When people are planning to visit or move to a new city, they are usually not too concerned with whether that city has a good public transportation system. This, however, is a mistake. Even if you are only visiting for the weekend, it will be much easier to find the cities best attractions if you can navigate the local transportation system. The availability of public transportation becomes even more important if you are staying in the city longterm.
Most larger cities are almost completely unnavigable by car, so the best way to get around is through public transportation. Using the train or the bus will also save you a ton of money in parking fees. There are certainly some cities that have better public transportation than others but no one really tells you which ones are which until you get there. This article will provide some answers.
It will count down the 10 USA cities with the best public transport systems and the 10 who lag behind. If you can think of any cities with great (or terribly poor) public transportation systems that didn’t make our list, feel free to mention them in the comments section.
20 Best - Seattle shows us how it's done
Of course, Seattle has a great public transportation system. The largest city in Washington State has quickly become one of the most liberal cities in the country. A big part of the recent liberal platform is the conservation (or environmental) movement. Having a good public transportation is a big part of a city being environmentally conscious and Seattle has not disappointed in this regard.
The city council currently has a plan to cut down single person car use in the city by 40% by 2022. This will not be possible without major public transportation funding, which has been budgeted by city officials for the next several years.
19 Lag Behind - Portland is Trying Its Best
I was surprised to see that Portland’s public transportation system did not get better ratings from the people that use it. Portland is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, and due to the liberal nature of the city, city officials have tried to build up as much public transportation as possible.
Cities like New York and Boston have been building their public transportation infrastructure for decades. Portland is trying to catch up to these much older cities, and it has caused major problems with their public transportation. These are huge endeavors and in Portland’s to rush to build them, they've made crucial mistakes.
18 Best - Here's One for Philly
It isn't often that I have something good to say about the city of Philadelphia but I do have to admit that they have one of the best public transportation systems in the country. I don't think that it is a mistake or a coincidence that three of the oldest cities in the United States; Philadelphia, New York, and Boston all have well-developed and efficient public transportation systems.
The systems are at their best when they are built slowly over time, so having decades, and even centuries to build them is a major advantage.
17 Lag Behind - Another Big L in Big D
I can just imagine the city officials in Dallas being like “this is Texas we don't need no stinking public transportation”. Many of the cities on this list with bad public transportation are like that because they don't have the funds or the resources to build adequate systems.
There are, however, cities like Dallas that have the resources but choose not to because of their own cultural legacy. Dallas is a fairly large city by area but there is no reason why its public transportation system should be as poor as it is. The only way that a major city like Dallas gets this bad is due to intentional neglect by city officials.
16 Best - Washington D.C. and the Power of Diplomacy
It is not at all surprising to me that Washington D.C. has one of the best public transportation systems in the country. After all, the people who are routinely using this system are the very people who have the power and influence to make it better.
In places like Atlanta, where the majority of people who use public transportation are poor, you can get away with not having a great transport system. But in D.C. a long commute can easily lead to you getting an angry phone call from an important Senator or diplomat.
15 Lag Behind - Birmingham Bus Boycott
No city in the United States has a history that is so closely tied to its public transportation system as Birmingham, Alabama. The Birmingham bus rides were one of the defining moments if the Civil Rights movement and helped to shed light on the Jim Crow system that developed in the Deep South after the Civil War.
Birmingham has had a tumultuous relationship with public transportation since that time, which might explain why its current system is so maligned. The state does not have a ton of money but that doesn't fully explain the disrepair that the city's public transportation system has fallen into.
14 Best - Los Angeles Needs Public Transportation
If you have ever sat in the deplorable traffic in Los Angeles you would understand why the city is so desperate to have a good public transportation system. Most city planners have come to the realization that for every person you get to take a bus or subway system into work, that is one less person that you will have on the road clogging up traffic for everyone else.
Though there have been some improvements, there was a time when the traffic from the Los Angeles airport into the city center was one of the worst in the country. Decades of funding huge infrastructure projects has alleviated some of these problems but has not entirely made the commute from the airport bearable.
13 Lag Behind - Not So Youngstown, Ohio
Not every city with a bad public transportation system is found in the southern part of the United States. Youngstown is a fairly large city in Ohio that has a public transport system that is not only small, but also in heavy disrepair.
Youngstown is in a part of the country that was most heavily hit during the 2008 recession. With significantly less tax money coming in, the city enforced serious spending cutbacks on just about everything, including public transport. Many city officials mistakenly view public transportation as a luxury. In fact, a good infrastructure can solve many other problems a city had including high rent, lack of jobs, and environmental issues.
12 Best - Conflict in the New York City Subway
I debated where to put the New York City on this list, or even if it should be on this list at all. Tourists have an infamously hard time navigating the New York subway. But for the people that live there, however, it quickly becomes routine.
Because such a large amount of people live in such a limited place in New York, the city could not survive without its intricate public transportation system. The NYC subway is the most used public transportation system in the world and it has been decades since it has had a major meltdown.
I award points for keeping this hectic city afloat, so New York City makes our list of cities with the best public transportation.
