March 01, 2019


1920 painting by Alexander Akhrameyev.

Every morning, all over the world, countless commuters board busses, streetcars, subways, and commuter trains, sometimes with great effort, and head to the other end of town or to another town altogether, only to reverse the process come evening.

Today, public transit is such a natural part of urban life that we can hardly imagine that it was ever otherwise. How can people get by without a transit system? How would you get to and from work? How would you get around town?

Two or three hundred years ago the answer was simple: people with money had their own means of transportation, whether carriages or litters, and the simple folk had to live where they worked. Servants lived in their masters’ houses, peasants farmed lands adjacent to their huts, and workers lived in the settlements that sprung up around any factory, an easy walk away from their jobs, where they could hear the whistle calling them to work. Spending time getting to work was simply impractical, and where would a poor person get the means? Furthermore, given the fact that in the nineteenth century the workday could run 12 to 15 hours, there really wasn’t time.

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