Urban Transport

Modern cities are impossible to imagine without public transport. It can be comfortable and not very comfortable, it is loved and hated – but if it did not exist, what would we all do? We tell you how different types of public transport were invented and what preceded today’s streetcars and shuttles.

Haron’s boat is a legendary prototype.

The first regular vehicle was a boat. Cities grew on the banks of rivers, and bridges and crossings were not built everywhere – so the boaters always had an income. The island life of the Mediterranean contributed to the movement on water. Perhaps this very prototype of urban transport is reflected in the legend of Haron, the early images of which date back to V century BC. All criteria of public transport are evident – a constant route, stable payment, regularity as passengers appear.

It is hard to say whether there was public transport in the ancient metropolitan areas – Rome, Babylon, Alexandria, Constantinople. Surely, for this payment, the cabmen agreed to transport cargo and people, but it was unlikely to happen regularly – otherwise ancient historians would have left evidence in their works and documents.

Omnibus – the first public transport

Popular since the second half of the XIX century omnibus is the first regular public transport. It was a large multi-seat horse-drawn carriage, accommodating 10-20 people. Some omnibuses had the second floor, the ‘imperial’, and the fare was cheaper. Such transport was started in the middle of XVII century.

In order to attract clients, he arranged the delivery by omnibus. But one day, the entrepreneur noticed that many people came earlier and realized that the omnibus was valuable in its own right. And if the carriages can be called an urban “medieval cab” because they worked to order, the omnibus was the first urban public transport. In the late XIX century, the first electric omnibuses appeared. Gradually they were replaced by a horse and streetcar, and later they were smoothly transformed into modern buses.

Horse-and-iron city road

Horse is considered an official follower of the omnibus and the predecessor of electric streetcar. It was actively used before the railway was transferred to steam, heat, rope or electric traction. Open or closed crew of the horse also sometimes equipped with an “imperial” – a double bench on the roof of the car.

The main difference between the horse and omnibus – rails. Under the car were laid two tracks, the wheels are equipped with a system of rails, and two horses, controlled by a coachman, pulled the transport. If there were steep hills on the way, the coachmen were helped by special servants who pulled one or two more pairs of horses.

The first horse as a public transport appeared in the U.S. in Baltimore, but its popularity reached only by mid-century, when they invented rails with a chute. A couple of decades later, horse streetcars have successfully conquered major cities in North America and Europe.

The monorail is a futuristic old town.

One of the first monorail trains was invented in Britain in 1821, and three years later the cargo monorail was already used for transportation at a naval shipyard. Another year later the first passenger monorail was launched. Next, a new type of transport tried in France and the United States.

The principle of monorail was the same everywhere – one rail was either above the car or below as a track. At first, they were equestrian, then – steam, and then – electric. The new type of transport entered the market slowly: the first monorail trains were unreliable, served little and badly.

Compared to the subway, monorail transport is easier and cheaper to build, it is quiet and moves faster than streetcars, and the probability of collision with people and transport is low. Tourists are attracted by the monorails with a great view. Among the disadvantages – high energy consumption, and the time to translate the monorail hand comes to half a minute, while the streetcar and rail hands are translated in a second.

Metro and streetcar

The idea to take transport underground dates back to the XIX century, when the congestion of the streets of large cities has increased. Steam traction, known on the railroad, contributed to the subway development.

The project to create underground interchanges appeared the first tunnel was dug. Three years later, the first underground train started to carry passengers. By the second half of the XIX century in London have already created a network of underground tunnels, which ran through trains with steam traction. It was named simply – Metropolitan Railway, or Capital Railway.


The world’s first bus was driven by a steam engine and could accommodate only 8 passengers. Its creator was the British inventor Richard Treviticus. He is also considered to be the creator of the steam engine. His bus was like an ordinary carriage. In 1886, the first electric bus was created in London.

Today by bus we mean most often a car with an internal combustion engine. This version of the bus appeared in Germany in 1895. The route of the first bus is about 15 kilometers. But as an urban public transport bus began to use in London in 1903. At that time, they often used to be called omnibuses, although in a separate type of transport is no longer distinguished.

With each decade, maneuverable and spacious buses were used more and more often. Today it is the most common type of city motor transport. There are battery, gas-fuel, and diesel buses. Interestingly, the word “bus” contains “bus”, borrowed from the term “omnibus”, which in Latin means only “for everyone”. That is, today’s popular word “bus” simply means the end of the plural form of dative case (omnis – everyone, everyone).


The trolleybus began to come in fashion after the U.S. in 1882 patented the “trolleybus roller” – a rod with a roller at the end. A great contribution to the development of such transport made the American inventor Frank Spreig, in 1888 by introducing a more reliable boom current collector. But at first, it was used mainly for streetcars. Then, and in Europe switched to the slip rods, first with a roller, and then with a sliding contact.

The use of the trolleybus was appreciated a century later, when the question of the ecological condition of the cities became urgent: this transport does not pollute the atmosphere. It is capacious, more maneuverable than a streetcar, though not as energy efficient. So far, it is too early to abandon the trolleybus, especially after the appearance of comfortable inclusive cars.

Automobilization against…

So, the history of urban transport includes five main periods. The first was transport on horse traction (horses, omnibuses, monorails). It was replaced by steam traction, which affected all the above mentioned types of transport. Electric drive shifted public interest in streetcars, motorization made buses popular. The revival of mass passenger transport by the middle of the XX century, taking into account electronic technology and automation was densely standing on the progress of the past centuries. Most modes of transport received “rejuvenation” and new ways of transportation.

You will be interested in: Prospects for urban air transport development.
The problem of road congestion is solved by the competent use of public transport. At the same time, private transport is more comfortable, faster (provided there are no traffic jams), and is an element of the personal image of the owner. The development of motorization began in the 50s of the twentieth century, and continues today. The car is in sharp competition with public transport for not the first decade.

But the congestion of the city requires constant development of roads. They are being built in several tiers to unload the highways. And even with the gradual transition to electric cars and bicycles as private transport, large cities suffocate from smog. That is why public transport is not written off, and is unlikely to be written off in the coming decades.