[UPD 02/2019] Bonus: Metro around the World

April 13, 2018

Call it subway, underground, metro or tube, you cannot put out Mike’s excitement for the topic. Adel calls it his weird obsession but who doesn’t love a good metro system in their city, ey?

We’ll be updating this blogpost as we take more rides in metro systems around the globe. So tag along as currently we’ve visited more than 20 of them and we want to share our thoughts on the topic.

Listen to “Bonus: Metro around the World” on Spreaker.
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Updates:

  • 02/2019: Added Amsterdam and Brussels
  • 11/2018: Added Helsinki and Vienna

Regions:

Metro is high on Mike’s list when visiting a new city each time so we’ll try to give you a comprehensive guide of what you can expect in each city, what does the metro look like and how it compares to other systems elsewhere.

In Europe we are spoiled by how great the public transportation is and only after traveling we found out how bad it can get. You would think that metro is such a good formula that there is nothing that can go wrong, but you be surprised by how many design flaws can such system have.

Europe

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: lines sometimes use the same track
Access: gates, ride based or long-term tickets, slight confusion
Cleanness: 5/5

Mike: I fell for Amsterdam metro instantly. Its clean appearance combined with its futuristic looks gave it a great first impression that was subsequently confirmed by metro’s usability. I haven’t been to all stations but the first one I’ve seen (De Pijp) was showing off all its platforms in one glance thanks to a mindful use of glass. There was a slight confusion when buying the ticket, however, because local kiosks offered a few similar sounding options and calling the metro both R-net and GVB also doesn’t help. All and all the trains came on time and were very pleasant to ride. Five stars from me.

 Amsterdam Metro Map

BRUSSELS

Brussels Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides around tracks
Lines: one line that splits in two routes
Access: gates, ride based or long-term tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 3/5

Mike: The initial vibes I was getting from Brussels metro was that it kind of looks like an old school theater. The station I was getting on (Parc) has brown tiles all over and is very dimly lit which made it look older than it probably is. The train I got on was matching with this vintage look and while I’m not a huge fan of it I’m sure there are riders that would find this appealing and stylish. On the other hand, I liked the quiet ambient elevator-type music playing at the station.

Adel: This metro system seems very efficient, basic, with no space for modern design, however, I didn’t feel like that was missing. The main focus of this system was to effectively move people from point A to point B with no other fuss. Bonus points: There is free wi-fi in this metro.

Brussels Metro Brussels Metro Map

HELSINKI

Helsinki Metro LogoPlatforms: in the middle between tracks
Lines: one line that splits in two routes
Access: gates, time based or long-term tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 5/5

Mike: As you could hear in our bonus episode from Finland, Helsinki has one of the most beautiful stations I’ve ever seen. Long wide platforms are colorful and sometimes (at least seemingly) showing the bedrock that tunnels were carved through. The system was reliable and easy to navigate with one caveat: in addition to the regular orange line official metro maps show another purple one that looks like a second metro line but in reality it is just a regular suburban rail.

 

VIENNA

Vienna Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides
Lines: one line that splits in two routes
Access: no gates, time based or long-term tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 4/5

Mike: Don’t expect much from Vienna metro and you’ll like it as it is very functional, timely and quite frequent. The system seemed to me as minimal viable, almost bare-bones, transport solution. A station can consist of just two platforms around metro tracks with their own separate entrances. What that means is if you want to get to the other platform not only you cannot directly cross but also you’d need to leave the station altogether, cross the street and then enter the other entrance leading to the second platform.
Update: Later I learned this layout is quite rare in Vienna and doesn’t translate to many other stations.

 

PRAGUE

Prague Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: no gates, time based or long-term tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 4/5

Mike: Prague metro to me can be an ideal role model for other cities. It’s reliable, really easy to navigate, covers most of the city and the wait times vary between 3 (rush hour) and 8 minutes (night time). Prague officials take good care of the metro, lastly in April 2015 line A got its long awaited extension from Dejvická to Nemocnice Motol. Just don’t forget to stamp your ticket before on your way down to any station, they do check.

Adel: Prague is one of the easiest and most reliable metros I’ve commuted with so far. It is crowded only in rush hours and not to a bad extent, the navigation system is easy to understand, and overall it is pretty well done. What I like the most about my hometown subway system is that it is nice and warm in the winter and nicely cold in the hot summer. It is actually my preferred hiding spot from the summer heat.

LONDON

London Underground LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: lines sometimes use the same track, line routes can split
Access: gates, Oyster card with a pretty smart system
Cleanness: 4/5

Adel: I rode the London tube over ten years ago, so I don’t remember much. But I remember the iconic tiles, the gates at the entrance and the platforms on the sides of the tracks. Very iconic metro, we should ride it again soon.

 

TOULOUSE

Toulouse Metro LogoPlatforms: usually on the sides
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates, ride based tickets and long term tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 5/5

Adel: Very similar to Prague, Toulouse metro system is great. It is pretty new, very clean, easy to navigate, and although not many stations have the platform in the middle, the glass barrier between the tracks and the platforms is great. It prevents people from jumping and falling in the tracks. In Prague, a lot of people decides to end their life on the metro tracks and I’ve witnessed it twice already, so I am all for these barriers.

