Research article

On the move

Transport is key to economic growth, especially when it comes to getting people to and from work.

More than 15 billion journeys per annum are made across the combined metro systems of our 12 cities. These are vital pieces of infrastructure that enable cities to function and grow. But the scale and function of transport systems, and the way they are used by local residents, varies significantly around the globe.

Early stages of the metro

The first underground railway in the world, the Metropolitan Railway, was opened in London in 1863 and revolutionised transport in the capital. The network has since expanded to 270 stations over 402km of track. The system has shaped the urban fabric of London, with whole new suburbs created by the expansion of the underground into ‘metroland’, putting central London employment within reach of homeowning classes. The mobility that London’s underground network provides has been integral in transforming London into a pre-eminent world city.

Click on the map below to view the operating transport networks and urban reach for our 12 world cities

12 world cities

Today’s metro

Today, underground or metro networks, and associated transport infrastructure, are the oil in the cogs of the world’s great cities. These systems are constantly being expanded and updated to meet the needs of dynamic modern cities. Some, such as London, Paris and New York, have well-established systems, dating back 100 years or more. Others have introduced this infrastructure in recent years as their populations have increased. Fast-growing Shanghai has only had a metro system since 1993 but is already the world’s largest by system length. The first phase of Mumbai’s metro only opened this year.

Despite being one of the newest systems, Shanghai’s metro is the most heavily used, with 2.5 billion journeys taken each year. The highest ridership per kilometre of track is Rio de Janeiro’s metro, where 9.8 million ride each year per km (click on fig. 5 to enlarge). However, this small network is focused on the high-volume central districts (the entire system is just 41km in length).

The development of technology and advances in engineering mean newer metros run faster than older ones.

Figure 5

Commute times

Based on the public transport commutes of our Savills Executive Unit (SEU), the average times on older transport networks are double that of the newest on a per kilometre basis (click on fig. 6 to enlarge).

Figure 6

These commute times say as much about the locations in which different employees choose to live as it does about the nature of the transport networks (click on fig. 7 to enlarge). In New York, where staff favour living more centrally, the average commute is just 19 minutes. By contrast, the more dispersed nature of Rio, Mumbai and Shanghai means that people spend longer commuting, despite faster travel times on a per kilometre basis. Here, administration level staff live far from the centre, priced out of the best neighbourhoods and reflecting income inequality.

Figure 7

Dubai is characterised by relatively long average travel distances (16km on average), but journeys take less than 45 minutes on average. The Dubai metro, having opened in 2009, has significantly reduced commute times in the city. However, driving is still the favoured mode of transport because fuel is cheap.

The way to work

Not everyone in our world cities takes public transport. CEOs in Shanghai and Moscow are more likely to be chauffeur driven to the office, while their peers in New York may use a car service. Local employees in the early stages of their careers will commonly take public transport across all cities. Those working in creative industries, however, are more likely to cycle or take the bus than their counterparts in the finance sector, who tend to stick to the subway.


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