Transportation Emojis: An Objective Analysis

Chapter 1, Verse 1

In today’s fast-paced and over-scheduled world, people don’t have the time–they just don’t have the time. Especially the young people. Between Netflix, taking pictures of sandwiches, and padding resumes, these young people (often referred to as #Millennials by marketers and other less obvious shysters) have quietly developed a new, improved method of communication that saves time and money–and time is money, and that is why it takes so long to pay off student loans.


What is this new method of communication, you ask? No, it’s not Esperanto. It’s emojis. Are you familiar with emojis? Emojis are little images you can insert into text messages and other forms of electronic communication. Here is their background, according to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

The first emoji was created in 1998 or 1999 by Shigetaka Kurita, who was part of the team working on NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode mobile internet platform. The first set of 172 12×12 pixel emoji was created as part of i-mode’s messaging features to help facilitate electronic communication, and to serve as a distinguishing feature from other services.

A single emoji, which is different from a simple emoticon like >:-( and :-P, can contain a multitude of ideas. They’re like hieroglyphics. As we see in Figure 1, civilizations with pictographic languages clearly are much longer lived than civilizations with a phonetic alphabet.

Figure 1

Fig. 1

Our emojis

The Apple iPhone’s keyboard comes with the golden standard of emojis. Everything else is junk. Google, the futuristic dystopian sci-fi movie corporate overlords of our actual future, has a crap set that looks weird. The Apple set has 889 total emojis, encompassing the entire range of human emotions as well as many other objects and abstract concepts like cookies with six (6) chocolate chips and the act of celebration. They say that a man’s “Recently Used” emoji set is a window into his soul. Mine is Figure 2.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Can you tell that I recently took a bus with my cat to the vet to get shots? I didn’t even use them in a message about it. Truly, emojis are our modern day tea leaves.

A detailed inventory of one iPhone’s emojis reveals that there are, in fact, 74 individual transportation-related emojis. In Figure 3, they are all arranged by category.

Figure 2

Fig. 3

Broken down by category, here is your emoji mode split:

  • Nautical: 7 (9.45%)
  • Winter: 2 (2.7%)
  • Aeronautics & Space: 4 (5.4%)
  • Carnival: 3 (4.05%)
  • Intercity Rail (current): 8 (10.81%)
  • Intercity Rail (future whimsy): 3 (4.05%)
  • Streetcar: 2 (2.7%)
  • Bus (incl. electric trolley): 4 (5.4%)
  • Car (incl. cabs): 6 (8.11%)
  • Freight: 3 (4.05%)
  • Emergency: 4 (5.4%)
  • Gondola: 2 (2.7%)
  • Equine: 1 (1.35%)
  • Agricultural: 1 (1.35%)
  • Pedestrian (non-dance): 8 (10.81%)
  • Cycling: 3 (4.05%)
  • Dance: 2 (2.7%)
  • Signage: 6 (8.11%)
  • Misc. Infrastructure: 5 (6.76%)

How does this reflect real life? It depends on what area you’re looking at. About 55% of New Yorkers commute via mass transit; 0% of Minneapolitans have access to a gondola as of this writing. Japan, where emojis originated, is a densely populated country with abundant transit options that put most of The States to shame. Figure 4 is a pie chart.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

This chart should give you pause–streetcars, for example, only represent 2.7% of transportation-related emojis, but they are a far larger portion of our day to day transportation-related conversation. In fact, an astute observer will notice that, while there are four emojis under the “Bus (incl. electric trolley)” category, there are only two actual buses. Two buses and two streetcars? Are they equal? What are the emojis telling us?

Other categories are equally illuminating.

WinterThe “Winter” group has two representatives. This may surprise some non-Minnesotans, but, an anecdote: I lived in Germany on a military base for a few years as a kid, and my brother’s third grade teacher used to tell a story about how her dad had to ski home from Russia at the end of World War II. Can you solve the logistics puzzle?

Aeronautics & SpaceThe “Aeronautics & Space” group has four emojis: a jet, a helicopter, a standard airline seat, and a rocket. This surely represents the progression of commercial transportation over the past hundred years. Planes, then helicopters, then coach, then Richard Branson. A question: Imagine a future city on Mars. Does it have strip malls? Probably not, right? What does that tell you?

CyclingThe “Cycling” group has three bikes, two of which are piloted by cyclists with helmets and spandex, and I have recently learned that the question of gear re: cycling is a complex topic best left to the experts. More interesting, though, is the bike without a cyclist. Apple appears to be showing their hand–will a self-driving iBicycle follow the iWatch?

SignageThe “Signage” group has three signs indicating restriction of usage. A red circle with a line through it cover a bicycle and a pedestrian. Additional research has uncovered that the red circle with a horizontal white line through it means “Motor Vehicles Prohibited to Enter” in Japan. In this way, all three modes are equal. If you think about it, there are almost certainly more signs in America restricting the usage of motor vehicles than any other mode of transportation. A small, but sweet, victory.


Combinations are also helpful and can help you make your point in fewer words. Here are some examples.

Nicollet Mall Bus“As the crushloaded 18 wound its way down Nicollet Mall during the afternoon rush hour, the chickens clucked and pecked at the floor, and a roaring fire–a tire burning in a barrel in the back of the bus–provided heat to the riders.”

Traffic“The cyclists made highly-efficient use of the roadway, zipping by the cars, trucks, bus, and shared-lane streetcar.”

SWLRT Emoji“Yes, ostensibly, the Southwest Corridor ‘serves’ the City.” (h/t Phil for air quotes)

Northstar“Over time, people noticed that you could paddle down the Mississippi River from Coon Rapids to Minneapolis much more quickly than taking Northstar–which led to a decline in ridership.”


In conclusion, emojis are an effective, professional way to communicate about complex transportation topics. All future community outreach regarding transit planning should involve ample emoji usage. What are some of your favorite transportation emoji combinations? Someone needs to get that bag of money and the light blub (signifying an idea or epiphany) in there somewhere.

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.