UPDATE: since 11/10/2017, the metro system is entirely covered by 4G network

 

PARIS

Paris Metro LogoPlatforms: chaos
Lines: too many
Access: gates at the entrance, sometimes in the middle of a tunnel, lots of stairs, not suitable for traveling with suitcases, ride based tickets, long-term ticket • Cleanness: 2/5

Adel: Paris metro system was probably created by one of France’s crazy artists. It just doesn’t make sense. It is chaos. Too many lines, too many tracks where more than just one line can arrive, too many tunnels through which you have to walk, sometimes for tens of minutes, too many stairs with no option of elevator or escalator, too many smelly people, it’s just too much. Some trains have no driver and some do. Some trains are long and some are short, so you don’t know where to stand on the platform. Oh and the tickets. The small, tiny, purple tickets. You can buy a lot of 10 of them. Wow. But no 1 day ticket, no, that would be too complicated. Oh and don’t put it near your phone or credit cards. You could demagnetise it.

 

MADRID

Madrid Metro LogoPlatforms: on the sides around tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates, zone or ride based tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 5/5

Mike: Metro in Madrid was surprisingly pleasant to use, very clean and reliable. There’s a grey circular line going around the city center that interconnects with other lines, really smart! All the trains I’ve seen were walkable from the front to the back with individual cars connected through flexible joints. The only source of confusion for me were platforms places around the tracks so during each line transfer I had to think ahead of time which direction am I actually taking. And also prepare for local goons trying to sell fake shoes in the corridors.

 

BARCELONA

Barcelona Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates, ride based tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 3/5

Adel: Very standard metro system. It is not clean, but not very dirty, it is pretty easy to navigate. Barcelona metro is very mediocre. Nothing special pops into my mind as I am writing this article.

 

ROME

Rome Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates, ride based tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 3/5

Adel: Same as Barcelona. I have to add that it gets pretty hot inside. There is absolutely-no-air sometimes.

 

PORTO

Porto Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides
Lines: lines sometimes use the same track, line routes can split
Access: no gates, ride based or full-day tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 5/5

Adel: This system is very clean and modern looking. Some tracks are above the ground, not under, which is nice when you want to see a bit of the city. Given the shape of this city, the river and the ocean, the metro does not really cover the city that well. That being said, the bus system is pretty dope with its double-deckers riding by the ocean side. On the downside, multiple lines can arrive to one platform and the line routes can split. But luckily the navigation system is pretty easy to understand.

 

LISBON

Lisbon Metro LogoPlatforms: on the sides around tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates, ride based or full-day tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 5/5

Mike: What I liked a lot about Lisbon metro was that the junction point between lines were quite frequent and from a tourist perspective I didn’t need to think much in advance where to transfer as there were usually other opportunities to do so later on the way. Train cars were modern, clean and the stations as well. In 2017 a 24-hour ticket cost me less than €7.

 

BUDAPEST

Budapest Metro LogoPlatforms: on the sides around tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: no gates, ticket checks, easy to understand
Cleanness: 3/5 | 5/5

Mike: Long standing as the second oldest metro system in Europe (and the third worldwide) Budapest metro has a lot to offer. Firstly, the old lines (1, 2 and 3) are bizarrely cute with their old train cars and small stations from way back when and, secondly, if you transfer to the newer line 4 you’re going to be amazed by the contrast. The new line is the most modern looking metro I’ve even seen and so the transfer feels like a time machine. Just don’t forget to stamp your tickets.

 

KIEV

Kiev Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates requiring plastic tokens to open
Cleanness: 3/5

Mike: Metro in Kiev was open in the 60’s, it is quite fast and reliable. All the trains look old and it’s fascinating they were able to stay functional for this long. Interestingly you don’t pay for the length of your trip but for entering the metro as all gates only accept plastic tokens to open. In 2016 one token was about €0.20. Just watch out if you don’t like bumping into other people, Ukrainians don’t watch their steps if they’re in a hurry.

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Americas

CIUDAD DE MÉXICO

Ciudad de Méxido Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides around tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, line routes don’t split
Access: gates, ride based tickets or rechargeable card
Cleanness: 3/5

Mike: I have to start by saying the CDMX metro is very effective. The intervals are short, it comes on time and gets you where you need to fast. Usually. The only factor that might strip down its effectiveness is people because in the rush hour Mexican metro can be so packed that you need to wait a couple of trains to go by until you can enter one and barely get in, leaning on doors. Getting out, for that matter, might also be a challenge and during some times of the day you need to start moving closer to the door a minute in advance or else you’re not getting off. Despite air fans in the ceiling of train cars it can get really hot too. In 2017 one ride of any length was about €0.2 including the then newly opened golden line made similar to the Madrid metro. Also don’t get surprised by people selling snacks, headphones or basically anything in the metro.

