Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Best Public Transportation

In the age of modern technology, cities are reimagining public transportation like never before. Efficient and comprehensive public transit systems are becoming crucial, especially for sprawling metropolises. These systems offer a wide range of options, like buses, trains, light rail, and even ferries, reducing traffic congestion, environmental impact, and personal reliance on cars. This blog will delve into the importance of the “best public transportation” systems in the US. We’ll explore the top 10 cities leading the charge with innovative and user-friendly public transit options. By examining their success stories, we can glean valuable insights for city planners across the nation, paving the way for a future where getting around is efficient, sustainable, and accessible for all.

With trains, trams, subways, buses, and more, Americans can go everywhere! And go they have. In 2023, Americans took more than 7.1 billion trips on public transportation, according to the American Public Transportation Association.Walk Score, a subsidiary of the real estate company Redfin, analyzed 130 cities with a population of 200,000 or greater across the country and ranked their public transit systems on a 100-point scale as of 2021. The analysis takes into account the frequency of transit routes, the distance between stops, and the mode of transit, with trains weighted the most and buses the least.

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Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

The United States, known for its love affair with the automobile, also boasts a surprising number of cities with fantastic public transportation systems. Unlike sprawling suburbs, these urban centers offer residents the freedom to explore their city without needing a car. Our list explores the top 10 contenders for the best public transportation systems in the US, highlighting the unique features and ease of use that make them shine. Whether you’re a frequent commuter, a weekend visitor, or someone considering a car-free lifestyle, this list will introduce you to the US cities where getting around is a breeze.

1. New York City, NY

New York City, or the Big Apple, reigns supreme when it comes to navigating the urban jungle without needing a car. Renowned for its iconic yellow cabs, the city’s true crown jewel is its extensive and constantly evolving public transportation system. At its core lies the subway, a labyrinthine network of lines operational 24/7, serving millions of riders daily. Connecting the farthest reaches of the five boroughs—Manchester, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island—the subway offers an efficient and affordable way to zip between towering skyscrapers, world-class museums, and vibrant neighborhoods.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Beyond the subways, a comprehensive bus network tackles every nook and cranny, while ferries provide scenic commutes and access to iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. New Yorkers on two wheels can take advantage of Citi Bike, a large-scale bike-sharing program with docking stations conveniently scattered throughout the city. Always on the move, NYC is constantly upgrading its infrastructure, making public transportation the most convenient and eco-friendly way to experience the city’s unparalleled energy and endless offerings.

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2. Boston, MA

Boston, also known as Beantown, boasts a public transportation network that makes it a haven for those who prefer to ditch the car. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates a historic and comprehensive subway system, fondly nicknamed the “T.” Covering a large portion of the Greater Boston area, the T features multiple lines that efficiently whisk riders throughout the city and surrounding neighborhoods. Complementing the subway is a modern light rail network, the Green Line, which offers scenic rides above street level. For those seeking a more surface-oriented option, the MBTA operates a vast and reliable bus network that reaches even the farthest corners of the city.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Beyond the MBTA, Boston is a pedestrian-friendly metropolis, with many neighborhoods designed for easy walking and exploration. Whether you’re a history buff exploring the Freedom Trail, a student attending one of Boston’s prestigious universities, or a resident going about your day, the city’s public transportation system offers a convenient, affordable, and eco-friendly way to get around, ensuring that Boston lives up to its reputation as a vibrant and walkable urban center.

3. Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C, efficiently whisks residents and visitors around with its clean and well-maintained Metro subway system. Nicknamed the “Metrorail,” it boasts six color-coded lines that extend far into Maryland and Virginia, making it a great choice for exploring not just the core of the city but also the surrounding areas. Frequencies are impressive, with trains arriving every few minutes during peak hours, ensuring minimal wait times. Complementing the Metro is a comprehensive bus network, offering extensive surface coverage and connecting seamlessly with subway stations for those last-mile trips.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Adding to the convenience, WMATA, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, integrates fares across all these services, so you can switch between Metro, bus, and streetcar with a single ticket or pass. Furthermore, Washington, D.C., is a surprisingly walkable city, with many monuments, museums, and government buildings clustered close together. Biking is another popular option, with a network of dedicated lanes and a growing bike-sharing program making it easier than ever to explore two wheels.

