The 10 Best Cities for Mass Transportation

Want to be a part of the mass transportation trend? Consider moving to one of these 10 cities with superb mass transit systems.
By: Michelle Udem

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Photo By: City of Chicago/GRC

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Photo By: Tim Thompson/Seattle CVB

Photo By: Malcolm Brown, NYC and Co.

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Minneapolis

Minneapolis' Metro Transit system features both bus and light-rail services, but what makes this city's transit system stand out is its winter accommodations. "In the winter, some bus stations are indoors, feature heat lamps and have displays for estimated bus arrival times," says rider and Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison.

To accommodate rush-hour commuters, bus services use the carpool lane in the mornings and evenings. "The bus is very fast and direct," Jan says. "The express bus service downtown is faster than driving a car." 

Aside from its superb bus services, Minneapolis also offers a light-rail system that currently runs from downtown Minneapolis to the Northwest suburbs. Proposals have been made to expand the light-rail system to the Southwest, which would provide service to five more suburban communities.

Chicago

While most subway systems run underground, Chicago's subway system, the "L," often runs above ground, offering bouts of fresh air and architectural eye candy for its riders. 

The second-largest transportation system in the U.S., the Chicago Transit Authority includes buses, rapid transit (the "L") and commuter trains. Via bus or the "L," commuters and visitors can reach 40 of the city's suburbs and travel swiftly throughout Chicago proper. "The 'L' is better to take during commuting hours, since the bus often gets caught in traffic," says Loyola Medical School research assistant Kate Lansu. 

Though Chicago roads currently provide some bus-only lanes, city leaders have been pushing for development of a higher-quality bus service, such as a Bus Rapid Transit system, which would reduce car lanes on the road, add more bus lanes and signal priority for buses at key intersections.

Washington, D.C.

Like New York, D.C.'s city center draws workers from surrounding suburban areas, including two neighboring states: Maryland and Virginia. D.C.'s notorious rush-hour traffic makes a well-tuned, affordable and wide-ranging mass transit system essential. 

Government contractor Ticona Willis confirms these sentiments. "What I like most about D.C.'s mass transit system is the convenience of not having to deal with traffic during rush hour," she says. To accommodate travel into the D.C. area and the metro center, the city's public transportation system includes a regional subway system, a regional bus service and several local bus systems. Ticona says D.C.'s public transit isn't perfect – she'd like to see cheaper fares and newer subway cars with better temperature control – but the current system makes D.C. employment a viable option for suburbanites.

Los Angeles

Serving more than a million commuters on weekdays, Los Angeles' mass transit system, the Metro, consists of bus and rail services. With a service area of about 1,500 miles, about 6 percent of Los Angeles commuters ride the bus, and about 300,000 commuters ride the Metro's rail and subways every weekday. Though Los Angeles is notorious for gridlocked freeway traffic, its bus and subway services are available in several areas throughout Los Angeles County (the largest county in the country), offering commuters express rush-hour service to accommodate its large ridership. 

The Metro Rail currently offers services for five lines, and the city is working on a sixth line, the Expo line. Though the Metro's rail system serves several cities in Los Angeles County, ranging from Long Beach to Pasadena, Metro does not yet offer rail services to much of the Los Angeles Westside, an intensely developed residential and commercial community. The upcoming Expo line is expected to address this issue.

San Diego

One of the few U.S. cities to provide trolley service more functional than a tourist attraction, San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System operates three light-rail lines and three bus services. 

Though known as "The Trolley," this service is actually a light-rail system that runs on four different lines and has a ridership of more than 100,000 users each weekday. For those who work in the coastal and inland areas of San Diego, The Trolley can be the most convenient form of transportation. Currently the fifth most-ridden light-rail system, The Trolley is also the eighth-oldest light-rail system in the U.S. 

San Diego's bus system is divided into three services: commuter and express, urban and local, and rural. Connecting its surrounding suburbs to the San Diego downtown area, buses offer express services during commuting hours and link up to the downtown's Trolley system. Additionally, San Diego is part of Southern California's Metrolink commuter rail service, connecting to most of the larger Southern California counties.

