If you thought that the metro or the bus was bad in places like Toronto, Detroit or even Atlanta – welcome the world’s 15 places with the worst public transport. Ever.
From death trains that fly at heart-stopping speeds, packed with passengers like sardines in a can, to ferries that often capsize and kill hundreds in a year, the public transport systems in third world nations, developing countries and tourist traps far exceed even your worst subway experience. Some of these cities lack infrastructure, but mostly, it’s the financial crunch that the citizens face that leads them to defy death in a bid to get to work and back, on an everyday basis.
A zillion accidents waiting to happen, and some tragedies that have already unfolded –these are those cities of the world, where taking public transport can put a scare in you, mostly for your life – arranged in no particular order but chaos…
15 Jakarta, Indonesia - Ojek Taxis
The capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta, is facing a traffic crisis of sorts. With too many cars on the road, and still more being added every day, and an infrastructure that hasn’t kept up the pace, the city is witness to legendary jams and complete gridlocks. In 2014 the executive director of Indonesia Effort for Environment Ahmad Safrudin warned of a total gridlock if steps weren’t taken to improve the infrastructure.
Many top business companies in Jakarta have taken to mobile offices –roomy cars with a strong Internet connection and provisions to have meetings on the road itself in a bid to boost productivity amidst the traffic challenges. And it’s not just cars and buses on the road. Jakarta is also home to two-wheeler taxis called Ojek aimed at tourists – these bike-taxi drivers, however, give daredevilry a whole new name with the hapless passengers hanging on for dear life, mostly without helmets! Remember before you hop on that Ojek – bargaining is the norm, lest the driver takes you for a ride, literally.
14 New York City - Subway
The NYC MTA, i.e. subway is one of the worst? Like really? No, not really. But we’ve listed it anyways because New York is one crowded city, and other than your normal I-have-to-get-here-or-get-there crowd, the subway is full of the creepiest dudes and dudettes you can find.
First, when it rains – it rains within the subways too, and so there are puddles of every kind, color and consistency that you need to avoid to get on that train in a relatively spotless state. Ask any New Yorker. It’s like a minefield of things never-to-step-into, or even look closely at. And while the connectivity is cool, the sudden schedule changes and signal delays are not – and the subway shuttles are a joke because you then go back above ground and get caught in traffic, again. And then there are the people who hold doors, or don’t move to the center of the train car, or just indulge in a little too much of anything and everything, never mind the public eye. Tch, tch!
13 Oslo, Norway - Dog Sledding
Don’t get us wrong, Norway actually has a very efficient public transport system. To the point that you may be surprised how easy it is to get to relatively far flung places. There are great bus connections everywhere for the general public as well as the tourists, and when the land ends, the ferries take over.
However, if you want to visit the true beauty of Norway, you have to see it up close and personal in the wilderness. And to get there, you have the dog sleds. It may sound very exciting and adventurous, but frankly it's anything but. Poorly trained dogs, ill-kept by the tourist trap companies and ill-maintained equipment means that more often than not, tourists land face down into snow piles and suffer anything from mild lacerations to broken bones. This is not an observation on all dog-sledding outfits, some of them are actually very good – just be careful to choose the ones with high reviews and rankings, not the cheap discounts.
12 Guatemala City - The Chicken Bus
This is where all American school buses beyond their years go to die, and instead of ending up in a metallic graveyard, are re-decorated (rather garishly), and then put to work. While they are basically part of public transport in all of Guatemala and supposed to take people to places, a lot of these people also carry their livestock in it, including poultry, hence the name.
The chicken buses in Guatemala are for the locals, but it’s only the poor that travel on them. The well-to-do Guatemalans thumb their noses at these crowded, smelly and dirty rides and prefer their own vehicles – or if they have to depend on public transport, it’s the Pullman buses for them or the taxis (haggled fare and mostly no meters). Remember that a lot of Guatemala is still unpaved, so expect a ‘hatched’ ride if you are daring enough to ride on the chicken buses.
11 Bangkok, Thailand - Tuk-Tuks
There are two sides to every city, and Bangkok is no different. There's the hoity-toity Sukhumvit area where your hotel could just call you a cab or you could just walk down to the nearest SkyTrain station and grab a metro ride. The thing is, the SkyTrain is great, but it doesn’t go everywhere. To really explore Bangkok you’ll have to rely on the taxis or the tuk-tuks.
