How to Talk about Public Transport in English

Talking about Public Transport in English.

This could be something you have to do in the IELTS speaking testmaybe in Part One, Two or Three. In Part One, you might have to talk about your daily life — and if you are going to school, college or work by bus or some other form of public transportation, then you would have to talk about that a little.

In Part Two, it could be a question in its own right.

Something like — Describe a Kind of Public Transport in your Country.

If you get this question, you would have to talk about the subject at length. What it is, how to use it, what it looks like, etc etc.

And it could be in Part Three. The examiner might ask you about public transport and you would have to have a conversation with him about it.

But the subject could come up in any other conversation. At work, you might be asked how you get to and from the office every day.

This could be a simple conversation, but you would need to know the right vocabulary and things to say.

Do you know what to say about using public transportation?

If not, then this is the perfect guide for you.

Follow all the steps and you can’t go wrong.

Let’s get into it!

 

What are the Different Kinds of Public Transport?

 

The dictionary definition of public transportation says it is a system of vehicles that operate on scheduled times to be used by the public in groups at a set rate of fees and fares.

The main kinds of public transport are:

  • Bus (and all the various kinds of buses)
  • Subway (sometimes known as Metro or Underground)
  • Taxi
  • Train
  • Ferry
  • Tram

For the sake of this guide, I shall only talk about bus, subway, taxi and train. I shall cover the others in less detail — namely, ferry and tram. But for most cities and towns around the world, people use the first four systems of public transport.

Essentially, taxi is private transport, not public — but it is used so widely in cities everywhere that I have included it as part of public transport.

 

So what are they?

 

Bus

Buses are road vehicles designed to carry many passengers. Usually, we can see them as single-decker or double-decker buses.

 

The bus can carry up to 300 passengers and is an essential form of public transport in most cities around the world.

 

Subway

This is a kind of train that usually operates underground. It can also be known as rapid transit, mass rapid transit, metro, underground or urban rail transit.

Each city might have its own unique name for it and use an abbreviated form with letters. For example, in Hong Kong, it is widely known as the MTR. And in Iran, it is known as Urban Railway.

But most cities anywhere in the world refer to it as the metro.

I refer to it as subway — many people know it as that too.

The subway is a train system with stations. You need to go to the nearest subway station to buy a ticket, then get on the train.

Most cities have many subway lines going all over the city. This system is considered convenient, and very fast as there are no traffic jams.

 

Taxi

Otherwise known as a cab or a taxicab. These are smaller vehicles — often like cars. They are available to the public and you have to pay whatever the fee says on the meter.

There is one driver and the taxi usually takes one passenger or a very small group — no more than four people.

In some places, taxis are easily seen because of the style and colour. For example, London taxis are black, and New York cabs are yellow. But each city has its own style.

Taxis usually have a light on the roof so passengers can easily identify them.

 

Train

This is a vehicle made of many carriages that provide links from the suburbs into the city or from city to city. A train may have different classes of carriage — first class and second class. And many trains can carry as many as 1000 passengers, but some have much less and others much more.

Like with the subway, you have to go to a train station to catch the train. You buy the tickets at a set price.

 

Ferry

Some cities have ferries to take passengers across a river. Or there might be a large lake, and the ferry crosses this on a set schedule.

There are some ferries to provide a link across a small stretch of sea between two countries — for example, England and France.

Some ferries have small supermarkets, a restaurant and a bar on board. In some cases, the ferry might have a cinema, and cabins for people to sleep.

A ferry can transport around 750 people.

 

Tram

The tram is one of the oldest forms of public transport in the world. It is known as a streetcar or a trolley in America.

The tram is fueled by electricity using an overhead electric line.

You can get on and off the subway at designated stops just like a bus and you buy your tickets on board the tram.

Some of the oldest tram systems in the world include New Orleans, San Francisco, Lisbon and Hong Kong.

 

Essential Vocabulary

 

vehicles passenger single-decker
double-decker underground subway station
ticket subway lines bus stop
convenient traffic jam ticket collector
get on get off catch
miss commuter bus route
bus lane bus service subway system
rush hour high-speed train platform

Please go through all the vocabulary above and make notes of new words in your vocabulary notebook.

Write down all the meanings using a dictionary. Then make sentences of your own.

