card, a contactless version of a top-up card that can be purchased and reloaded at ticket offices. Shanghai residents are certainly satisfied: 91 of respondents in our survey said it was easy to cross the city using public transport.

10. Amsterdam

You’ll definitely notice the hordes of bicycles zooming across the Dutch capital, but you don’t have to commit to two wheels here: Amsterdam’s public transport covers plenty of ground, and no small amount of water too. The city’s network of trains, trams, ferries and buses does a sterling job, and the whole thing is tremendous value for money – no wonder 91 percent of locals praised the city’s public transport system in our poll. Download the GVP travel app ahead of your visit and leave no stone unturned.

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11. London

Getting 91 percent of Londoners to agree on anything is no small feat, but the people of the Big Smoke came together to rejoice at the majesty of London’s public transport system. Okay, that might be a bit strong, but the numbers don’t lie: London’s buses, trains and underground are easy to use and remarkably efficient, not to mention aesthetically iconic. The London Underground is the star of the show (and the star of countless movies and TV shows), but the city’s bright red double-decker buses are every bit as beloved. Throw in the driverless Docklands Light Railway (and suburban hero the London Overground) and you’ve got a system worth celebrating. The visitor Oyster card also doubles up as a tidy souvenir.

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12. Madrid

Madrid’s public transport system is one of the most comprehensive in Europe – in fact, 89 percent of the city’s population lives within one kilometre of a station. Coincidentally or not, 88 percent of Madrid locals we surveyed are happy with the city’s public transport network. As well as the metro, The system covers light rail, buses and also regional trains, and a variety of tickets are available – with Cercanías commuter trains currently free for regular passengers. Staying for a while? Get a month pass. Looking to dart around the city over a couple of days? A 10-trip ticket should do the trick.

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13. Edinburgh

Oh, Edinburgh, you are a charmer. The Scottish capital is one of the most beautiful cities in the UK, with grand old architecture and an inviting atmosphere that defines the term ‘convivial’. And although Edinburgh is extremely walkable, the city’s public transport is equally fantastic, with easy-to-use buses crossing the city all day and night. In our survey, a solid 88 percent of locals said it was easy to get around by public transport. The trams may not be as iconic as others in the British north (and are not uncontroversial locally) but they more than get the job done. The Transport for Edinburgh (TfE) app is your new best friend here.

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14. Paris

The word ’iconic’ is much abused, but the Paris Métro is an iconic symbol of one of the most iconic cities on the planet. This is Europe’s second-busiest subway system (Moscow comes in first), a densely-built network covering more than 300 stations across 16 lines. Some of those stations are attractions in their own right, from the history-covered walls of Bastille to the almost steampunk vibes of Arts et Métiers. Metro 1 covers the classic hotspots, while Metro 6 mostly moves above ground and offers some seriously stunning views. And while the Métro grabs most of the attention, public transport in Paris also includes buses, trams and regional trains, including the pioneering RER. In our survey, 84 percent of locals gave public transport in Paris the thumbs up.

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15. New York

New York’s public transport has its naysayers – including no end of New Yorkers – and much of the criticism is well-founded. The subway isn’t exactly the cleanest, and the concept of running on time seems to have been abandoned, with years of underfunding becoming increasingly apparent. But unless you’ve got hours to spare beating the streets (and a really comfy pair of shoes), there’s still no better way to get around NYC than its public transport system. The subway is the largest in the world if you count by the number of stations, and the extensive bus system makes exploring easy even away from the tracks. Plus there is something iconic about traversing the subway in New York, if you embrace the quirks. New Yorkers certainly do: despite it all, 83 percent of them said it was easy to get around the city by public transit.

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16. Montreal

Montreal, Montreal. Canada’s second-largest city is a delight to explore, whether on foot or via the well-developed Montreal public transportation system. The latter makes the former easier, of course – 83 percent of Montrealers say the city is easy to traverse via public transit – so familiarise yourself with the bus and the rubber-wheeled, modernist Métro to squeeze every drop of magic out of your trip. A variety of tickets are available for multi-day travel, and tiny humans under 11 travel for free. The Société de Transport de Montréal website also has detailed itineraries for exploring the city via public transport.

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17. Chicago

Chicago’s public transportation system may not be perfect, but the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) does a decent job of maintaining the city’s eight ‘L’ (short for ‘elevated’) train lines, plus 129 bus routes. It’s introduced innovations like regenerative breaking without skimping on efficiency. And public satisfaction is almost as high as in NYC: according to our survey, 82 percent of Chicagoans have positive things to say about their city’s network.

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18. Beijing

Beijing is one of the most populous cities in the world, China’s most congested urban centre, and a true, 24-hour metropolis. Given the Chinese capital’s size and scope, it’s no small feat that 81 percent of Beijingers expressed contentment with the quality and efficiency of public transport there. That road congestion makes it no surprise that the subway is the most popular form of public transport here, with more than 500 miles of track spreading across 27 lines and almost 500 stations. The network is growing all the time, with buses, trolleybuses and trains also moving across the city day in, day out.

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19. Mumbai

Have you even been to Mumbai if you haven’t spent some quality time on the city’s local trains? It’s an experience and a half, although probably one best avoided at rush hour unless you are a veteran of such scenes. Still, 81 percent of locals say it’s easy to cross Mumbai by public transport, and the system certainly keeps the metropolis moving, with millions using the city’s buses, rickshaws, metro and taxis on a daily basis. The city has also introduced the Chalo Pay app – a pioneer for Indian public transport – making the whole thing just that little bit easier. Download the M-indicator app to stay on top of schedules, and let Mumbai unfold in front of you.

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