The tuk-tuks are not metered so they lack the pretense of being ordered – remember to haggle on the price before you get on. They are open on all sides and in a congested city like Bangkok, with rampant dirt and pollution, not the best way to travel. Also, these drivers tend to drop you off in the wrong place sometimes; do insist on being dropped where you wanted to go and keep saying ‘no pay’ till they do. A taxi is better as usually they have to ply on a meter (starting at 35 Baht) though sometimes they don’t and ask for a fixed, higher-than-usual fare.
10 Bolivia - The Death Road
Bolivia is rugged topography indeed. Many roads are unpaved and the rains sometimes wash out roads completely. The buses of Bolivia, bad as they are, are still perhaps the best way to travel in this country, even though they aren’t very reliable. Protests and road blocks can sometimes leave travelers stranded for hours since the buses have to stop plying, and there are no fixed schedules per se in any case.
The world’s most dangerous road lies in Bolivia too – called the Camino de la Muerte aka the road of death. It’s a 38-mile long pass in Bolivia’s Amazon region. The rains tend to make this treacherous road, with a ravine on one edge and a cliff face on the other, very dangerous since it becomes muddy and slippery – roughly 200 to 300 lives are lost on this road every year. So much so that the Inter-American Development Bank dubbed this the world’s most dangerous road in 1995!
9 Johannesburg, South Africa - Minibus Taxis
Call it an informal mode of travel or an unorganized one – Johannesburg thrives on its minibus taxi service despite it being unsafe and rather chaotic on the roads. Why are they dangerous? It’s because they account for double the crashes than all other vehicles in Jo’burg!
An amazing 65% South Africans use these minibus taxis every day, mainly because they are quicker and cheaper than the buses in the city. The minibus has a rather dark history too. They came into being in the 1980s during the apartheid to take black workers from their restricted home communities to work and back. Today, while they are used by all South Africans, caste and color no matter, they are still dangerous enough to pose serious risks to other vehicles on the road, as well as the passengers who favor them. Mostly, the drivers are ill-trained, or simply don’t care for human lives or loss, though the government has been training them annually in behavior and road safety for the last decade or so.
8 Manila, Philippines - Jeepneys
With no air-conditioning, no particular stops and no regulations being followed – the jeepneys found in Manila and now other cities in Philippines too, are basically numerous accidents just waiting to happen. Ask a local as to how many people can sit in a jeepney, and the joke goes, "just one more!" From people crammed into these ill-kept vehicles like sardines, to still more hanging on the back – there’s always room for just one more passenger for the vehicle owners, drivers or manager to make more bucks.
Since jeepney travel is cheap and favored amongst the locals, they are innumerable in Manila alone, causing major road congestion. Other than the starting and the ending place, the route of the jeepney is never fixed and depends on where the passengers want to go, even it means flouting some traffic rules. Originally American military jeeps, the remnants of WWII; the Filipinos saw potential in them and turned them in public transport by making them 2 meters longer and also putting into long bench-like seats in them, from front to back.
7 São Paulo, Brazil - Traffic Congestion
How bad is the traffic and transport in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region in Brazil? Bad enough that it boasts of the world’s second largest helicopter fleet that most high-level businessmen prefer to travel by, to cut through the city’s debilitating traffic jams.
The public transport is feeble at best, with most residents opting for the comfort of their own cars, even as the traffic moves at a snail’s pace. The so-called dedicated bus lanes aka the Corredores de ônibus, are not really segregated from other motor traffic much, and cover only 112 km of the 4,300km roadways. The same goes for the metro – the 313km of metro is far less than what is truly needed to cover the city the size of São Paulo and to add to the passengers’ woes, also covers freight alongside. The city streets are narrow and disorganized and cars, buses, motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and even street sellers all compete for the same space, leading to long and frequent traffic congestions.
6 Pakistan - Train
As of 2015, the Pakistan Railways has liabilities amounting to more than 1 billion USD, and basically is dying a slow death. In 1986, The Globe & Mail in Canada highlighted a deal landed by the consulting division of Canadian Pacific Railways, that was going to provide a Computer Management System to Pakistan Railways. At the time, it was reported that the 8,800km of Pakistan Railways carried 100 million passengers and over 11 million tons of freight. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year this picture was dismal and far from rosy. The passengers have dropped to 47 million and the freight to a mere 1.6 million tons.
