In Cities in Motion the player needs to design and plan the public traffic network of four cities: Vienna, Helsinki, Berlin and Amsterdam. He has the choice between four campaigns with twelve scenarios, e.g. Berlin in 1925, or a free playing mode. He can't directly influence the cities itself, so for example if a city is not suitable for trams it is not possible to break down a few houses like on other strategy games - the player has to use buses instead. Overall there are about 30 different transportation vehicles (depending on the time period), so besides the usual trains and subways there are also more exotic ones like water buses or helicopters to use.
Besides the obvious goal to prevent traffic jams it is also important to be financially successful. This means the player needs to analyze the population of a city - the game knows seven social groups with different tastes for transportation. During the campaigns the player can take on optional missions. Time basically flows in real-time, but it can be accelerated (or paused) if needed.
The handling is similar to other games of this genre: the player chooses what he wants to build in menus and clicks on the location he wants to place it, so for example for a bus line he places the stops and buys the bus. Prices, advertising and statistics are viewed/changed in menus. Of course there also emerge small and big problems while playing, which have to be taken care of, e.g. fires, defect vehicles or simply a too high demand.