I’ve long looked at subway systems as a measure of a great metropolis. Not its only one, mind you, or even the defining one, but among the criteria to consider.
Here are ten items to put that in perspective.
- About 160 underground public transportation systems operate in 55 countries around the world – more than 40 percent of them new in the 21st century, starting a decade after my novel Subway Hitchhikers was first published.
- The London Underground opened in 1863 and operated its first electrified line in 1890, making it the oldest.
- The longest route is the Shanghai Metro.
- The busiest system is the Beijing Subway.
- New York City has the most stations.
- The Paris Metro opened in 1900. It has some great art deco design and a certain funky romantic air.
- Budapest opened in 1896, beating Paris. As did Boston, 1897.
- China has 32.
- Africa has three: Algiers (2011), Cairo (1987), Mecca (2010).
- The Moscow subway, with some truly impressively beautiful stations, opened in 1935 and claims the world’s highest daily ridership – nearly seven million. Tokyo, opened in 1927, has 8.7 million daily riders – more than Moscow’s – but the footnote is that subways account for only a fraction of the daily passengers. As for Beijing, 10.3 million riders daily? Go figure. Tokyo’s punctually efficient system still hires oshya to push commuters like sardines into the tin. Err, car, at peak hours.