Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
There are taxis (minibuses), buses and the newly started light-rail trains in Addis Ababa for transportation. I prefer taxis for daily use because they are relatively cheap and cover most parts of the city. We call them "blue taxis" for their color. The light-rail train, which opened in 2015, only works for the busiest parts of the city.
I commute by “trotro” (minivan taxi), as it is popularly called here in Ghana. It’s called “matatu” in Nairobi. It's a cheaper way to move around in the city, cheaper than regular taxis or Uber. The trotro seats at least 20, including the driver and the conductor, or “mate.” Although cheaper, trotro is inefficient: If you hail one in the street, chances are you’ll be among few co-commuters, which means delay time as the driver and mate call more passengers to board. The whole experience is exciting.
I now live in Ganta, Liberia, but when I lived in Nigeria, using public transportation in Lagos was a race against the clock. I am a U.S. expat who carried $2,000 worth of electronic equipment to work, so it was not advisable to travel at night. Some days I would travel from Ikeja to Lagos Island to meet my team by 9 a.m., which meant I sometimes had to leave my house no later than 6 a.m. I would be there sometimes by 8 a.m., sometimes by 9:30 — it was totally unpredictable. Sitting in a danfu, a large shared bus, with 20 other sweaty people breathing exhaust at a standstill for two hours is not fun.
Commuting in Lagos is a job you should get paid for separately. It’s very hectic and uncomfortable. Buses are jampacked as a result of no regulation — public transportation in Lagos is mostly privately run — and they’re expensive. You spend long hours in traffic, and the bad roads make the experience worse.
I walk about three miles to work and take public transit home, as I work evenings and walking home doesn’t always feel safe. The transit service is quite poor due to a lack of support for public transit in our city. Vehicles are king here, and changes such as more bus service, bike paths and pedestrian-friendly development are glacially slow in coming. I see and read about trends in other parts of the world and I am jealous. The mentality here is that driving is a sacred right and not a privilege.
A new subway station has not opened in Toronto’s downtown core for years. A few suburban stops were opened decades ago, but when they opened, they were not in Toronto. One hundred billion dollars could fall from the sky to be spent on only transit, and Toronto would still not know how to spend it.
Bogota is a city of more than 8 million people that does not have a metro system. Our transportation system is based on buses. That is just not enough. People spend hours and hours every day trying to get to work and then hours going back home.
It is also insecure. I don’t imagine it’s like in India, where women are in danger of getting raped, but here it is common that some men take the opportunity to get very close to the women around them.
We also have taxis, of course. And that is another story.
Ejido Esteban Cantu, Mexico
I live near Ensenada, Mexico, and while the views are idyllic, the roads are not. Poverty and corruption have an impact on the infrastructure here, and roads are often unpaved or poorly maintained, making driving adventurous, especially in winter. Locals drive like they have a death wish, and police encounters are more likely here to involve the expectation of a bribe than they are in the United States. The bus system is cheap but limited and unpredictable. Having commuted daily to the U.S. border, I now appreciate being able to work from home as a writer.
Mexico City, Mexico
I ride the bus rapid transit and subway systems in Mexico City twice a day. It’s usually much, much better than driving or taking a cab, but the buses and trains are ridiculously jampacked, all of them! Still, I’d rather suffer 15 minutes in hell than 45 or 60 minutes in a more comfortable purgatory. I’m all for public transit, but the city’s authorities seem more concerned with spending big on infrastructure for the few car owners than on the umpteen masses riding transit.
I take the metro line 10 to work and home every day, 11 stops (30 minutes) each way. I love that it is always on time; not a single train has been late or canceled in my more than two years here. And unlike older subway systems, there are almost no jolts or vibrations, so it's easy to read on it. If I am tired, the sound level bothers me. People will play games and watch shows on their phones with the sound on, and there are ads playing with obnoxious commercial voices. Personal space? Foreign concept.
I, like 8 million daily commuters, use Mumbai trains to travel in and around the city. Local trains are almost always crowded like tuna in a can. It’s frustrating to travel in coaches where you hardly have space to breathe. But what I like is how everyone cooperates with one another to squeeze into the tiny compartments so that everyone can travel. I don’t know if it’s because of the size of coaches or the hearts of those who travel in them, but there is always room for more.
Tokyo has a fantastic transit system. It’s clean, it’s on time, the prepaid card can be used like a debit card (deducting the money you load in as you go), and the interiors are heated in winter and cooled in summer. The only horrific thing is rush hour on some train lines, which can approach 200 percent capacity. The joy of being a freelance journalist is that I can usually avoid that. The signage is great. If there’s a delay, they announce it over speakers that work. In theological terms, Tokyo is the trinity of comfort, cleanliness and punctuality. New York transit is the antichrist.
The buses are old-fashioned and unsafe (they malfunction; bus doors are broken and always open, so it’s easy for passengers to fall out of the bus). Some bus drivers and cashiers are rude and drive improperly. Also, some buses don’t stop at every bus stop.
Some taxi drivers are also rude, and taxis seem to be unsafe for passengers: They are risky for rape and other violence and crime. Many taxi drivers don’t pick up passengers, or they select only tourists, not Thai or local people.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
It takes me 45 minutes to go to work by motorbike over a distance of about seven miles. The transportation system in Ho Chi Minh City doesn't work well because there are always construction sites on the street here and there, and the streets are too narrow for the large number of commuters.
Melbourne is renowned for its terrible public transportation. We have decades-old technology on our railways, not enough trains to meet demand, and constant and significant delays. High fares and violent ticket inspectors make public transport miserable and scary. But the worst thing is the cleaning chemicals and the fragranced products worn and used by transport staff and fellow commuters. They make me so sick.
Strasshof an der Nordbahn, Austria
There is practically no location in Vienna that is more than 10 minutes on foot from public transportation from about 5 a.m. to midnight. Outside those hours on weekdays, there are bus lines within the city limits but at longer intervals and with less density. The five subway lines operate throughout the nights preceding Saturdays and Sundays. Unfortunately, transportation to locations outside of the Vienna city limits during the late evening hours and during the night is extremely rare.
I came from Washington to London in 2015. I was born in Miami, where public transportation was practically nonexistent, so I always thought I should be grateful for WMATA even if it wasn’t getting me places on time reliably. Then I started taking the tube and the double-decker buses in London. It’s like a utopia. They even put up handwritten inspirational quotes in some stations to brighten your day.
Public transportation is one of my favorite things about Nantes. Trams and buses make it very convenient to get anywhere in town, even the suburbs. Public bicycles let me get around town quickly. Compared with where I grew up, in Tulsa, the transportation here offers a lot more mobility to the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income families, and it makes the city feel far more dynamic. Reduced rates for people with low incomes have been a life-saver on my student-teacher budget.
I live in Stockholm, which has an unbelievable transportation system. Buses and subways and trains and even transportation from the airport work beautifully together. You can buy a card that will refill itself when needed. No need to do anything except swipe at the terminals. We don't have a car in the city and love it!
My office is 5.6 kilometers away.
Whenever possible, I commute by bike. It takes about 20 minutes. Wear and tear to the bike notwithstanding, it’s free. It’s nice to ride along Lake Zurich, then through the city. (Lovely town.) It can also be stressful in parts, especially this time of year when many unskilled and inattentive cyclists are out and about.
Otherwise, I take public transport. 3.40 Swiss francs (about $3.50) per day. Also takes 20 minutes. On time and uneventful.
For 67 Swiss francs (about $70) per month, I have full access to all public transportation systems in my region: buses, tramways and trains. It’s perfect! I’m connected to everything in due time.