Public transport can be as easy as ABC

At a time of holiday jams and more difficulties on rail, we offer a guide to how the rest of the world is speeding ahead
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The Independent Online
With roads jammed this weekend and Britain's rail network still plagued by delays, travelling abroad has rarely seemed so attractive.

With roads jammed this weekend and Britain's rail network still plagued by delays, travelling abroad has rarely seemed so attractive. This is thanks in part to the hundreds of innovative and cost-efficient developments backed by our competitor nations. Here is Passenger Power's A-Z of best practice around the world.

A is for Automation. As in automatic tickets. While Britons freeze in long bus queues, continental countries sell tickets from machines which passengers cancel or "validate" once inside.

B is for Bicycle. Copenhagen provides 2,500 free cycles from 125 racks across the city, funded by advertising on the bikes.

C is for Congestion charges. Ken Livingstone still has trouble persuading London's motorists it's a good thing, but Singapore already has an effective scheme in place. As do the Norwegian cities of Bergen, Oslo and Trondheim in Norway.

D is for Driver-less trains. The first driver-less metro was introduced in Lille, France, in 1983 ­ reportedly the world's only profitable subway. Many trains in Copenhagen, Paris and Vancouver now operate by remote control, along with London's Docklands Light Railway.

E is for Electric trains. While much of Britain's railway is still in thrall to the diesel locomotive, continental systems are faster, smoother and fully electrified.

F is for Free travel. Portland, Oregon, regularly tops polls asking Americans to name their favourite city. Why? Lots of space, friendly folk and free travel on public transport within a square mile of the centre..

G is for Gastronomy. Forget the steam-heated burger. The residents of Melbourne can enjoy the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, a converted 1927 tram which treats passengers to gourmet food. It has even made it into The Melbourne Good Food Guide.

H is for Hitchhiking. Communist Cuba has embraced this egalitarian mode of transport. So many Cubans rely on hitching these days that Castro has legalised it and even set up hitchhiking posts manned by government officials who do the waving for you. The only serious drawback to thumbing a lift is the lack of working cars on the road.

I is for Integration. Only in the UK do trains deliberately leave before the bus arrives. In the rest of the civilised world, public transport is integrated. See Prague, Geneva and Amsterdam.

J is for Joint-ownership of cars. Car clubs have existed in Germany and Switzerland for more than a decade, with 24-hour access to a pool of vehicles for a small fee. The UK has 11 car clubs but they are catching on more slowly than speeds on the M25.

K is for Karlsruhe, Germany, described by transport pressure groups as public transport heaven. Best of all are its supertrams fanning out from the city centre for 50 miles. There is also a bicycle express, a specially converted tram to carry cycles in and out of the centre.

L is for Luggage. It's not just the grisly food that spoils air travel. The real bane is waiting for luggage in the arrivals lounge. US airlines have bigger overhead lockers so more bags can be carried on as hand luggage.

M is for Monorail. Cheaper and quicker monorails give a city a futuristic feel allowing passengers to travel above the traffic. Favoured by the Japanese but taking off in American cities and, closer to home, Hull.

N is for Night-time transport. And also for New York: the city that never sleeps has its subway to thank for its insomnia. A late night out in Britain means a huge cab bill, but in New York trains run all night.

O is for O-Bahn. Also known as the not-so-catchy "Adelaide kerb- guided busway". The O-Bahn is a bus that effectively turns into a train for periods of the journey, running on a fixed track at speeds up to 60mph.

P is for Paris. Last week, the Parisian Transport Authority held auditions for the prized badges allowing buskers to perform legally in the Métro. Prevents performers from "assaulting the ears" of the public.

Q is for Queue-busting. At last a use for WAP phones. Travellers in cities such as Gothenberg in Sweden can now get news of when their train or bus will arrive through "real time" information beamed into workplace, home or handheld computers.

R is for Rubbish. In Amsterdam, the trams and metros have been run on electricity generated by burning the city's garbage since January. In Trollhattan, Norway, the buses are run on bio-gas produced from local sewage and fish waste.

S is for Swiss timing. Switzerland has "Clock Face" timetables, meaning that the trains run at exactly the same minute past the hour every day, all year round. Even Christmas Day.

T is for Tram. The one thing that links Blackpool and Croydon with the sophisticates of Milan, Amsterdam and Barcelona. Universally loved, they are cheap to run and avoid all traffic jams.

U is for Underground systems that work: whether it's the hi-tech investment of Hong Kong or the ultra-reliable Moscow underground, which rarely breaks down ­ despite its 1930s technology. In London, service frequency is now worse than it was in the 1950s on some lines.

V is for Vehicle-free. And in particular, for Vaubon, Germany, home to that country's biggest experiment in auto-free living. Cars are banned within the boundaries of its 280 homes and must be left in garages outside.

W is for Women-only. In Japan, where a survey showed that 80 per cent of women claimed they had been molested on public transport, women-only carriages are a big hit. Last May, Bangkok launched a "Lady-Bus" service to protect female passengers.

X is for Xpress lanes. And xtra passengers. Southern California has high-occupancy vehicle lanes banning cars with no passengers from freeway fast lanes at peak times. In Los Angeles, motorists have taken to an X-rated solution: blow-up dolls in the passenger seat to confuse the police.

Y is for Year-round passes. And especially for the German Bahn Card, which entitles the bearer to half-price travel on all the country's train routes.

Z is for Zebra crossings. In Tokyo, home to the karaoke, even the zebra crossings sing. The tunes help blind people to tell how much time they have left to cross the road depending on how much of the song is sung.

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