Moving the masses around Europe…a brief history of public transport and today’s citizen rights

From horse drawn omnibuses to passenger rights…the last 186 years have seen big changes in public transport. Keep reading to find out about your public transport rights and public transport options, wherever you live around the world.

The history of public transport, or urban mass-transportation, to give it its proper name, is a story of the increasing size of vehicles, their speed and range of types of vehicle.

Before the days of public transport people had to walk or go by horse everywhere.

Public transport meant that people could start travelling further to find work and for pleasure. It also meant people living in the countryside could go to their local market town for shopping.

It lead to increased communication between populations and that resulted in the spread of families, away from their home towns.

Public transport started with groups of people riding on vehicles pulled by horses; that eventually lead to cable cars, steam-powered trains, electric trains, and motor buses powered by internal-combustion engines.

Moving the masses around Europe…a brief history of public transport and citizen rights
Shillibeer’s first omnibus

The horse-drawn omnibus was the first mode of public transport and was developed by Jacques Lafitte in Paris in 1819, which allowed up to 50 people to ride across the city in a shared vehicles, avoiding the city’s muddy streets.

In 1829, drawing inspiration from Lafitte in Paris, Londoner George Shillibeer launched the first regular omnibus service in London, running from Paddington to Bank, via the Angel. By 1832, competition in London was fierce and omnibuses could stop anywhere on route for their passengers. Soon, however, passengers started to group together, mostly for safety in numbers from robbers and pickpockets, which lead to the birth of the “bus stop”. From London and Paris mass transport soon spread to other metropolises around the world.

On the heels of the omnibus came the railways, with the first commuter train thought to have been the first section of the London to Greenwich Railway opened in 1836. The first underground railway in the world, running between Farringdon and Paddington in London opened in 1863.

Shillibeer's first omnibus

Today, we have many options of mass transport to choose from including planes, trains, buses, ships, coaches, even mass bicycle schemes….with some cities and countries served better than others.

Price and availability are the two factors that are most likely to influence today’s passenger’s choice of transport. And, at least in the developed world, when things go wrong, we have rights.

The European Commission’s site ‘Your Europe’ provides detailed information on passenger rights. You’ll find information about rights in the 28 European Union Member States, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland including the following topics: 

Read about how to get a free EU app featuring European passenger rights.

Nowadays, mass transport is celebrated as a more sustainable way of moving about the world. With that in mind, each year the European Union hosts European Mobility Week – EMW – (this year’s event is from 16 to 22 September). The focus of the 2015 campaign is the benefits of using different, sustainable modes of transport within the same journey. EMW will merge with the campaign Do the Right Mix  to produce a campaign with wider appeal. For more information about European Mobility Week, see


To read AngloINFO’s helpful guides on public transport where you live, simply select your destination from our homepage and look for the Public Transport section featured under ‘Transport’.