Worst Public Transport Systems in the World
Stop. We’re way ahead of you. You eyeballed “worst public transport” and your noodle began churning out a list of way-too-obvious candidates. But we’re not going after the low-hanging fruit of abysmal infrastructure here. No, it simply wouldn’t be kosher to pick on the likes of Kabul or Karachi, Kinshasa or Kathmandu.
Instead, we’re pointing a finger at the underperformers. Cities which, under the circumstances, should be doing better. So while we agree that Cairo’s congestion is no picnic and that traffic-choked São Paulo is far from logistical nirvana, these eight cities fail expectations.
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
You’d think that a city that hosted the Summer Olympics relatively recently (1996) would have beefed up and modernised its metropolitan infrastructure. London and Athens sure did (let’s not get into Sydney’s transport woes, shall we?). But Atlanta’s priorities, it seems, have been elsewhere. Facilitating cars, mainly. A 2011 study by the prestigious Brookings Institute on transit accessibility in large urban areas placed Atlanta close to dead last in the United States. It certainly doesn’t help matters that right-wing-leaning, staunchly conservative states like Georgia seem positively allergic to sustainable public transport initiatives. Talking green, apparently, is just bad politics in the South. But, as we shall see, Atlanta is hardly alone in America.
Where to stay: Mandarin Oriental Manila Hotel
Auckland, New Zealand
Is Auckland’s public transport system as despicable as, say, Mumbai’s or Bogotá’s? Of course not. Again, this is about expectations. New Zealand’s showcase city should be a model and, sadly, it isn’t anything close to that in the realm of forward-looking public transport. Embarrassingly, Auckland recently took last out of 14 cities in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States for the average number of public transport trips taken annually by residents. Fares are high, service isn’t up to snuff and car-use is overwhelmingly preferred. Ironic for a city that supposedly loves to sail.
Where to stay: The Quadrant Hotel Auckland
Houston, Texas, U.S.A.
See Atlanta. Houston is yet another big, hulking metropolis below the Mason–Dixon Line that prides itself on three-car-garages, trucks and horsepower. Of course, this isn’t all that stunning considering what made Houston the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. Two words: oil money. Less flatteringly, the city was recently named “fattest” in America – again – by a prominent fitness mag. Hmm, wonder if there’s a connection.
Where to stay: St. Regis Houston
It can’t be easy digging up subway tunnels when you have to negotiate archaeological digs at every turn. Someone at UNESCO might have a fit. Still, no excuse Rome – not when London, Paris, Madrid and Berlin pull it off so well. It’s not that getting around Rome is a complete quagmire. But for a city to be truly world-class it needs a world-class public transport system. The Eternal City’s is lacklustre at best.
Where to stay: Barocco Hotel Rome
While we concede that equipping a metro region of 28 million people with a state-of-the-art transport network probably takes decades, Jakarta, mentality-wise, often feels mired in the Stone Age. With China outfitting cities with rapid rail networks at an Usain Bolt-clip, residents must look longingly at a Shanghai, even a Bangkok, and wonder, why not us? As usual, it boils down to politics and, tragically, gross mismanagement of the public purse. It’s never good when clips of your city’s traffic jams become social network sensations.
Where to stay: Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta
Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Wee Belfast is a speck compared to gigantic Jakarta but, in a small sense, it suffers from a similar sin: car addiction. The Northern Ireland city came out as the second-most car-dependent in a recent study of Euro capitals and fared very poorly in public transport uptake, fares and commute times. Again, like a broken record, the problem is one of over-investment in roads and massively undervaluing the holistic advantages of healthy public transport.
Where to stay: Tara Lodge Belfast
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
South Africa looks good in comparison to much of Sub-Saharan Africa but, on the whole, has enormous infrastructure challenges yet to be met. Vuvuzelas, the brilliance of Uruguay’s Diego Forlán and Spain’s dominant run may be the most enduring memories of the 2010 World Cup but the host nation was chided mercilessly by FIFA in the run-up to the tournament for its logistical – how shall we put this – unfriendliness. Notably, the home of the Soccer City complex earns the most dubious grades. Johannesburg is South Africa’s urban showpiece but until it corrects sprawl and upgrades a less-than-stellar transport system, it will continue to slip on the global stage.
Where to stay: The Peech Hotel Johannesburg
Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Sprawl, of course, is a perpetual buzzword in Southland a.k.a. the Greater Los Angeles Area. Home to 18 million people, it ranks second in the U.S. behind the New York metropolitan area’s 22 million people. In stark contrast, however, Gotham operates a relatively zippy public transit system. So why is L.A. so stubbornly synonymous with traffic jams (the city is the worst in the country for road congestion by a mile)? Part of the problem is this: Greater Los Angeles stretches over 87,940.5 km2; metro New York, on the other hand, covers a paltry 30,670 km2.
Where to stay: The Redbury at Hollywood and Vine