Cities With The Best Public Transportation In The US
Full article 17min read
If you’re living in a city that has even half the population of New York City, you’ll know what a task it is to own a vehicle. Between driving in traffic, finding parking spots that won’t require you to call for an Uber, and maintenance costs of your vehicle, you might as well start exchanging money for stress. If you think you relate to this narrative a little too much, it might be time for you to start using public transportation some more.
Living in a city that has a sturdy public transportation network gives you the opportunity to go anywhere and the freedom of not owning a car. We don’t have to tell you why that is a boon, especially in the more crowded cities. Here’s a curated list of the nine best cities with the best public transportation in the US.
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Starting this list off strong, the public transportation network in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ is very sturdy. It is run and managed by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and has subway lines, bus routes, trolley lines, and paratransit running through the city. In fact, SEPTA also connects the people of Philadelphia to the Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware counties.
Talking about what happens inside the city, you can ride the SEPTA buses and subway during the day. However, once the subway shuts down for the day, you can use the Night Owl bus service. These buses run the same routes as the lines that run during the day, allowing you to use public transportation all hours of the day.
The public transportation network in the country’s capital is managed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or WMATA. This public transportation network is a combination of rail, buses, and paratransit services.
This network has buses and light rail running through the city under the monikers of Metrobus and Metrorail respectively. You can easily access the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland through these networks too. Once you get to these states, you can access their transportation systems to get from one place to another with convenience. While the fares on this network are variable, they are very affordable.
Average cost of a subway ticket: $2.25 – $6.00
Average cost of a bus ticket: $2.00
Boston has one of the oldest and possibly one of the most extensive transportation systems in the country. It is operated and managed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority or MBTA. However, the locals mostly refer to it as the ‘T’. The T has four modes of transportation: buses, subways, trolley cars, and boats. Combined, this transportation system carries more than a million people every day. So, it’s safe to say that it is rather efficient.
However, the service of the T shuts down just after midnight. Additionally, since a lot of the infrastructure of the subway system is the same as what was constructed in 1897, it’s prone to breaking down and being slower than a lot of the others in the country. Fortunately, the MBTA is investing billions of dollars in the coming years in order to improve the quality and accessibility of the subway system. So, while the system is one of the best overall in the country already, a lot of the kinks are going to be removed in the future.
Average cost of a subway ticket: $2.40 with CharlieCard
Average cost of a bus ticket: $1.70 with CharlieCard
San Francisco, California
The ‘City by the Bay’ is famous for two things: a hilly terrain with perpendicular streets creating a grid throughout the city, and the world-famous cable car system. However, the cable car is more of a tourist attraction than a mode of public transport. If you want to get through the city swiftly, you should use the Muni system (consisting of buses and the 6-line metro). Muni is the nickname for The San Francisco Municipal Railway, which is the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (SFMTA) transit division.
The best part about the Muni network is that it is operational 24/7. Once the daytime system shuts down, the Muni Owl Network will take you around the city. With more than 650,000 people boarding one or more of the Muni’s modes of transport every day, it is pretty extensive. Moreover, you also have options like bike shares, ride-shares, taxis, and regional rail, making it very easy for the residents of San Francisco to get around the city.
Finally, San Francisco also has the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s, or BART’s, all-electric trains. They’re a great way to get you from the main city to San Francisco International Airport, and are inexpensive and fast.
A list of the best public transport systems in the country would be incomplete without mentioning the city of New York. The public transportation system in NYC is managed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority or the MTA. The MTA operates subway and public buses in the city across all localities at all hours of the day and facilitates more than a billion rides every year.
However, there are other modes of transportation in the city too. These include regional rail, trams, ferries, and the famous yellow cabs. Of course, the subway system in NYC is the backbone of the city, But Grand Central Station with its architecture and the Roosevelt Island Tramway with its beautiful skyline view take the cake when it comes to traveling with gorgeous scenery.
Average cost of a train ticket: $2.75 with MetroCard
Average cost of a bus ticket: $2.75 with MetroCard
Pittsburgh is one of the few places that allows you to enjoy all the amenities of a big city without the exorbitant prices. When it comes to the public transportation system, this city has a strong and extensive one that includes about 875 buses, 80 light rails, and two Inclines, all run and managed by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
The bus network consists of more than 800 buses that run on three ‘busways’. These busways are fairly easy to navigate since the names suggest their general area of travel. To give you a clearer idea, the three busways are named ‘East Busway’, ‘West Busway’, and ‘South Busway’.
Next, the light rail and subway system in Pittsburgh is called the ‘T’ and runs on a combination of elevated as well as underground tracks, covering more than 25 miles throughout the city. These 25 miles are divided into four light rail lines, making it easier for commuters to navigate their routes and destinations. Fun Fact: The name of this subway system, the ‘T’, is not short for anything. Pittsburgh just decided to call it that and it stuck!
Lastly, Pittsburgh has one unconventional mode of transport called the Incline. The Incline, in essence, is a cable car that runs up and down the face of Mount Washington. There are two Inclines in Pittsburgh that go by the names of Duquesne and Monongahela (or just ‘the Mon’). These Inclines are known to be efficient modes of transport to the locals as well as some of the most romantic attractions for the visitors of Pittsburgh.
