City Guide

The 11 Best Cities in the U.S. for Public Transportation

By Cassandra Brooklyn | Nov 28, 2022
Woman waiting for metro train in New York City, one of the best cities for public transportation.

For many of us as teenagers, it was thrilling to learn to drive. When we were young and carefree, we associated cars with freedom and rebellion. As adults, however, these manmade machines are more often associated with traffic, confusing insurance policies, parking frustrations, and sky-high gas prices. Wouldn’t it be nice to just live in a city where you can casually commute without a car and take transit everywhere you need to go?

Well, you can! Here are the best cities in the U.S. for public transportation, providing high-quality, eco-friendly transit routes to magnificent metro areas all across the country:

  1. New York City, New York
  2. Boston, Massachusetts
  3. San Francisco, California
  4. Los Angeles, California
  5. Washington, D.C.
  6. Chicago, Illinois
  7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  8. Miami, Florida
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Portland, Oregon
  11. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Let’s get started!

1. New York City, New York

It’s no surprise that New York City has the best mass transit system in the country. After all, residents of the city that never sleeps need a way to get to and from all the city’s best neighborhoods in the middle of the night, don’t they? Not only is the New York City public transportation system the most extensive in the country, but it’s also one of the few that operates all night long.

Both subway trains and bus services run 24/7. If there’s construction along the metro at night (and there often is), the city makes sure to have a shuttle system in place to transport travelers along parallel bus routes. A single ride on either costs $2.75 (and you get one free transfer between the subway and bus or between two buses), but weekly and monthly MetroCard passes are a great way to save money if you ride a lot.

New York’s ever-expanding ferry service will take you from the Bronx to Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens, stopping in hotspots like the Financial District, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn before making its way to the beach in Queens. The Big Apple is a huge Amtrak hub and connects to the New Jersey Transit and the NJ PATH (New Jersey’s public transport system), the Long Island Railroad (a light rail system running from New York City to eastern Long Island), and Metro-North (a light rail system that runs through New York State and Connecticut), so you can get pretty much anywhere in the Northeast without a car.

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2. Boston, Massachusetts

As one of the major education meccas in the country, Boston is bursting with colleges, universities, and young students and professors who prefer to get around town without a car—meaning all of its residents get to enjoy the benefits of the city’s robust transit system.

When you first arrive, you can easily catch the silver line from the airport, then you’ll have the green, red, blue, and orange lines to get you pretty much anywhere you want to go, whether you’re sticking to Boston proper or exploring surrounding neighborhoods like Cambridge, Somerville, Allston, and Brighton. Not only does Boston’s public transportation system consist of commuter rail and subway lines, but it also has reliable bus and ferry services, too.

One-way rides start at $1.70, with higher fares for commuter rail, subways, ferry rides, and longer-distance trips. Amtrak trains and a variety of bus companies (Greyhound, Bolt, Peter Pan, etc.) also connect Boston to cities across the Northeast, making weekend getaways cheap and easy.

3. San Francisco, California

San Francisco has one of the best-known public transportation networks in the country, as the city’s famous Bay Area Rapid Transit (affectionately known as “BART”) is exhaustive and extensive. Sourdough City has a dizzying array of public transportation options, including its commuter subway, light rail trams, Muni bus lines, streetcars, and the adorable cable cars that are still pictured in so many postcards from the city.

BART fares start at $2.10 and increase depending on how far you go and whether you cross into other counties. Take it around town or to the nearby cities of Oakland and San Jose. Like other waterfront cities in California, you can also easily catch the Amtrak up and down the coast to other major cities like San Diego and Los Angeles.

4. Los Angeles, California

Every city has its upside and downside and when considering the pros and cons of living in Los Angeles, transportation should be top of mind. The City of Angels is well known for its car culture and never-ending gridlock, but the city has worked very hard to expand its public transportation options. Service is currently being expanded around LAX to be able to serve more communities and to decongest the region’s standstill freeways, which are typically generating large amounts of exhaust pollution.

Catch the subway to popular destinations like downtown, Chinatown, and Hollywood or to further-out sunny Santa Monica, Pasadena, and Long Beach. Transit fare in Los Angeles is $1.75 each way, and it’s complemented by an extensive bus system. When you’re ready to escape the city, cheap and frequent Greyhound and Amtrak services will whisk you off to San Francisco and beyond.

5. Washington, D.C

It’s easy to enjoy a car-free lifestyle in Washington D.C., as the extensive network of trains and buses connects the capital city’s four quadrants to each other and also serves communities in nearby Maryland and Virginia. Operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, it’s one of the most frequently used public transit networks in the country and has been around since 1967.

If you’re just looking to get around town for fun, errands, or sightseeing, hop on a $1 Metrobus or the DC circulator, which make frequent stops at some of the city’s most popular sites and points of interest, including Union Station, the Smithsonian Zoo, and The National Mall.

Transit fare on the subway will run you $2 each way, though higher fares are charged for express routes, subway trips to zones that are further away, and trips made during peak rush-hour times. As the frequent capitol commuters make it worthwhile for Amtrak to run a lot of rail lines through here, you can easily hop a train to get up to New York or Boston or down to Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and even Florida.

6. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of the largest cities in the country, with diverse neighborhoods reaching far out across the metropolis. Thankfully, the city’s public transportation network is large, robust, and reliable so if you’re thinking of moving to Chicago, their Metro has your back.

Catch the train to fun neighborhoods like Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Wrigleyville to take in their boisterous bars, comedy clubs, and independent theaters, or out to an astounding 35 different suburbs that the Chicago Transit Authority serves. Direct rail service is also offered to the city’s two major airports, O’Hare and Midway, which you’ll be grateful for when you need to catch a flight and don’t have time for gridlock.

Transit rides cost $2.50 per way, regardless of how far you travel. To escape the city, frequent bus and train services can whisk you up to Milwaukee and Minneapolis or down to Indianapolis and Kansas City.

7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The city of Brotherly Love just loves to commute by transit, as Philly boasts the sixth-largest public transportation agency in the entire country. Commuter rail, light rail, subways, buses, rapid transit, and electric trolleys transport approximately 13 million travelers every single day, be they straphangers heading to the office or tourists trying to experience the city like a local.

SEPTA stations are located all over the city, with rides starting at $4 each way. But, you’ll be able to get a ton of places by taking the PHLASH, which costs $2 per ride or $5 for a day pass. PHLAASH loop stops are conveniently scattered around the downtown and surrounding areas and can get you to the city’s iconic Reading Terminal Market, the Old City, the Museum of the American Revolution, the Philadelphia Zoo, and the impressive Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka the steps that Rocky Balboa famously ran up). PHLASH service is available every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May to September and is available on weekends after that point.

8. Miami, Florida

Come for the warm weather and stay for the terrific transit, as Miami offers three public transportation options to help you get where you want to go. The city’s Metrorail consists of 25 miles of elevated rail that will get you all over town (including downtown Miami and to the airport), while its Metrobus system has over 1,000 buses and 95 routes all over the area.

Meanwhile, Miami’s Metromover is an electric-powered people mover that makes a 4.4-mile loop from downtown to the nearby Brickell financial district, stopping at places like the Bayside Marketplace and FTX Arena. The Metromover’s three loop routes operate from 5 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, with trains arriving about every 90 seconds. Not only is it a great way to get where you need to go, but it’s also a good way to get to know the city. The best part? Miami’s Metromover is completely free—no cards, tickets, or passes required!

9. Seattle, Washington

Whether you’re looking for fresh seafood and easy access to incredible hiking trails or you prioritize urban areas that are bike-friendly and have enviable mass transit options, Seattle is calling your name. Seattle has one of the highest transit scores in the country, so you can take a ride on the light rail, hop a bus or streetcar, or catch a ferry (or even an Amtrak train) to get wherever you need to go.

Speaking of where to go, public transportation can get you to Seattle bucket list destinations like Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and the Seattle Great Wheel (similar to the London Eye). Metro and transit tickets cost $2.25 each way.

Considering that Seattle is an extremely bicycle-friendly town with plentiful protected paths and dedicated bike lanes, you could easily complement the city’s public transportation system with a bike so you can avoid cars entirely. If you don’t have your own wheels, you’ll appreciate Seattle’s bike share system, which is made up of several different companies like Lime and Veo.

10. Portland, Oregon

Not only is Portland one of the best cities for outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s also one of the most bike-friendly and walkable cities in the country. It’s also one of the best served in terms of public transit, as riders have their pick between the Max Light Rail, TriMet buses, the Portland Streetcar, Portland Aerial Tram, and the Westside Express Service commuter rail. Each weekday, over 300,000 people in the Portland area ride public transit, adding up to nearly 100 million trips per year. Fares for the light rail, buses, and streetcar cost $2.50 per 2.5 hours of riding or $5 for a full-day pass.

11. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis has terrific transportation options that never seem to stop growing. Not only can you take rail trams, buses, and commuter trains just about anywhere you need to go in Minneapolis, but you can also take the light rail to the airport and to the other half of the “Twin Cities,” Saint Paul.

One-way bus fares range from $2.00 to $3.25, depending on the time of day (rush hour costs more, of course) and whether the trip is an express route. Trips within the downtown area, however, cost only $0.50, and there are also “free-ride” buses along the Nicollet Mall area downtown. This 12-block stretch of Nicollet Avenue is considered to be the main shopping and dining district in the city, and also happens to be an excellent pedestrian mall.

Move somewhere new with Landing

If you’re looking to ditch your four wheels, Landing offers fully furnished apartments in over 375 cities throughout the U.S., including those that offer top-notch public transportation options to let you explore your new home. Plus, our flexible leases make it easy to try out one city, then move on to the next. Say goodbye to cars and hello to your new Landing life and car-free lifestyle.

Cassandra Brooklyn

Cassandra is a freelance travel writer based in New York City with work appearing in The New York Times, National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, Fodor's, USA Today, and The Daily Beast, among other publications. She specializes in sustainable travel, adventure travel, and all things outdoors - hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, camping, and scuba diving. She's also the owner of EscapingNY, a small tour company and she leads tours in Cuba, Mexico, Jordan, and beyond.