We get it: Europe has great public transportation, everybody rides bikes, there’s high-quality cheese everywhere, blah blah blah.
There’s a lot American transit providers can learn from studying their counterparts in Europe. But on recent trips to the continent, Mobility Lab’s Jenna Fortunati and Andy Furillo found some things that (shocker) public transportation in the United States does a little bit better.
Here are the best transit practices from the U.S. that Europe can use to make their transit even better.
Add bike racks to buses
Yes, European capital cities tend to have a much higher bike mode share than American cities. But hardly any buses there have bike racks.
Most buses in the United States have bike racks. Even in an era of expanding bikeshare systems, bike racks are important in providing a “lifeline” for bike commuters using their own cycles. They help bikers get over massive hills and bridges that don’t have bike lanes or sidewalks. Without the reliability of bike racks, bike commuting would be much harder.
Make ticketing easy to understand
While the physical type of transit card varies across major U.S. cities – from high-quality stored value cards in DC to flimsy paper ones in New York – the idea is the same: add money to a reusable card.
Andy and Jenna didn’t find this pay-as-you-go model available in European cities, especially in France. In Lyon, Andy was able to obtain a card that looks a lot like DC’s SmarTrip or San Francisco’s Clipper – but only after visiting a Transports en Commun Lyonnais (TCL) office, filling out a form, and showing his passport. The card could only be used for long-term passes, lacking a cash value option.
And in Rome, Jenna and her friends didn’t even pay for transit: the ticketing machines were so confusing that they boarded buses without paying – like everyone else. When in Rome, right?
We suggest that ticketing machines give people two options: an all-day unlimited pass or a pay-as-you-go card. The ticketing machine should even suggest which pass to buy if you’re a tourist.
Get better at communicating problems
The American transit rider is very well acquainted with the word delay. From aging subways to buses that don’t show up, transit reliability issues are a symbol of the country’s infrastructure challenges.
But as frustrating as these issues are, it normally is pretty easy to find out the severity and cause of the delay. For example, in DC, information on service disruptions appears on dynamic messaging screens and blares over station speakers. Savvy riders know what they’re in for before they even head out the door, thanks to resources such as MetroHero or Rail Transit OPS.
Normally, trips to Europe are a refreshing chance to get away from the problems plaguing American transportation. But things still go wrong, as Andy learned when a late evening Frankfurt S-Bahn train arrived 15 minutes behind schedule without explanation, only to crawl for one stop before being offloaded. It was the worst transit delay his friend (a native German) had experienced since moving back to her home country from DC, but neither she nor he found an explanation. Unsure when service would resume, they exited the station and hailed a cab.
To improve, Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV) and peer transit agencies should take the basic advice we offer any transportation provider: communicate with your customers! As hard as the world’s top transit systems strive to be perfect, things don’t always go as planned. While delays are never ideal, accurate, up-to-date information reduces riders’ stress and helps them navigate the situation more effectively.
Photos by Jenna Fortunati for Mobility Lab.