Baby don't exclude me, don't exclude me, no more.

If you want to provoke a five hours discussion between public transport spotters, you should ask them what a metro, metropolitan etc. really is. This might be also dangerous, because people can go nuts with this problem. Well, I'm not surprised, because what cities really call metro may differ. Some of them use this term only as a brand name, another may take more serious. In this note I'd like to end this one hundred and fifty-three years old misunderstanding and categorise public transport in cities in a universal form.

I don't know why you're not fair

First of all, we should describe the problem. Which means of transport are called metro today? There is, of course, Paris Métropolitain, opened in 1900. I think nobody would say, that this example doesn't fit in a definition of metro. BTW, Wikipedia describes metro as:

Rapid transit, also known as metro, subway or underground is a type of high-capacity public transport generally found in urban areas. Unlike buses or trams, rapid transit systems are electric railways that operate on an exclusive right-of-way, which cannot be accessed by pedestrians or other vehicles of any sort, and which is often grade separated in tunnels or on elevated railways.

Well, I think this definition is quite simple, reasonable and good. So, this is the end of the note.

Except you know that it's not over yet.

Consider five cases: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. How do you think, which one presents a metro system? It's just 3, isn't it? Or maybe 3, 4 and 5? No. Only 1, 2 and 3 are metros. Yes, this one looking like regional trains, this aesthetic tram and the yellow guy - Tyne and Wear Metro, Porto Metro and, of course, Berlin U-Bahn. Four and five are S-Bahn systems (in Berlin and Gdansk). However, someone will state, that those examples are tendentious and he will be right - I did it for purpose. I did it simply because I could. I did it because there are many types of public transport services which are called metro, they are absolutely different from each other. Nowadays, a division of the means of the public transport based on the technological categorization is not proper in most cases (cities). Sure, there are some examples, Munich or Warsaw, where trams are just trams, buses have only a minor role, S-Bahn is just a commuter rail services for suburbs and metro is as stereotypical as fuck, but those cities are in minority.

So, which division may be more correct?

I give you frequency, but you don't care

To answer this question we should first discover, what really defines a metro system. In every single case the metro system is crucial for the city. It is probably the most or the second most important for commuters. And it is reliable, which means it's fast, frequent and punctual. If your mean of transport meets all the conditions - it should be considered as a metro system. This means the best division is not based on the technical type (like bus or train), but on role the mean plays in the performance known as public transport. It's because, well, regular passengers don't give a shit about technical details, they just want to commute in a decent way.

But of course not every mean of transport should be called metro. For example, local bus which transfer you from your local station to your very house is not a part of the metro. It's simply local transport – the second category which I want to extract. Local transport can be described as complement to the metro.

However, sometimes we're not able to use any of these categories. For example – tram networks in smaller cities in Germany, buses and trams are used interchangeably both for short travels and the longest ones. For cases like this the third category should be made – semi-metro systems, which are used both for very local and longer routes.

So what is tram and what is bus?

So overall - there are three categories in which means of transport can be placed. But if there is no precise technical condition - does it mean, that a trams or buses can be also considered as a metro?

The answer is: probably… It really depends on the situation. For example – in Gdańsk we have a metro system (our S-Bahn – SKM), a semi-metro system (trams) and a local transport (buses). However, in London their tram network (Tramlink) is just a local transport for one district. In Porto – their trams are absolutely a metro.

Gimme a ride

Summarizing, we should really think about how we treat our transport. It must be handled with care, without racial discrimination. What is really important is its role.

Why? Because it's 2015 2016.

Yeah, yeah, (woah-woah-woah, oh, oh)

That's all folks. Thanks for reading.

Background photo made by Stephy Miehle and published on Thanks!

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