 

Example of What You Can Say about Public Transport in your Town or City

 

Bus

We have a great bus system in our town. You can get anywhere you want by bus. We only have single-deckers because there are not many people. The buses are pretty cheap—only a dollar to get into the town centre. The only problem is, they don’t run very late at night. The last bus is around ten pm, which is a little too early in my opinion.

 

Subway

Our city has a really great subway system—there are about twelve lines now. I think they are building a new subway line from the city centre to the airport. This will be a very convenient service.

The subway is not too expensive—more expensive than the bus, but it is much faster.

 

Train

We have a simple train service from my town to the nearest big city. I think the trains go every hour or so. They have just made a new train station, which is much better than the old one.

Sometimes if it rains, the trains don’t run on time. When they make an announcement in the station, they always say it is leaves on the tracks but no one believes this story!

 

Taxi

It is very easy to get a taxi in my city, especially in the evening. But many of the taxi drivers are not local, so sometimes they don’t know the area very well.

In my country, it is the custom to give the driver a tip—around ten per cent is enough.

 

Ferry

There’s a ferry which crosses the river in my town. It’s not the only way across, there is a bridge too, but if you have time and you’re not in a hurry, the ferry is more relaxing.

 

Questions

 

What public transport do you have in your town or city?

Which ones do you use regularly?

Can you introduce one or two of them?

 

Buying a Ticket

Of course, if you want to use any form of public transport, you will need a ticket.

So where do you buy a ticket?

 

Buying a Ticket for the Bus or Tram

For the bus and tram, you usually buy the ticket on board. There is a person on the bus, or tram called a ticket collector. On the bus, this person may be known as the bus conductor.

You tell the ticket collector where you want to go and he or she will tell you how much it costs.

 

Things to Say:

 

  • One to New Street, please. (One means one passenger/person)
  • Two to Old Avenue, please. (Two means two people — you and your friend)
  • One and a child to Bank Square. (a child means a ticket for a child)

Or you can ask the ticket collector how much to your destination:

  • How much to Queen’s Avenue?
  • One dollar.
  • Two, please.

 

Buying a Ticket for the Subway, Train or Ferry

If you want to travel by subway, train or ferry, you have to buy a ticket from the ticket office.

There is a ticket office in the train or subway station and this is where you buy your tickets. For the ferry, there is a ticket office or small kiosk usually at the front entrance of the ferry port.

You buy your ticket and then you show your ticket to the ticket inspector as you go through the gate.

On the subway and ferry, you may have to put your ticket in a slot that lets you through the gate. Or sometimes, you are issued with a small plastic disk and you put this into the machine as you enter.

For the train and sometimes on the ferry, you can buy a one-way ticket (which just takes you to your destination), or a return ticket/roundtrip ticket (which takes you to your destination and back to again).

For the subway, you can usually only buy a one-way ticket.

Tickets on the train can be first- or second-class.

 

Things to Say:

 

  • A one-way ticket to London, please.
  • A round-trip to Mountain City, please.
  • A first-class ticket to Paris, please.
  • One for Liverpool Street, please.
  • Two for Kensington Gardens, please.
  • A return to Gold Island, please.

 

Other Places to Buy Tickets

 

Ticket Machine

Some train stations and most subway stations have a ticket machine system.

Inside the station, usually in a row, you will find ticket machines that take coins and notes. You may also be able to use a local payment app.

 

Travel Card

And most cities around the world have a system in place where you buy a travel card. You put some money on the card at the ticket office — this is called credit — and then every time you use the card money is subtracted from the total on your card.

Each city and country has a different system for this.

 

Travel App

Some countries let you use a special app on your smartphone to buy a ticket. You just have to show the QR code on the app and you can get on the train or subway.

 

Taxi

If you use a taxi, then you don’t need to buy a ticket. You pay the driver at the end of your journey. There is a machine in the front of the car that tells you how much to pay. This is called a meter.

 

Essential Vocabulary

 

ticket collector bus conductor destination
ticket office kiosk gate
slot disk one-way
return round-trip first-class
second-class ticket machine app
travelcard credit meter

 

Example of What You Can Say

 

  • Every time I get on the bus, I show my travel card to the ticket collector.
  • I don’t have a travel card, so I buy a ticket at the kiosk every time I get on the subway.
  • A round-trip ticket works out cheaper than buying two one-way tickets.
  • I always check what the meter says when I take a taxi.

