Conveyances designed for public hire are as old as the first ferries, and the earliest public transport was water transport: on land people walked (sometimes in groups and on pilgrimages, as noted in sources such as the Bible and The Canterbury Tales) or (at least in Eurasia and Africa) rode an animal. Ferries appear in Greek mythology—corpses in ancient Greece were buried with a coin underneath their tongue to pay the ferryman Charon to take them to Hades.
Some historical forms of public transport include the stagecoach, traveling a fixed route between coaching inns, and the horse-drawn boat carrying paying passengers, which was a feature of European canals from their 17th-century origins. The canal itself as a form of infrastructure dates back to antiquity – ancient Egyptians certainly used a canal for freight transportation to bypass the Aswan cataract – and the Chinese also built canals for water transportation as far back as the Warring States period which began in the 5th century BCE. Whether or not those canals were used for for-hire public transport remains unknown; the Grand Canal in China (begun in 486 BCE) served primarily for shipping grain.
The omnibus, the first organized public transit system within a city, appears to have originated in Paris, France, in 1662, although the service in question failed a few months after its founder, Blaise Pascal, died in August 1662; omnibuses are next known to have appeared in Nantes, France, in 1826. The omnibus was introduced to London in July 1829.
The first passenger horse-drawn railway opened in 1806: it ran between Swansea and Mumbles in southwest Wales in the United Kingdom.
In 1825 George Stephenson built the Locomotion for the Stockton and Darlington Railway in northeast England, the first public steam railway in the world.
The first successful electric streetcar was built for 12 miles of track for the Union Passenger Railway in Richmond, Virginia in 1888. Electric streetcars could carry heavier passenger loads than predecessors, which reduced fares and stimulated greater transit use.
Two years after the Richmond success, over thirty two thousand electric streetcars were operating in America. Electric streetcars also paved the way for the first subway system in America. Before electric streetcars, steam powered subways were considered. However, most people believed that riders would avoid the smoke filled subway tunnels from the steam engines. In 1894, Boston built the first subway in the United States, an electric streetcar line in a 1.5 mile tunnel under Tremont Street’s retail district. Other cities such as New York quickly followed, constructing hundreds of miles of subway in the following decades.