Living in: Great cities for public transport

From Munich to Taipei, these five cities are known for having efficient, well-incorporated mass transit systems, making it easy for residents to manage the urban sprawl.

Almost nothing affects today’s urban citizen more than how they get around their city. From work to play, from home to the office, billions of people every day step onto the bus, ride the subway and glide through town in a streetcar. These cities, taken from “world’s best” lists in publications such as Travel + Leisure, Wired, CNN Travel and Gadling, are global destinations known for their efficient, well-incorporated mass transit systems.

Greater London comprises 32 boroughs and the City of London, an area of more than 600 square miles. And all of it is served by a vast network of coaches and trains, including underground, overground and lightrail. The London Underground, known as the Tube, opened in 1863, making it the oldest underground system in the world, and this year, a series of celebrations are planned for its 150th anniversary. It is also the most expensive public transportation in the world, according to research compiled by the House of Commons library, but it does have one of the best-designed maps in transit history. The map, an evolution of Harry Beck’s revolutionary 1931 design, has clearly delineated lines and interchanges, and probably no other city has station names with such enticing and enduring flair: Elephant and Castle or Mile End, Peckham Rye or Ladbroke Grove. Londoners check Transport for London before their morning commute for up-to-the-minute travel delays, and the site’s comprehensive Journey Planner provides route options from A to B, including how far you will have to walk to the nearest bus or Tube stop. The 250-mile long system covers an area that goes from densely urban to glorious countryside in just a single fare, easily transporting passengers from Central London into Epping Forest or the Chiltern Hills.

In transport terms, London is made up of concentric zones from 1 through 6, with 1 being the city centre – roughly transcribed by the Tube’s Circle Line – and 6 being the farthest out. London real estate is some of the most expensive in the world, and prices in zones 1 and 2 are eye watering. The average house price across Greater London is 445,000 pounds, but in desirable areas like Notting Hill or Kensington, the average price is closer to 1.5 million pounds. In less popular areas like Lewisham in southeast London, the average price is just less than 300,000 pounds. The average rent for a two-bedroom flat in Notting Hill runs at 577 pounds a week, while in Lewisham, the same size flat averages 284 pounds a week.

The Seoul subway is the longest system in the world, with 508km of track and more than a dozen lines running across the city’s 25 districts. The immaculate, hi-tech stations have signage in both Korean and English, and digital touchscreen kiosks provide real time information, maps and tourist information. During rush hour, trains arrive every two minutes and off-peak, they arrive every five, making commuting and travelling around the city convenient to residents and tourists alike. Also convenient is the free wi-fi (available in stations and subway cars) with high download speeds and uninterrupted service, not to mention the subway cars’ digital TVs and heated seats in winter. The city buses are colour-coded to instantly telegraph what type of route they ply: red buses are express, green buses run short routes between subway stations and other points.  

Across the city, the housing market is in a decline, with falling prices and falling demand, so the South Korean government has plans to loosen rules around purchasing property in hopes of stimulating the market. These include exemptions on property acquisition taxes and financial support for first-time buyers. However, Seoul remains fairly expensive, especially in traditionally desirable areas such as Apgujeong-dong, Daechi-dong and Gaepo-dong, all part of the Gangnam district, and newer areas such as Banpo-dong in the Seocho district. The average price of a home in Banpo is a a healthy 34 million won per 3.3sqm, and an 115sqm apartment rents for around 3.1 million won a month. The average price for a flat in Gangnam is around 808 million won and an 185sqm apartment rents for around 6.5 million won a month.

The Bavarian capital’s public transit system is one of Europe’s easiest to use. The U-Bahn (underground trains), S-Bahn (commuter and street rail), bus and tram systems are incredibly well integrated and all run by the MVV, Munich’s transit authority. The system provides seamless journeys from the airport into the city centre and all around town via daily, weekly and monthly multi-transport tickets that only need to be validated once rather than swiped at every metro or bus stop, saving time and easing congestion. The MVV Companion app for iPhone and Android has maps, timetables and a route planner, as well as information about delays and congestion.

Munich’s excellent infrastructure is part of what keeps the city ranked as Germany’s high-tech capital, and its appeal to many large corporations and their employees make the real estate some of the more expensive in Europe, with its residential market nearly matching prices in Geneva and London. Many of the most popular residential areas, such as Lehel in the Old Town, and the neighbourhoods just around the city centre, such as Maxvorstadt and Schwabing to the north and Glockenbachviertel to the south, have numerous transport links, including the tram, U- Bahn and buses. The price for residential properties in these neighbourhoods ranges between 7,000 and 22,000 euros per square metre. The average rental price in these areas is around 20 euros per square metre.

Portland, Oregon
Portland’s advanced cycling culture and its many miles of bike lanes thrives alongside Trimet, the mass transit system that includes streetcars, buses and the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) lightrail, connecting downtown Portland to the suburbs and the airport. Recent budget issues have raised the spectre of fare hikes, but Trimet provides free transit to all high school students in the Portland Public School District, while other students receive a reduced-fare Youth Pass. Portland also tops the list of being the most cycle-friendly large city in the United States, with 6.3% of commuters travelling by bike. Around 31% of all students walk or bike to school (as opposed to the national average of 13%), and the public schools give a 12-week-long bike-safety class.

Portland’s five main districts are Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast and North Portland, and the downtown area is on the west side of the Willamette River. Demand is high for housing in neighbourhoods on the west side that have easy access to the MAX, while on the east side, the lightrail is less of a factor. “On the [inner] east side, being close to the bike lanes is more in demand, especially in neighbourhoods like Irvington, Alameda and Buckman where you’re close enough to bike to downtown,” said Gary Majors, a broker at Markram Properties. However, a new route opening in 2015 will expand the MAX to Milwaukie, a small city just seven miles south of Portland, connecting the inner Southeast neighbourhoods to the downtown core at the same time. The average price for a two-bedroom house in Buckman ranges from $318,000 to $388,000, while elsewhere in Portland average prices drop to around $237,250. A two-bedroom apartment in an inner Southeast or Northeast neighbourhood rents for around $1,000 a month.  

The booming capital of Taiwan enjoys Asia’s second-highest GDP, just behind Tokyo. The core city of Taipei is part of a greater metropolitan area that includes New Taipei City and the port city of Keelung, and is home to nearly seven million people. They are whisked around the city by a clean, efficient and incredibly punctual rapid transit system using a contactless payment called EasyCard, which is read by panels on the buses and in the MRT metro stations. The card can now be used on high-speed trains, bicycle rentals, some taxis and even some domestic flights. The extremely punctual system runs trains every five minutes or less, and there is a complete ban on food and drink in the cars and on platforms, keeping the system relatively rubbish-free.

Some of the city’s most expensive real estate is near the Taipei City Hall and Zhongxiao Dunhua stations in the commercial Eastern District, one of the newer areas of the city. Near the latter, the average house price is 94,900 new Taiwan dollars per ping, a measure of unit based on the size of two tatami (sleeping) mats, and monthly rent is 1,328 new Taiwan dollars per ping. Around Ximen Station, the Ximending area is a very popular shopping and nightlife zone, filled with pubs, clubs and stores. House prices here average 52,600 New Taiwan dollars per ping and monthly rents are 1,130 New Taiwan dollars per ping.