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Singapore's public transit system rated as one of the best in the world

An MRT train travels along a track in a neighbourhood in Singapore that has a world-class public transit system.
An MRT train travels along a track in a neighbourhood in Singapore. The city-state boasts one fo the most efficient public transit systems in the world. REUTERS/Pablo Sanchez

By Amelia Pollard

(Bloomberg) — When it comes to the best public transit systems, cities in Asia and Europe claim all the top spots.

Hong Kong ranked first based on factors including distance to public transit, affordability, operating hours, crowding and commute speeds, according to a new study from the Oliver Wyman Forum, a think tank affiliated with the consulting firm by the same name, and the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies. Hong Kong’s mass transit railway was cited for its low fares, limited delays or service disruptions, and for supporting itself financially.

Zurich, Stockholm, Singapore and Helsinki round out the five best cities for public transit, with Zurich boosted by its investment in transportation and an advanced master plan.

Cities like Hong Kong help their transit systems when they make “usage of individual mobility less attractive,” said Andreas Nienhaus, an Oliver Wyman partner who focuses on the automotive industry and worked on the report. “They have either large green zones or large car-free zones, or just make it very expensive to drive personal vehicles in the city. And this helps.”

Hong Kong and Singapore have also been at the forefront of implementing new technologies in transportation, he said. Singapore, for example, is adding autonomous buses.

An on-demand autonomous bus developed by ST Engineering arrives at a bus stop at the start of a trial run from Singapore Science Park 2 to Haw Par Villa MRT station in Singapore on January 26, 2021. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
An on-demand autonomous bus developed by ST Engineering arrives at a bus stop at the start of a trial run from Singapore Science Park 2 to Haw Par Villa MRT station in Singapore on January 26, 2021. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Scandinavian cities — including Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm — dominate when it comes to environmental sustainability. Oslo, for instance, has invested in a comprehensive network of electric vehicle charging stations. And like Hong Kong, the city has many areas that don’t allow cars. The report also gives credit to Oslo’s multimodal network that includes park and ride stations, as well as allowing bikes on public transit.

Additionally, the report ranks cities on “mobility readiness,” with San Francisco topping the list in part for its EV-charging network. That said, Oliver Wyman points out concerns that San Francisco’s aging infrastructure puts it at risk in a region prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires.

US cities overall fared worse than urban areas in other countries because of their over dependence on cars. “In the US, there's this increased individualisation of mobility and this obviously doesn’t fit into public transit,” said Nienhaus, who’s based in Frankfurt.

Use of public transportation in New York City is still about half of pre-pandemic levels, for example, and it just placed lowest in a ranking of the worst US cities for driving. City officials are still trying to implement a congestion pricing plan that would charge some drivers as much as $23 to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street. In addition to congestion pricing, bike-share programs and opening up streets to pedestrians help cities ramp up usage of their public transit systems quickly, Nienhaus said. “It doesn’t have to take decades.”

Out of the 60 cities Oliver Wyman and Berkeley evaluated for public transit, urban centres in the Middle East and Africa ranked lowest, with Johannesburg; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Nairobi, Kenya; and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at the bottom.

Riyadh is likely to improve when its delayed metro system opens up in the coming years, according to Alexandre Bayen, a professor of engineering at UC Berkeley, who wrote: "The answer is straightforward: Invest."

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.