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4. Chicago, IL

Chicago, the “Windy City,” boasts a robust public transportation system that efficiently shuttles residents and visitors around its vast cityscape. The iconic “L” train, an elevated rail system with multiple lines, forms the backbone of Chicago’s public transit. The “L” connects downtown to distant neighborhoods, offering frequent service and extensive coverage, allowing for easy exploration of the city’s diverse pockets. Complementing the “L” is a comprehensive bus network that traverses every corner of Chicago, ensuring accessibility to all areas. For those seeking a more scenic commute, commuters can turn to Metra, Chicago’s suburbs, to reach the bustling downtown core.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Chicago’s public transportation doesn’t stop there. The city implements a strategic plan to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians, with protected bike lanes and well-maintained sidewalks encouraging eco-friendly commutes. Adding to its appeal, Chicago’s public transport system integrates with a contactless fare system, allowing seamless travel between buses, trains, and bike-sharing programs. Whether you’re a seasoned resident or a curious visitor, Chicago’s public transportation system offers a reliable, affordable, and convenient way to navigate this dynamic and exciting metropolis.

5. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco takes a unique approach to public transportation, offering a delightful mix of modern efficiency and historical flair. The Muni Metro subway network serves as the backbone, whisking riders underground and above ground throughout the city. Complementing the Metro are the iconic cable cars, a national treasure that ascends steep hills effortlessly. No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on a cable car, offering stunning views and a touch of nostalgia.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Muni also operates an extensive bus network, historic streetcars reminiscent of a bygone era, and even a ferry system for scenic bay crossings. This multimodal system, along with San Francisco’s walkability, makes it a haven for those who prefer to explore car-free. Whether you’re seeking a quick commute or a leisurely sightseeing adventure, San Francisco’s public transportation system offers a reliable, convenient, and undeniably charming way to experience the city by the bay.

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6. Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy, boasts a public transportation system rich in both history and efficiency. SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) serves the city and surrounding suburbs with a convenient network of subways and elevated trains. The Market-Frankford Line, the city’s first subway, dates back to 1906 and whisks riders between cultural hotspots like Independence Hall and trendy neighborhoods. Complementing the subway lines are the elevated trains, offering scenic views alongside speedy commutes. SEPTA’s extensive bus routes weave through every corner of the city, ensuring easy access to historical sites, world-class museums, and the vibrant restaurant scene.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Philly’s trolleys, reminiscent of a bygone era, add a touch of charm to getting around, connecting riders with iconic cheesesteak shops and bustling commercial districts. With an integrated fare system and a focus on continuous improvement, SEPTA makes navigating Philadelphia a breeze, allowing visitors and residents alike to experience the city’s rich tapestry of history, culture, and innovation—all without needing a car.

7. Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA, often lauded for its picturesque landscapes and vibrant culture, also stands out as a beacon of excellence in public transportation. With a comprehensive network of buses, light rail, ferries, and streetcars, Seattle offers commuters and residents alike a seamless and efficient way to navigate the city. The centerpiece of Seattle’s transit system is the Sound Transit Link Light Rail, connecting key neighborhoods and suburbs to downtown Seattle, SeaTac Airport, and the University of Washington campus. Additionally, King County Metro Transit operates an extensive bus network, ensuring accessibility to even the most remote corners of the city.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

The introduction of the ORCA card, a regional fare payment system, further simplifies travel for passengers, allowing seamless transfers between different modes of transportation. Seattle’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its initiatives to expand bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, encouraging alternative modes of transport. Furthermore, the city’s dedication to innovation is showcased through ongoing projects such as the expansion of the light rail system and the implementation of electric cars and buses.