Average cost of a train ticket: $3.25
Average cost of a bus ticket: $3.25
Average cost of an Incline ticket: $2.50
Home to the second-largest public transportation system in America, Chicago’s very own Chicago Transit Authority, or the CTA, sees about 1.6 million passengers on an average weekday. This transportation network is only second to the one in New York and offers options like the legendary ‘L’ train, the Metra train, and the bus network.
Starting strong with the bus network, Chicago has more than 125 fixed bus routes running throughout the city that see about 25,000 trips every day, connecting close to 12,000 bus stops. Finding a bus stop in Chicago is also very easy since they are marked by the CTA bus signs.
Next, you can take the elevated light rail in Chicago that is commonly known as the ‘L’. This system started back in 1921 and has grown into a behemoth that covers 145 stations over 224 miles of tracks throughout the city. You’d be surprised to know that, when started, the objective of the L was to alleviate traffic congestion caused by horse-drawn carriages, not cars.
Expanding on the rail systems in Chicago, the Metra lines are the ones that go beyond the city. These lines cover about 3,700 square miles of Northern Illinois, connecting Chicago to neighboring counties.
This Hawaiian city is known to be rather expensive. However, if you’re ready to sell off your vehicle, you can save up on a lot of your expenses. And, thanks to the public transportation system, you won’t have to worry about getting around the city a lot either.
The public transportation system in Honolulu is simply called ‘TheBus’ and, well, it has buses traversing the island of Honolulu. However, this network has around 542 buses going around the island of Oahu and they cover the entirety of it. If you’re planning on taking a bus from TheBus pretty often, you can opt for a monthly, or a yearly pass as well.
Average cost of a bus ticket: $2.75
Seattle, Washington State
Seattle is often regarded as a city with one of the best and most diverse public transportation systems in the country. This doesn’t come as a surprise at all, considering the fact that Seattle’s transportation network is divided into the bus, rail, and water taxi networks. All of these networks are run and maintained by the King County Metro.
The bus service in this city is known as King County Metro Bus and is a vast fleet of buses that crisscrosses Downtown Seattle, going as far as Mountlake Terrace in the North and Federal Way in the South. The best part is that you can transfer your ticket from one bus to another, making it easier and a little less expensive to use this transport network. Moreover, the city also has a Night Owl Network that operates between midnight and 5:00 am, giving the residents of Seattle a bus to catch nearly the entire 24 hours of a day.
Next, you can use SoundTransit’s Link Light Rail. This system has two light rail lines running through the city, namely Northbound and Southbound. Trains run at a frequency of 6, 10, or 15 minutes on both lines, depending upon the time of day. There are 13 stops on each line and they are conveniently connected to the SEA Airport (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) as well.
You can also choose to travel in the city using the Seattle Monorail. This system connects Westlake Center in Downtown to the Seattle Center. It’s operational on all days of the week with different timings for weekdays and weekends. The best part is that it’s very accessible to everyone and the trains run at a frequency of 10 minutes. However, don’t forget that you’re waiting that long for a journey that only takes two minutes. So, you might want to figure out your time frame before you get to the station.
Lastly, the famous streetcars in Seattle are more of a tourist attraction than an actual mode of transport for the locals. They run on 2 lines and arrive every 10-15 minutes. While the lines don’t meet at any point in the city, they are connected to other modes of transportation, making it easy for you to get across the city.
Through this list, we have given you the cities that we think have the best public transportation systems. However, there’s no real ‘right’ answer to this. What works for us might not work for you. After all, you lead a life and we have the semblance of one, too, albeit a very different one.
However, if the quality and efficacy of the public transportation network are criteria you’re looking for while moving to a new city, this article is a great starting point. Factor in utility as well as fun and novelty when you’re going through the list, and then go ride trains all day long if that’s what you like. We hope that you’ve found what you were looking for. If you haven’t, keep coming back for more!
FAQs On Cities With The Best Public Transportation In The US
Which US Cities Have The Best Public Transportation?
Cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, and New York are known to have the best public transportation systems in the country. This title is taken up on the basis of a few different criteria like availability of different modes of transport, frequency, and efficiency.
What State Has The Best Public Transport?
All in all, the state of Vermont ranks first in the nation for public transportation, according to US News. This state is followed by Wyoming, Oregon, North Dakota, and Kansas. These are decided on the basis of multiple factors like efficiency and frequency.
The cities in the US with the best train systems are as follows: New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington. These rankings are given by MyMove based on WalkScore’s analysis of the train systems in America.
Because of their frequency, accessibility, and economical feasibility, buses have been deemed the best form of public transportation in the US. This statement is further solidified by the fact that every city with a local transport network has buses as their primary means of transport.
Alex Sherr is the founder of My Long Distance Movers, a blog that provides moving information and resources for people who are relocating. He has more than two decades of experience in the moving and relocation industry, and he is passionate about helping people relocate smoothly and efficiently. When he's not writing or blogging, Alex enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.