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8 Awe-Inspiring Mass Transit Systems that Changed Their Cities

Some of the greatest public transit systems offer their riders something extra, or reshape the cities they serve.
 
 
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It's believed that public transit systems began in seventeenth century France with a horse-drawn public carriage system. Unfortunately, it was reserved for use by the upper classes and quickly abandoned due to lack of use. It took 200 years before public transit really caught on in urban areas. But by the end of the nineteenth century, most cities had extensive transit systems that still provide the foundations (and infrastructure) for today's elaborate trains, trams, skyways, and more.

Seoul's Subway System, Korea
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io9

1. Seoul's Subway System, Korea

This is one of the world's largest subway systems in terms of passengers carried, which isn't surprising considering that 9.8 million people ride the trains every day in the Seoul Metropolitan Area (whose population hovers around 21 million). Trains come between every 2 and 5 minutes, serving nearly all of the city and its environs. The Seoul subway is also incredibly high-tech, with electronic billboards and the world's first virtual market that displays goods in digital form and allows people to shop for groceries using their mobile phones. Of course, there's wifi in all stations and cars. The downside? Ridership can get so high that levels of C02 and "particulate matter" go above safety standards.

Hong Kong MTR, China
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io9

2. Hong Kong MTR, China

In Hong Kong, 90 percent of citizens use public transit for commuting. The geographic layout of the most densely-populated areas makes transit mostly linear, and wide-reaching. The Hong Kong MTR has implemented several systems that make transit efficient, but also among the most affordable public transit systems in the world. The Octopus railway card pays for all public transit, and is also accepted at many convenience stores and some restaurants. With 10 million Octopus cards in circulation, this cuts down on fare costs and transfer time. Because the MTR is widespread and widely used, there is no premium on access, and therefore locals see little rise in housing costs near transit lines.

Washington State Ferries, U.S.
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io9

3. Washington State Ferries, U.S.

The state of Washington has unique geological features that can make transit tough. The San Juan Archipelago and other islands are inaccessible from the mainland, while others, such as the snake-like Whidbey Island, would take hours to reach by car from major metropolitan areas. To compensate for this geography, Washington has the largest fleet of passenger ferries in the United States, servicing 20 docks, and operates them with shocking efficiency. In 2009, 22.4 million passengers and 9.9 million vehicles used the ferry system.

Venetian Vaporetti, Italy
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io9

4. Venetian Vaporetti, Italy

Like Washington, Venice faces unique geological features. Composed of hundreds of islands and canals, cars, buses, and trains are not a viable mass transit option. Historically, people walked or kept a private gondola and gondolier, but modern Venetians use the efficient and extremely consistent vaporetti, which operate much like public busses and run around the clock. Unfortunately, the high wake speed of these motorboats has accelerated erosion of historic buildings.

Melbourne's Tram System, Australia
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io9

5. Melbourne's Tram System, Australia

Begin in the late nineteenth century with horse-drawn carriages, Melbourne's tram system has grown to be the largest in the world. With 250 km of track, and 1753 stops, the tram system criss-crosses this coastal city, bringing people from the suburbs all the way down to the beach. There are 3.5 million trips taken on Melbourne's trams every week. Though the city of Melbourne managed the tram network for nearly 80 years, it was privatized in 1999. This mirrors the fate of many national train systems, such as those in UK, many of which were privatized in the 1990s and 2000s.

 
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