20 alternative commutes to work
Manly Ferry, Sydney, Australia
The views as you cross Sydney harbour from suburban Manly to Circular Quay are unrivalled. You might even spot dolphins swimming alongside the boat or the occasional whale breaching in the distance. Fast ferries complete the route in just eighteen minutes, with an onboard bar providing beers to sip on the way home.
Tokyo Metro, Japan
In the city that brought us capsule hotels and shoebox apartments, it’s no surprise that space is at a premium on public transport. Tokyo’s inventive solution is to employ oshiya, white-gloved “people pushers” who cram as many passengers as possible onto the trains. Today they’re no longer ubiquitous, but the network still runs at up to two hundred percent capacity.
Cable car, Barcelona, Spain
Linking the port with the museums, castle and gardens on the Montjuïc hill, the Transbordador Aeri isn’t a prime commuter route, but it’s a sensational journey for those that use it. Red-and-white cabins judder between the pylons every ten minutes or so, though the lofty views are certainly not for the acrophobic.
Wuppertal Monorail, Germany
Built in the 1890s by an engineer called Eugen Langen, this suspended monorail runs for nearly fourteen kilometres across Wuppertal in western Germany, and has transported over 1.5 billion people since its construction. The sensation of the carriage movement is a little disconcerting, but lovely views along the Wupper tributary go some way to compensate.
Traghettos, Venice, Italy
There are just four bridges along Venice’s 3.5-kilometre-long Grand Canal, but luckily for those who work one side and live on the other, there’s an alternative to taking a dip. Skilled oarsmen regularly ply traghettos to-and-fro, ferrying passengers for a small fee. If your balancing skills are up to it, it’s traditional to stand during the short journey.
Chicken buses, Guatemala City, Guatemala
People commute from as far away as Antigua to Guatemala’s sprawling capital, with hordes of “chicken buses” plying every route imaginable. These brightly coloured rust-buckets are old Bluebirds, US school buses retired after ten years’ service. Daubed with multi-coloured designs and decked out with sound-systems, they are an undoubtedly distinctive way to get to work in the morning.
SeaBus and SkyTrain, Vancouver, Canada
Taking just fifteen minutes to whisk commuters across the Burrard Inlet from North Vancouver to the central Waterfront Station, Vancouver’s SeaBus fleet offers both glorious views and a speedy commute. Once the boat has docked, many hop onto the automated SkyTrain network, an elevated line that zips above ground across the city.
Vespas, Rome, Italy
Long an icon of Rome (think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday), scooters are undoubtedly the best way to weave through the narrow roads of this ancient city. If you’re going to join the locals, make sure you have your horn at the ready and your wits about you.
Snowmobiling, Alaska, USA
Dog-sleds were once Alaskans’ staple rural transport in winter, when many towns are inaccessible by road, but today the snowmobile rules. Across the USA, there are nearly 1.5million registered snowmobiles, or snow machines, as they’re known locally. You’ll need a good pair of mittens and preferably a helmet before you get on your way.
Star Ferry, Hong Kong, China
A good commute doesn’t have to come at a price: a trip on the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island costs just HK$2.50, about 20p. Window seats offer the chance to snap a shot of Victoria Harbour’s iconic skyline; it’s best viewed in the evening when the neon-illuminated skyscrapers are at their most magnificent.
Moscow Metro, Russia
Stalin began construction of the Moscow Metro in the 1930s. He envisioned the stations as “palaces for the people”, a legacy of his rule of the communist USSR. Today the network might boast Wi-Fi and nearly two hundred stops, but the original architecture and design remains: high ceilings, socialist artwork and chandeliers.
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Japan
The world’s longest suspension bridge spans nearly two thousand metres, taking commuters and tourists alike from Iwaya on Awaji Island across the Akashi Strait to the city of Kobe on Honshu. This feat of modern engineering took ten years to construct and has been built to withstand typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes.
Bamboo trains, Cambodia
Known to locals as norry, these bamboo platforms shoot along abandoned railway tracks at speeds of up to 40km per hour. The “trains” run on old tank wheels, powered by small electric engines. Routes from Battambang are open to tourists, but norry are still a key form of local transport.
Cycling, Copenhagen, Denmark
According to Visit Copenhagen, the city has more than three hundred kilometres of bike lanes, which provide more than thirty percent of the population with their route to work. You won’t just find Lycra-nuts zipping past the canals here though, well over half of the Danish parliament takes to two wheels each morning.
Cable Car, San Francisco, USA
San Fransciso’s cable car network was created by Andrew Smith Hallidie in 1873. Even though buses and cars have now made the hilly city easier to navigate, there’s no beating a leisurely journey to work on one of these historic lines. Around fifteen kilometres of pulley-system track remain today, and the iconic cars are a National Historic Landmark.
Common in the Southern Philippines, habal-habal are modified motorbikes with planks of wood providing precarious seats to the side and rear of the driver. You might spot a group of four or five sharing a ride to work in rural areas, or as many as a family of eight crammed onto one spluttering bike.
Mallaig–Inverie Ferry, Scotland
Inverie is the sole settlement on the isolated Knoydart Peninsula, accessible over land only by a two-day hike. The hamlet might be home to the UK's most remote pub, but otherwise job opportunities are sparse; a ferry takes residents to the closest settlement, the small town of Mallaig, which has the nearest train line (and mobile phone signal).
Buses, Chongqing, China
The bus system in Chongqing at first appears like any other. But in the summer of 2013, with soaring temperatures making commuting unbearable, the local government came up with an ingenious idea. They installed mist machines in 26 of the city’s bus stops to spray water vapour onto unsuspecting passengers, lowering the local air temperature by around five degrees.
Mumbai Suburban Railway, India
Mumbai, home to twenty million people, has an understandably chaotic and overcrowded train network. Yet your homemade lunch will follow you through the melee. The city’s four thousand or so dabbawallahs deliver more than 150,000 tiffins each day, loading them on and off trains using an astoundingly reliable system of colour-coded markings: they only lose one every few months.
Walking the South Bank, London, UK
From this author’s one-time home in Borough, it was a thirty-minute stroll along the South Bank to Rough Guides HQ. Taking in some of the capital’s best-known landmarks, from the Shard and Somerset House to St Paul’s cathedral and the London Eye, this commute tops a ride on a Routemaster any day.
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