Surprising Ways of Commuting Around the World

Although commuting to work (or school) is part of our daily routine, it can become a real ordeal, especially in or around big cities. Except if you belong to the happy few who can walk or just need one connection to reach their workplace in less than 15 minutes, you would probably complain about the commuting time, the cost, overcrowded public transports, bad connections, repeated delays, traffic jam….

But once you read this article, you will be able to put things into perspective and tell yourself that your commuting experience is probably not the worst in the world. Indeed, there are parts of the world where people experience different ways of commuting. Ways you have probably never imagined, unless you live or have already lived there. People have obviously learnt how to face the mobility challenge in their own — and rather creative — way.

Here are examples of astonishing cases I have experienced, heard or read about in some cities across the world:

1. Bangkok, Thailand

The first example which comes to my mind is Bangkok, since I used to commute every day to my internship at a hotel a couple of years ago. Back then, I stayed at parents and had to commute to the centre of Bangkok to reach my workplace. My morning commute looked like this: I would share a taxi with my aunt, take a small bus, the BTS (Skytrain) and either walk under the sun for 10 minutes or opt for a quick ride on a motorbike taxi — a riskier but definitely faster option. My way back home was slightly different. I was able to catch a Tuk-Tuk shuttle reserved for hotel guests when there were available seats — if not, I would just walk or take ride a motorbike taxi as usual. Then, I would take the BTS and the first bus which followed my route and could drop me at my parents’ place. I tested all kinds of buses in Bangkok: public or private, air-conditioned or regular and even musical ones (depending on the bus driver’s tastes). The funny thing was, you could not even say that your bus was delayed, since most of the time, there was no bus stops, and therefore, no schedule!

In the end, I spent from 4,5 to 6 hours commuting on a daily basis, depending on the traffic. I survived 1.5 month and finally decided to rent a small flat next to my workplace. But the whole experience allowed me to try out every type of transports possible, except for the MRT (Bangkok’s metro line) and the Express Boats. Because yes, in Bangkok, you can find taxis which are 2-wheeled, 4-wheeled but also on the water! Commuting by boat along canals was considered a fast way of transportation which allowed commuters to avoid traffic jam on the roads.

An Express Boat transporting commuters in Bangkok

2. Tokyo, Japan

In Tokyo, half of the commuters travel by train. The transportation system in Tokyo is notorious for being very clean and efficient. Indeed, if your train is late by even a few minutes, you can request a certificate from the train company to give to your employer. But during peak hours, you will probably miss something very important: your freedom to move and your personal space. Oshiya (‘pushers’) are even employed in train stations to literally push people before the train doors close. The congestion has become so critical that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has recently launched a campaign to encourage flexible working hours.

An Oshiya pushing people into the train (one of the weirdest jobs on earth)

3. Mumbai, India

Another city where the train experience is particularly infamous and where commuters are insanely brave. In service since 1853, the local rail network in Mumbai was part of the first railway infrastructure ever built in the whole Asia. It has become the busiest train system in the world, transporting nearly 8 million commuters per day, and the equivalent of 2.2 billion people annually. With such astonishing figures, ‘overcrowded’ seems to be a too weak word to qualify the Mumbai trains. During peak hours, it is not uncommon to see commuters spilling out of the doors and even climbing dangerously onto the tops of trains or sitting on the connecting-pipes between coaches. The good news that many commuters will appreciate: the first air-conditioned suburban trains have been introduced end of 2017.

Mumbai commuters in/on a local train

4. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Everybody has already heard about car traffic jams. But what about bicycle jams? Those are very common in Amsterdam, the world’s busiest bicycle capital. In fact, there are 1 million bikes for a population of 1.1 million! I was told that some people sometimes owned more than one bike, for instance a cargo bike to carry heavy things, and a regular bike to commute. No wonder that this bike phenomenon causes some rather stressing situations during rush hours, such as over capacitated cycle paths and streets or insufficient parking spots. In that situation, the solution is not to reduce the number of bikes which are the perfect example of eco-friendly mobility of course, but to keep improving the infrastructure as the bike traffic grows.

An impressively crowded bike parking area in Amsterdam

5. Luxor, Egypt

Animal carriages are still used as transportation modes in some parts of the globe. It is the case for Egypt, in cities such as Luxor. Horse carriage rides, known as Hantoors are very solicited by local commuters and tourists to go from one place to another. Egypt’s government has even planned to launch a Uber-like ride-hailing mobile application to help commuter and travellers find horse carriages in the city and know their prices.

Hantoors (horse carriages) in Luxor

6. Hong Kong

The so-called Hong Kong’s Central to Mid-Levels Escalator is the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world. 80,000 commuters use it every day to travel from Hong Kong’s central business district to the upscale residential streets of the Mid-Levels. It was the first escalator ever used as public transportation. Opened in 1993, it covers 800 meters (2,600 ft) in distance and is comprised of 18 escalators and 3 inclined moving walkways.

Hong Kong’s Central to Mid-Levels Escalator

7. Johannesburg, South Africa

Due to insufficient public transport system and the need of the population to commute to the suburbs and townships, minibus taxis have become very popular and common in Johannesburg and across the country. Minibus taxis can carry about 10–15 people. But do not expect a regular bus trip with regular bus stops and routes — and the possibility to fall asleep. Basically, every corner can become a bus stop: the drivers choose to stop wherever and whenever but also to drive at whatever speed they want. And apparently, you have to use specific hand signs to indicate your destination and then to get off!

A typical white minibus taxi transporting commuters across the city

Conclusion

People commute in different ways around the world. But all commutes are relative. A commute can be though because you end up being a super-commuter, someone who travel for more than 145km (90 miles) or 45 minutes each way. It was my case while commuting in Bangkok. But a commute can also be though because you end up squashed like sardines with strangers, despite better infrastructure and more efficient commute such as in Tokyo.

No matter how we commute, at the end of the day, what matters most seem to be how we experience it and how it affects our daily lives. In my opinion, the perfect commute doesn’t exist, but the best option is certainly when you find the right balance between time, cost and comfort. As an individual, I can always explore all the available options and choose the one(s) which best suit(s) my needs. I can also put things into perspective and find good ways to improve my daily commute.

If travelling by car as a driver or passenger is the best option for me, why not share rides with colleagues or friends, and at the same time share costs and great moments? Why not carpool with Zify?