11 Lag Behind - Old Public Transportation in Newark
The state of New Jersey has a lot of problems. For decades it has been the suburban Lansing ground for people seeking to escape city life in Philadelphia and New York City. As the state's population grows exponentially, however, it will take real leadership to address some of their problems. Leadership that places like Newark obviously lack.
One of the biggest problems in Newark is its lack of public transportation. City officials want the people that live around Newark to drive because it feeds the tolls that surround the area.
10 Best - Of Course, San Francisco
Some cities are new to the public transportation game but San Francisco has been one of the front-runners of this movement for decades. I think one of the best things about San Francisco's infrastructure is that it goes just about anywhere in the city. Too many cities have appropriate infrastructure for the business or tourist sections of the city but ignore their many other neighborhoods. San Francisco doesn't make this mistake.
There are hardly any neighborhoods within the municipality where an able-bodied person could not find a means of reaching the city's center.
9 Lag Behind - Misuse in Miami
When you are traveling to a beach town, it is often wise to stay at a cheaper hotel a little ways away from the beach, rather than a much more expensive hotel right on the shore. This is possible in most places but not in Miami, Florida.
The public transportation system in Miami is terrible and it is difficult to get anywhere without a car. What's so weird about this is that there is a high demand for public transport in Miami. The one time that I was able to find a bus, it was filled to the brim with more people waiting to get on.
No one wants to walk in that Miami heat, so it is surprising to me that city officials haven't dedicated more time and money to the city's public transportation.
8 Best - University Funding in Morgantown
If you look up cities that have the best infrastructure, Morgantown, West Virginia probably would not make a traditional ranking. Thanks to the heavy investment by the local university, however, this small city has one of the best public transportation systems in the country.
Not only is the transit in Morgantown unique, it is perfectly adapted to the needs of the city. The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system was built by the university to take students to popular parts of the city. The PRT is free for students and is very cheap for other guests. The PRT doesn't go everywhere but it makes travel to the most popular parts of the city incredibly easy.
7 Lag Behind - Hot Atlanta
In many ways, Atlanta, Georgia is a lot like the large cities in the northeastern part of the United States. There are large and diverse populations and old institutions like the Coke factory and the Atlanta Airport have kept the city afloat even in the worst of times.
One area in which Atlanta differs from its northern neighbors is in its lack of reliable public transportation. Because there are so many poor people in Atlanta, their public transportation system is vastly overrun. This, combined with the sweltering Georgian heat, has plagued the cities infrastructure for decades.
6 Best - Chicago Commuters
This list would be incomplete without a mention of the public transportation system in Chicago, Illinois.
There are many reasons why Chicago is said to have one of the best systems in the country. For me, the best thing about the system in Chicago is that it isn't limited to the city itself. There are a ton of commuter rails that go into the outskirts of the city and it is even possible to commute by train from as far away as Milwaukee. The current Chicago public transportation system has a lot of good things going for it.
5 Lag Behind - Southern Hospitality but Not Southern Transportation
For whatever reason, public transportation in the southern part of the United States has not developed as quickly as it has in the north. There is now a significant gap in public transportation efficiency in these two parts of the country, and the public transportation use numbers reflect that.
Charleston is one of the most famous southern cities and even its public transportation system is a mess. They are, admittedly, hampered by a city layout that was planned in the 1700s but so were northern cities like Boston and New York, and they still make their public transportation infrastructure work.
4 Best - Boston’s Past and Present Coming Together
Boston has a lot of things going for it and the proficiency of its public transportation system is just another example. Boston was the first city in the U.S. to have an underground subway. In the present day, the mass transit system, commonly referred to as the T, is fairly efficient and very easy to understand. There are also commuter rails that people can ride into the city, disability buses to transport people who cannot make it to faraway bus stops, and even a ferry system.
Boston is a very affluent city and they have used that influx of cash to make their public transportation some of the best in the country.
3 Lag Behind - Pittsburgh's Limited Infrastructure
For a city that is so progressive, it is amazing that Pittsburgh's public transportation isn't better developed. There is a small subway system but it is designed to go to only a handful of places within the city. One cool thing about the Pittsburgh subway is that it is free between certain, popular stops.
Because of all the rivers, traffic in Pittsburgh can get pretty bad. This is not only one of the reasons why the city needs better public transportation, it also limits the effectiveness of buses as a form of mass transit.
2 Best - San Diego Tourism
It is hard to argue with San Diego's record for public transportation. The city consistently receives high marks from its own citizens as well as officials who make these rankings.
One of San Diego's major industries in tourism. When tourists are seeing the sites in a city (especially tourist from another country) they do not like to drive. Therefore, San Diego has built up its public transportation system through necessity due to the need to accommodate these tourists. I'm sure the citizens of this city are also thankful for these developments.
1 Lag Behind - A Big Problem in the Big Easy
The Big Easy is known for a lot of things but good public transportation isn't one of them. But at least New Orleans has some excuses. For starters, some of the city's infrastructure was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and a lot of the problems in the poorer parts of the city were never fixed.
In addition, the older parts of the city were never meant to have a public transportation system, so putting one into place in areas like the French Quarter can be financially draining. Not to mention, restrictions on historical buildings often block large-scale developments.