The trains are old and damaged, the tracks ill-maintained and if you still do get onto the train – expect delays, unnecessary and frequent “official” checks and of course, really bad service. And then of course, is the terrorist violence and frequent accidents. In fact, after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination; angry mobs set fire to 22 locomotives, and 137 coaches, further crippling an already sick railways.
5 Lima, Peru - Private Taxis
The public transport system of Lima can perhaps best be described as chaotic. Privately operated and owned buses, taxis, microbuses and combis (small vans) run the roost here and since they are cheap, are favored by the locals. The buses are ill-maintained and the drivers, in a bid to get more and more passengers, competitively race against each other, barreling down roads at high speeds with very little regard to rules or safety.
Privately-owned taxis are a big menace to tourists and most visitors are strictly warned against hiring a cab in the middle of nowhere. If you are travelling to Lima, it’s best to tell your hotel to send a cab to get you – and never keep your luggage in the seat beside you – cab windows are often broken on a busy traffic junction to steal luggage and goods. The light at the end of the tunnel? Lima’s new metro as well as the new laned bus system - the Metropolitano.
4 New Delhi, India - Autos and Buses
New Delhi is India’s capital city and ever since the Commonwealth games of 2010 has managed to improve upon its roads significantly. With the new and ever-expanding metro, Delhi is a far cry from what it used to be a decade back.
That said, the bane of Delhi roads is still the privately-operated buses and of course, the autos. Similar to the tuk-tuks, these are three-wheeled vehicles, now running on CNG (compressed natural gas). Even then, the drivers of these autos have made it a point to make the life of others motorists a living hell. They have handlebars in the vehicle instead of steering wheels and have this zigzag way of driving which, in their heads, helps them cut through traffic but basically causes the most amount of congestion.
The privately operated buses are no better with the drivers and operators of these buses often being of a criminal nature. With cabs like Meru & Ola freely available in New Delhi – it's better to travel in them rather than autos or buses in this city of historical importance and business significance.
3 Nairobi, Kenya - The Matatus
One of the largest cities in Africa, and the largest city of Kenya, Nairobi now has an ever-growing urban population, which means ever-growing traffic. The public transport is challenging at best even for the locals, and far more inconvenient if you are visiting. If you get onto a matatu, remember that there is no guarantee that you’ll actually be taken to your intended destination. If a matatu driver has fewer passengers on the route he’s on and spots a crowd of people waiting on the other way, he can and will unceremoniously drop you off, take a U-turn and zip off to where the money is!
Matatu drivers are also known to do this in case of an authority check on documents – if they know that there’s a police barricade somewhere up ahead, they will not complete the route and simply kick all passengers out willy-nilly. With hardly any documentation completed, the matatus are part of the traffic chaos of Nairobi, with most drivers and operators being unruly, rude and unconcerned with rules or safety.
2 Bangladesh - Ferries
Since Bangladesh is pockmarked with waterways all through its geography, it’s only natural that ferries are part of its public transport. However the ferries of this country are overloaded, in run down condition and the operators would not even know what passenger lists are.
The climate of the country makes it a home for frequent storms and squalls, turning the waterways choppy and dangerous. Since these ferries are already overloaded, they tend to capsize. And with the weather playing truant, rescue operations too are hampered, leading to a maximum loss of life. And hundreds of locals have lost their lives in accidents with ferries capsizing in rough seas which make this public transport a very unsafe one for all.
When it comes to roadways, most locals in Bangladesh depend more on the CNG-run autos since taxis are few and far between or shared autos called tempos which are cheaper but far more uncomfortable. While not a smooth ride, at least they don't cause loss of life like the ferries do.
1 Mumbai, India - Killer Trains
A thriving cosmopolitan hub that houses Bollywood (India’s film and cinematic industry) and the headquarters of many thriving multinationals and businesses, Mumbai is second only to New Delhi in its importance as a metropolitan area.
However, the infrastructure in Mumbai moves at a much slower pace than Delhi’s, perhaps because of the disorganized and unplanned housing and office structures everywhere. The lifeline of Mumbai is its ‘locals’ – the trains that connect all of Mumbai and its suburbs. While the metro line as well as the monorail is being constructed in Mumbai, they are still works in progress.
For now, Mumbaiwallahs depend primarily on the trains, and on autos or taxis to connect them to and fro from stations. Since these trains are used by 7.5 million passengers daily, the Mumbai locals are best described as overcrowded and unsafe - so much so that an estimated 9 people lose their lives on these very trains and tracks on an everyday basis!