Public Buses in Global Cities

Jan 27, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Resident Director for CAPA Shanghai.

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This is a sister post to last month's Subways in Global Cities and will be a bit more challenging to navigate! Personally, I prefer to get to know the local bus networks in the global cities that I visit and not rely solely on just the subway system. 

There are practical reasons for this and, as we saw last month, three of CAPA's global cities do not have a subway. In those that do, the bus network has much more reach. Of course to really explore the city you need to use buses to see what is there which is why these cities have guided bus sightseeing tours - often with open top double dockers. However, I am focusing here on the public bus networks used by locals to get around.

Photo collage:
Beijing buses by Colin Speakman

Bus networks come in all shapes and sizes as indeed do the buses. There are those lovely minibuses in Florence, the long articulated buses of Beijing, the new style double deckers of London. Famous bus styles can readily identify a city - London's red bus is almost a name card of the city. When the old Routemasters were being phased out in London, Blackpool (where I grew up) bought several to run there to protect the heritage.

Photo: A Blackpool Routemaster by calflier001

Public buses offer an impression of the city: are they well maintained; do they have sufficient space and disabled access; and increasingly, are they environmentally friendly? Old diesel powered buses are known for their pollution and many cities are replacing them by hybrid electric buses, natural gas powered buses and super capacitor battery powered buses.

We can add to that that many cities in Europe and in China have trolley buses getting power from overhead electric cables. Some are associated with earlier times while others are brand new as this technology remains relevant in creating a clean air environment in cities.

Photo: Trolley bus in Athens, Greece by (Mick Baker)rooster

Undoubtably there are challenges in getting familiar with an unfamiliar bus network and the time spent doing so reflects how long one will stay in a city. Getting familiar with buses is important during a CAPA program and there are some techniques especially where English is not the local language. If one is going regularly to the same place, such as an internship, the sensible thing the first time is to be escorted, use an app like CityMapper in London, Google Maps or at least use a taxi with the address written down in the local language and watch for buses along the journey so you can find the nearest bus stop when you're there. For general network exploring, take a mystery bus tour in your free time. All of this is facilitated, in most cities, by a multi-use transit pass as you do not always know where you will get off when you start.

So, let's take a look at bus networks in CAPA's global cities:


Locals rely on public transport partnering the subway (Subte) with the bus network and often give directions using major transport stations. The city buses are called “micro” or “colectivo” and are a fairly fast and inexpensive way to travel around the city. Travelers on most bus lines typical wait up to 15 minutes and journeys, including those farther across town, generally take no more than 40 minutes. The service is available 24 hours a day but less frequent after midnight until 6am. There are more than 180 lines going through the whole city to provide connections with all locations in Greater Buenos Aires. The minimum fare is 30¢. Upon boarding, indicate your destination and the driver will tell you the fare. This assumes you know your destination! 

Photo: A Buenos Aires bus by Tim Adams


Dublin Bus is the main provider of road-based public transport in the Irish capital, as the name suggests. Since English speakers can follow the language, it makes sense to get a bus map when you arrive in Dublin from the main bus office in O'Connell Street or check the Dublin Bus website. However, locals will tell you that the art of making the bus stop where you want it to has to be learned. The routes serviced by Dublin Bus can, at times, be on long and winding roads, and connections to other routes might be inconvenient but you will get almost anywhere in the capital and suburbs for an affordable price. Buses vary in size, but the double decker is the most recognised. Tickets are purchased by paying the driver (unless you opt for a day pass or similar). Note that drivers are not able to give change; you either have the correct amount or you will get a refund voucher to be redeemed at the office in O'Connell Street. That can be a nuisance! 

Photo: Dublin double deckers by William Murphy


City buses in Florence are traditionally orange and there still are many, but the newer models are a deep purple and white color and the most recent are blue and operated by ATAF and LI-NEA. Ordinary (a single use 90 minute ticket) and multiple-ride tickets (four 90 minute rides on one single ticket) should be bought in advance at authorized sales points (coffee shops, tobacconists, newsagents: anyone with "ATAF" stickers on their shop windows) and from the ATAF booth within the SMN train station. The driver will not check tickets but random inspectors will and fine fare dodgers heavily. Tickets must be validated by inserting in a machine on the bus. If you buy the Firenze Card to get into museums, it includes unlimited bus travel on ATAF buses for the 72 hours the Firenze Card is active. You need to get the special bus ticket when you buy the Firenze Card, since it will have the card number on it, and stamp this bus ticket the FIRST time you get on a bus. A little complicated, but then makes travel easier for visitors! 

Photo: A small bus in Florence by Tavallai 


The London Transport bus network is shared by a range of separate companies operating under contracts to provide a number of routes and so the buses do come in different shapes and sizes and some with an additional color but the primary color of all buses is the London Red of historic times. The famous double deckers of old were phased out on safety grounds because they had an open rear door and many other styles were introduced. The bendy bus was among them and proved very unpopular as an articulated bus. They are now replaced by new style double deckers with closable rear door. The suburban routes use single deckers. There is a big emphasis on clean energy with hybrid power. It is necessary to have an Oystercard (sold many places) pre-loaded with cash to pay for journeys or you can use a contactless bank card on the machines just inside the bus. Fares are then flat rate. The network includes a useful number of night buses for 24 hour service on key routes after day buses stop running which is typically around 11pm.

Photo: New style red double decker buses in London by Colin Speakman


The bus network in Shanghai is operated mainly by flat fare single decker buses often running two at a time in busy periods, with a 2 rmb cost per journey. This can be paid in cash as the exact amount by inserting into a box on boarding but most locals have a Shanghai Transit Card (visitors can buy too). This is pre-loaded with cash at metro stations and can track journeys; connecting between buses in short time periods will reduce the next fare cost on the card. There are a number of night buses on key routes when the regular services end, which happens around 11pm. To improve the environment a number of routes are served by trolley buses and one by the new super capacitor bus that recharges at bus stops, thus avoiding the overhead wires.

Traditional single decker Shanghai bus by Colin Speakman


Buses are a major part of public transport in Sydney. Services are operated by both a large government operator, the State Transit Authority of New South Wales (STA), and numerous smaller private operators. The STA generally operates services in Sydney's east, north, inner west and inner southern suburbs, where there was once a tram network, replaced by the current bus network in the late 1950s. The western suburbs and most of the southern suburbs are served by smaller private companies. Operators must phase in a version of a white and two blues livery. Most buses are single decker, a few are articulated and since 2012 a limited number of double deckers have been introduced. Of note are Metrobus - a high frequency set of routes linking key employment and growth areas - and NightRide - operating from midnight to 5am with thirteen useful routes around the city.

Photo: Sydney buses by Simon_sees

Thanks Colin!

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Topics: Global Cities