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Most Memorable Mass Transit

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Most of the time, mass public transit is kind of a drag – long lines, delays, noise, etc.  But sometimes it provides a unique glimpse of what life is like somewhere else: 

  1. Moscow subway – Part of the city experience involves riding the system’s endless escalators, visiting the exquisite older stations and, finding that, once you’re on the train, it’s not much different from New York.
  2. Dushanbe electric bus – When you can see the pavement through the floor, you know you’re not in the US anymore.
  3. Istiklal Caddesi trolley, Istanbul – A relaxing way to experience Istanbul’s most elegant street – though you have to give up any illusions of being anything other than a tourist.  If you’re really a mass transit junkie, you can preface the ride with a trip on the light rail from Sultanahmet and the quirky Tünel (Europe’s oldest mass transit system), and then follow it up with a tram ride across Macka Park near Taksim Square.
  4. Mexico City subway – Although I’m sure it’s similar in other cities, I’ll never forget my first rush-hour commute, where the only way to get on board is to stand in front of the door and let the crowd behind you shove you inside.
  5. Mongolian marshrutka – Similar to, but far more colorful (in a figurative sense) than, Mexico City’s ubiquitous peseros, the ‘fixed line’ minibuses plying the steppe provide the next best thing to travel by horseback.  One trip to a far-off destination should provide most of the highlights – greasy buuz from meat of uncertain origin washed down with salty ayran, stopping to chat for a half-hour with friends, relatives or anyone else, a cheerful (if frustrating) disregard any sense of scheduling or timeliness, the vast openness of the steppe, ovoos aplenty and music (if you ask nicely you might get a personal demonstration of throat singing).
  6. Ferries of all types, though I’m thinking in particular of the iconic Washington State Ferries and Istanbul’s scenic ferries (water taxis, such as Venice’s, don’t quite make the cut – they’re not really public transportation) – there’s nothing quite like the 360-degree view you get while out on the water.