Seattle

Consisting of an above-ground and underground light-rail system, bus service and a downtown monorail, Seattle's innovative and reliable mass transit systems are the preferred mode of transportation for many of the city's residents. "I live in the city, so there's really no need for a car – mass transit is so easy here," says resident and receptionist Stephanie Fischer. 

Unique to the Emerald City, the Seattle Center Monorail system links the downtown area to Seattle Center, the city's entertainment hub, and offers a fun riding experience. "I always take my family and friends to ride it when they're visiting," Stephanie says.

Also convenient for both residents and visitors, Seattle's light-rail system, Central Link, runs from the downtown area to the airport. The city is currently working on extending this line for another 3.15 miles, connecting the city's downtown area to the University of Washington campus.

New York

The country's most widespread mass transportation system with a strong network more than 100 years old, New York City's mass transit services take commuters and visitors to all ends of the city, as well as its surrounding areas. Consisting of ferries, buses, subways and trains, the system is so reliable that more than half of NYC households do not own a car. "It's incredible that NYC has the infrastructure for the amount of people who commute into the city," says resident Jenny Catherall. 

To accommodate the popular use of mass transit, NYC is one of just a few U.S. cities to provide morning rush-hour service, in which the subways' frequency is less than 10 minutes. "I actually enjoy my morning commute somewhat. It allows me to relax a little, as opposed to being irritated while driving to work," Jenny says.

San Francisco

Connecting riders to a wide variety of Bay Area localities, the Bay Area Rapid Transit is known for its impressive travel speeds and reliability. Serving four counties and spanning 104 miles, BART averages 367,591 riders per day on weekdays, including students, working commuters and visitors eager to experience city life, gorgeous beaches and the vibrant East Bay area.

With San Francisco's growing population of more than 800,000, BART also caters to commuters within the city. "With BART, you can easily go from downtown to just about any part of the city," says recent San Francisco State University graduate Matt McEwan. In addition to BART, San Francisco's bus service and the citywide light rail and subway system also help relieve reliance on cars and parking shortage frustrations.

Boston

Known to locals as "The T," the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates most of the city's subway, bus, commuter rail and ferry systems, connecting the city's bustling neighborhoods and college campuses. "No matter what part of the city you are in, you are within easy access to a bus or train, or both," says graduate student Anna Levy. 

Unique to Boston's subway and bus system is the Charlie Card, a stored-value card used for paying subway or bus fare. The MBTA offers a discount for using the Charlie Card: Subway fare is $2 without the card and $1.70 with the card, per ride. 

Though the MBTA's subway system already has three rapid transit lines – the Red, Orange and Blue lines, and two light-rail lines – the Green Line and the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line – the MBTA plans to add new stations to these lines as well as extend them. "Overall, the transit system connects the different parts of the city, as well as Cambridge, very cohesively," Anna concludes.

Pittsburgh

Operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh's mass transit system consists of bus services, a light-rail system and two inclined-plane railroads. With about 6 percent of its workforce commuting by means of mass transit, Pittsburgh ranked number 24 on the U.S. Census Bureau's list of public transit usage. 

PAT operates about 800 buses, which run on both standard and rapid transit routes. Additionally, all the light rail and busway stations outside the downtown area connect to shuttles, transferring riders to the surrounding neighborhoods. PAT's buses currently run along three routes, connecting suburbs in Allegheny County to downtown Pittsburgh, from the Amtrak station to the eastern suburbs, and one line serving just the southern suburbs. 

PAT's light-rail network, locally known as "The T," is a 25-mile system with four lines, running south from downtown Pittsburgh to the suburbs. PAT unveiled its new North Shore Connector Line, which added 1.2 miles of track north of downtown, in 2012. The line runs under the Allegheny River and connects Pittsburgh's northern suburbs to the downtown area as well as to the southern suburbs.

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