 

NEW YORK CITY

New York City Subway LogoPlatforms: varies between stations
Lines: lines share the same tracks, line routes frequently split
Access: gates, rechargeable card
Cleanness: 3/5

Mike: New York metro is definitely the busiest one I’ve ever seen. It spans across the whole city and all NYC metro lines cover it really tightly which must have been a really tedious project to complete. I consider it the only USA metro that’s on par with its European counterparts and really make New York City easy the navigate. It’s not the cleanest metro system nor the easiest one to understand as lines tend to shift their routes but the metro is super useful. One drawback is that no lines crosses the river and if you want to go to Jersey side you have to take a ground level transport or a ship.

Adel: New York metro system is pretty similar to the Paris one. But instead of feeling chaotic, it feels…almost cultural? There are a lot of New Yorkers who don’t use the metro, because it is dirty, weird people ride it, and overall it is considered as something not very classy. But to me, it is like its own city. There is New York above the ground, and then there is New York under the ground. Very busy, you can see some reeeally weird people, but definitely worth the ride.

 

WASHINGTON DC

WMATA – DC Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks but depends
Lines: lines share the same tracks, line routes usually don’t split
Access: gates, rechargeable card, different tariffs for rush hour periods
Cleanness: 4/5

Mike: Metro system in Washington is called WMATA and in my opinion it is the worst metro I’ve ever seen. Maybe I was just unlucky every time I’ve taken it but I couldn’t rely on operation of individual lines, let alone on arriving on time. Trains in DC have some sort of schedule but it’s not very relevant because stations have big LED boards to announce arrivals. Sometimes the estimated time remaining would just jump up as the metro probably got stuck on its way but you never know. Different lines share the same tracks which makes it confusing and really easy to get on the wrong one. Fun fact: One time my metro got stuck in a tunnel for 40 minutes because of rain. Rain.

 

BALTIMORE

Baltimore Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: the one line doesn’t split its route
Access: gates, time based tickets, easy to understand
Cleanness: 2/5

Mike: Although most Baltimore metro maps show two lines, the second blue line is a light rain operated on ground level. A real metro line is only one and it’s not glamorous. Similarly to DC metro you cannot much rely on schedules and incoming trains are listed on LED boards but Baltimore metro’s biggest downside (having just one line) makes it really easy to understand and difficult to choose a wrong train. In this metro I’ve actually seen my first big rat running in the tracks. Still more reliable than DC metro, tho.

 

BOSTON

Boston Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides around tracks
Lines: each line has its own track, some lines split
Access: gates, easy to understand
Cleanness: 4/5

Mike: Boston metro is called MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) which is also why it’s the first metro system I’ve seen using a letter T instead of M as its logo. I was only able to take one ride on the metro as in 2017 I had my own car to move around Massachusetts like most other Americans. The metro seemed to have surprisingly long history and despite that didn’t seem too dirty. From what I remember the trains looked unusually narrow with floors quite low to the ground, probably because of ground level sections of the lines. As a side effect Boston metro stations have some of the lowest platforms I’ve seen.

 

LOS ANGELES

Los Angeles Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: lines share the same tracks, line routes usually don’t split
Access: gates, rechargeable card
Cleanness: 4/5

Mike: LA is known for its traffic jams so metro seems like a logical step. I tried taking a ride once and it wasn’t bad at all, it was calm and comfy—it just didn’t cover a big portion of my trip and I had to take a bus. I didn’t see many people using the metro which links back to the classic American closed cycle of: people not having a good metro » everyone owning a car » investments in roads instead of transit » people not having a good metro. LA metro seems quite close to being useful, it just needs higher adoption.

 

SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco BART LogoPlatforms: mostly in the middle between tracks
Lines: lines share the same tracks, line routes usually don’t split
Access: gates, rechargeable card
Cleanness: 4/5

San Francisco MUNI LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides while underground
Lines: lines share the same tracks, line routes usually don’t split
Access: gates, rechargeable card
Cleanness: 4/5

Mike: SF famously has two metro systems that are somewhat connected but for each you need a different ticket. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the one that spreads far and wide across the bar area and MUNI (San Francisco Municipal Railway) covers more of the downtown area. MUNI also operates the well known cable cars going up and down SF and its metro runs underground only for a little bit until it becomes a regular tram line. Both of the systems seemed really good compared to some other US metros.

 

SEATTLE

Seattle Transit LogoPlatforms: depends on the station
Lines: lines share the same tracks, some line routes split
Access: I don’t remember seeing gates, distance based tickets
Cleanness: 5/5

Mike: This city pleasantly surprised me with its university vibe and a good public transport. Only part of the train line runs underground but it seemed modern, well organized, fast and friendly. In Seattle again I had to actively seek opportunities to visit the metro but it almost felt European which I feel like is the best review I can give to an American public transport.

 

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Asia

TEHRAN

Tehran Metro LogoPlatforms: mostly on the sides
Lines: didn’t ride enough lines
Access: can’t remember
Cleanness: 4/5

Adel: The metro system in Tehran is one of the most organised ways of transport in this country. It is pretty clean, I don’t remember getting lost, we navigated fairly easily through it. However, we did not ride many times. Therefore I cannot remember how the ticketing system works. But what I do remember is that it was very busy, there were so many people and half of the wagons were for women only. There were also people trying to sell fake Adidas sweats and other merchandise.

 

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