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8. Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, the sprawling city of angels, is often synonymous with car culture and congested freeways. However, beneath the surface lies a growing and ambitious public transportation system operated by Los Angeles Metro. While still expanding, the Metro offers a network of subway lines, light rail lines, and buses that can help you navigate this massive city. The most heavily used line is the Red Line, which connects Downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood via Hollywood and Universal Studios, making it a great choice for tourists and visitors. For those headed to Santa Monica or Downtown LA, the Expo Line is a light rail option.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Beyond these core lines, a network of feeder buses connects various neighborhoods to the rail system, with some areas boasting the bright orange DASH buses offering free service. While Los Angeles may not yet rival established public transportation giants, it’s a system on the upswing, offering a convenient and affordable option for navigating this ever-evolving city. Remember, with the implementation of fare capping, the more you ride, the more you save, making exploring LA by Metro an increasingly attractive proposition.

9. Atlanta, GA

Atlanta, the vibrant capital of Georgia, is shaking off its reputation as a car-dependent city and transforming into a major player in the public transportation arena. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) serves as the backbone of the system, offering a growing network of heavy rail, light rail, and buses. MARTA’s heavy rail boasts four lines that conveniently crisscross the city, connecting major business districts, universities, and cultural hubs. The light rail adds another layer of connectivity, while a comprehensive bus system extends MARTA’s reach to further-flung neighborhoods.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

While the system is primarily concentrated in Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties, it does provide limited service to Cobb County and connects to Gwinnett County via partner bus routes. Recognizing the increasing demand for public transportation, Atlanta is continuously expanding its MARTA network. This includes extending existing lines and adding new stations, making car-free commutes and easy exploration a reality for a growing number of residents and visitors.

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10. Portland, OR

While Portland, Oregon, is renowned for its walkable streets and extensive cycling infrastructure, it also boasts a reliable and well-maintained public transportation system operated by TriMet. The centerpiece of TriMet is the MAX Light Rail, a four-line network connecting major points across the city and surrounding suburbs. MAX offers frequent service, clean and spacious cars, and easy access to many of Portland’s top attractions, including Washington Park (home to the Oregon Zoo and International Rose Test Garden), the Moda Center (a major entertainment venue), and the historic downtown core.

Top 10 US Cities with the Best Public Transportation Systems

Complementing the MAX system is a comprehensive bus network serving neighborhoods throughout the city. TriMet buses are known for their reliability, affordability, and accessibility features, making them a convenient option for shorter trips or reaching areas not directly served by the MAX lines. Furthermore, Portland’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in TriMet’s growing fleet of electric buses, reducing emissions and aligning with the city’s eco-conscious reputation.


Q. Are these cities truly car-free friendly?

Not necessarily. While all these cities have good public transportation systems, some, like New York City and Chicago, are still quite walkable. Car ownership may not be essential, but it can still be convenient. Other cities on the list may require a car for some errands or trips outside the core areas.

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Q. How do I compare the cost of public transportation between these cities?

Costs can vary depending on usage and fare structures. Websites like the American Public Transportation Association offer fare comparison tools, while individual city transit authorities publish their rates online.

Q. Is public transportation in these cities safe?

Generally, yes. Like in any major city, common sense and situational awareness are important. Most major transit authorities have security measures in place.

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Q. How accessible are these public transportation systems for people with disabilities?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates accessibility on public transportation. Most cities on this list have made significant strides, with features like ramps, elevators, and audible announcements. It’s always a good idea to check the accessibility information on the specific transit authority’s website before your trip.

Q. Are there any up-and-coming cities with improved public transportation?

Yes, several cities are investing heavily in expanding their public transportation options. Examples include Seattle, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.


In conclusion, while the United States is known for its car culture, there are a growing number of cities offering excellent public transportation options. From the expansive subway systems of New York City and Chicago to the light rail networks of Seattle and Portland, many US cities cater to pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users. Whether you prioritize extensive coverage, historical charm, or eco-friendly options, there’s a US city with a public transportation system to suit your needs. So ditch the car, explore these vibrant cities, and experience America from a different perspective.

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