 

Questions

 

What is the ticket system for public transport in your country?

Do people use a special app to use public transport in your city? Can you describe it?

Do you think the tickets are too expensive for buses and subway in your area? Or just right?

 

Talking about Public Transport

 

Now let’s look in detail at some things you might say about the different forms of public transport that you use in your city.

Bus

I use the bus all the time to get around town. Unfortunately, we don’t have a subway system, so it’s bus only.

The buses can be a little complicated to work out if you are new in town, but actually, they are pretty straightforward.

There are two types of bus — the large single-decker buses that go from the town centre to the suburbs and outskirts. Then we have these smaller buses that can only carry around 16 passengers. These just go around the town centre. They are smaller so they are easy to drive around in the traffic I suppose.

The buses are very convenient and cheap to use.

But during rush hour they can get busy. Sometimes it is difficult to find a seat at this time.

 

Subway

We have a subway system in my city, but it is getting old now. I think some parts of it are a little dirty, to be honest.

But apart from that, it is actually very convenient. It is fast too — much faster than going by bus.

I use it for going to work. It can get very crowded in the morning and in the evening as everyone is going to work or coming home. But in the mornings I can usually find a seat as I live at the end of the line so the train is empty when it leaves.

I buy a one-month travel card, which means I can use the subway as many times as I want. It’s great because I use it for going to work, but I also use it at the weekend for doing other things — maybe going to visit my friends or just going to another part of the city.

 

Taxi

There are a few taxi companies in my town. It’s the same old story — whenever you really need one, they are all booked or impossible to find. But when you don’t need one, they are everywhere. It can be very frustrating.

Me and my wife might take a taxi if we go out in the evening somewhere. It just means we can both enjoy a glass of wine and not have to think about driving.

The taxi drivers here all have to do some kind of test. This is to make sure they know where they are going. They also need to know all the well-known landmarks of the town — things like the train station, certain hotels and restaurants, things like that.

 

Tram

We have a tram in our city — it is very old. I think mainly it is used as a tourist attraction rather than a form of public transportation.

There is no air-con on the tram which makes it unbearable in the summer, but it is very cheap. Much cheaper than the bus or subway.

There are two decks on the tram and there is a driver and a conductor. I used to use it to go to school with my friends and we would sit on the top deck and talk loudly.

Then the conductor would come up and tell us to keep the noise down.

 

Ferry

There’s a ferry in my district. It goes to a small island. It mainly takes tourists, but of course, people that work on the island take it too.

It is always very crowded because of the tourists. And it takes a long time to buy a ticket.

The people that check the tickets have a very good method of security. They check everyone’s bags and make sure no one takes anything dangerous on the ferry.

The ferry had lots of seating, but it is very basic. Just wooden seats. And quite often, it is so crowded that you can’t get a seat anyway. Many people have to stand.

The journey only takes about fifteen minutes or so to the island. Then as soon as the ferry arrives there is a mad rush to get off.

 

Train

I take the train to London every day to go to work. It takes about 90 minutes. It is actually a very pleasant journey and goes through some nice countryside areas.

I have a season ticket for the whole month which lets me use the train whenever I want between where I live and London. It’s a little expensive and the long-distance bus is cheaper, but the train is faster and more comfortable.

In the station, there is a small cafe. I usually buy coffee there and drink it on the train.

Some people that take the train every day like to sit in the same seat every time. They think it is their seat only and get a little angry if someone else takes the seat.

I find that reading on the train is a good use of my time too. I can read around two books a week just by reading on my way to work on the train.

 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Transport

 

If you are talking about public transport in the IELTS test, then it is a very good idea to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of it.

Then you can compare the similarities and differences between two different kinds of public transport.

This will make your talk sound more rounded and your English will seem more fluent to the examiner. If you only talk about the good things about public transport, your talk will sound bland and dull.

Let’s take a look at the table below and see some advantages and disadvantages of the six different forms of public transport.

 

Bus

Advantages

Disadvantages

cheap crowded during rush hour
many buses uncomfortable
many bus lines noisy
many bus stops

 

Subway

Advantages

Disadvantages

convenient more expensive than the bus
fast crowded during rush hour
clean no view of anything
comfortable no phone service
relatively quiet not enough stations
clear announcements
toilets in the station
dry during the rain

 

Train

Advantages

Disadvantages

comfortable expensive
can be quiet sometimes slow
nice view outside sometimes have delays
have toilets
have a buffet car
sometimes have wifi

 

Ferry

Advantages

Disadvantages

can be a great view tourist ferry very crowded
sea air river ferry uncomfortable
river ferry cheap sometimes dirty
tourist ferry a little expensive
slow

 

Tram

Advantages

Disadvantages

very cheap slow
quaint no air-con
uncomfortable
old

 

Taxi

Advantages

Disadvantages

comfortable more expensive than bus or subway
private traffic jam
quiet difficult to find during rainy weather
good service usually

 

Things we do while on the bus, subway, train…

 

People do many things while they are on public transport.

Here is a list of things that people might do while on the subway, train, bus, etc.

read a book read the news on smartphone
make a phone call listen to music
listen to a podcast sleep!
chat online with friends stare out the window
study do homework
watch a movie on phone eat (on the train)

 

Exercise

Go through all the vocabulary and make sure you understand everything. Use a dictionary!

Make sentences of your own about your life and the public transport you use regularly.

Let’s take a look at some examples of people talking about what they do when they are on the bus, subway, train…

 

Train

If I am on a long train journey, I always make sure I have something to read. I have a Kindle so I use that for reading on the train.

I find that the gentle motion of the train moving makes it easier for me to read too. I can get lost in whatever novel I am reading at the time.

It also helps that most people on the train are either sleeping or at least very quiet. So I can concentrate on reading even more. It’s like being in a library!

 

Subway

Every time I take the subway, it is always very busy. Many people are going to work at the same time. So I like to put my earphones in and listen to music. I find a place to stand — it’s impossible to find a seat! — and then lose myself in my favourite music tracks.

The time on the subway goes very quickly and I don’t feel so stressed out by the time I get to work.

Bus

When I am on the bus, I use my smartphone to catch up with the news. I have a news app on my phone and I just scroll through all the news headlines until I find an interesting story to read.

It just kills the time on the bus and I don’t just stare out the window at traffic.

 

Taxi

I take a taxi at least once a day as I have to go from one client to another around the city. When I am in a taxi, I use the time to make phone calls. It seems like the best time to do it. I am alone, and there’s no one around to disturb me. So I get on the phone.

Other than that, I might chat with the driver and catch up with the latest football news. I think every taxi driver in London is a football fan, so I just start talking to the driver about it.

 

Questions

 

What do you do when you are in your preferred form of public transport?

How do you kill time when you are on the bus or subway to work or school?

What do you like to do on long train journeys?

 

Things We See on Public Transport

 

Look at the vocabulary tables below of things we can see on the different kinds of public transport.

 

Train/Train Station

other passengers the view outside the ticket collector
luggage racks carriage doors toilets
buffet car ticket office departure board
cafe restaurant shops

 

Bus/Bus Stop/Bus Station

ticket office cafe passenger waiting room
bench bus staff view of the town
seats luggage rack advertising

 

Taxi

the view of the town the driver meter
radio advertising

 

Tram/Tram Stop

stairs seats driver
advertising bell

 

Subway/Subway Station

advertising coffee shop toilets
news kiosk passengers information board
subway station staff guard ticket machine

 

Ferry

great views sometimes other passengers shops
restaurant bar souvenir shop
lots of seating tables cabins

Make note of any vocabulary you don’t know. Look up new or difficult words in your dictionary.

Then make sentences of your own about your own experiences and the things you see when using public transport.

 

Conclusion

 

We all use public transport so we must know how to talk about it in English.

If you are preparing for the IELTS test, then you may need to talk about public transport.

It is a part of our everyday life and it is a major part of life in the city or town. So the vocabulary and examples in this guide should be very useful to you.

Look through all the parts above and make a note of all new vocabulary.

Make your own sentences about your own life and experience when using public transport.

Good luck — and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “How to Talk about Public Transport in English”

  1. What a bunch of useful vocabulary this lesson covers! All of this is very practical and provides great practice for students. The fact that this topic can be included in different levels of IELTS tests is also a great incentive for students to study this lesson. Thanks for coming up with such good ideas for lessons.

  2. Additionally, this travel lesson provides a great opportunity for students to write a story either fiction, or from a real experience, taking place during travel on one of these means of transportation.

    1. That’s a great idea, Leona… It’s always a good idea to get students to tell stories and anecdotes.

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