Top 10 U.S. Cities With Best Public Transportation

There’s no doubt driving can be expensive. It all adds up between paying for gas, car insurance, car repairs, parking, and a potential car note. Fortunately, public transportation can be good for your wallet and the environment as a healthy alternative to driving. 

If you’re thinking of moving or just want to see if your city makes the rank, here are the 10 U.S. cities we believe have some of the best public transportation systems. 

10. Miami, FL

Miami offers three options to help you get where you want to go: Metrobus, Metrorail, and Metromover. 

You can take the Metrorail throughout the city on its 25 miles of elevated rail, including to and from the airport and downtown. Miami also offers a free Metromover that makes a loop from downtown to the nearby Brickell financial district. Rounding out the public transportation network, Miami’s Metrobus has 95 routes with over 1,000 buses. 

Miami ranking by ridership from Census data: 9th

Miami transit score: 88 trips per capita

Miami transit fare: $2.25 one-way

Total score: 57 

9. Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon (tied) 

Minneapolis, MN 

Minneapolis is a growing public transportation hub with light rail trams, buses, and commuter trains that can help you get to where you need to go. You can even take the light rail to the airport or between the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The city also has bus-only lanes and pilot programs to test out new transportation ideas. 

Affordability is another positive: One-way bus fares range from $2.00 to $3.25 depending on the time of day and whether the trip is an express route. Trips within the downtown area cost only $0.50, and there are also “free-ride” buses along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

Minneapolis ranking by ridership from Census data: 10th

Minneapolis transit score: 91 trips per capita

Minneapolis transit fare: $2.50 one-way non-express fare during rush hour

Total score: 54

Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon, has various public transportation options, including buses, a light rail, the Westside Express Service commuter rail, and even the Portland Streetcar. Portland is also well-known for its biking culture and has a bike-share system available downtown and the city’s inner eastside. 

According to TriMet, the local transit authority, “Each weekday, Portland-area residents take more than 316,700 trips on TriMet to jobs, shopping, services, and recreation. That adds up to nearly 100 million trips per year! And 78% of those riders choose TriMet over driving.” 

All of this makes Portland a city with some of the best public transportation in the U.S.

Portland ranking by ridership from Census data: 11th

Portland transit score: 97 trips per capita

Portland transit fare: $2.50 two-and-a-half hour fare

Total score: 54 

8. Seattle, WA 

Similar to its Pacific Northwest brother city Portland, Seattle has many different public transportation options to choose from: You can take the bus, streetcar, light rail, or even Amtrak trains or the ferry. It’s also a very bike-friendly city, and the city boasts a robust bike-sharing program. 

Seattle ranking by ridership from Census data: 8th

Seattle transit score: 97 trips per capita

Seattle transit fare: $2.25 one-way

Total score: 47

7. Philadelphia, PA 

Philadelphia has the sixth-largest public transportation agency in the U.S. The system in Philly serves 13 million customers every day and offers rides through trains, subways, buses, and trolleys. 

Philadelphia ranking by ridership from Census data: 7th 

Philadelphia transit score: 98 trips per capita

Philadelphia transit fare: $4.00 one-way, with increasing fares for travel to zones further away or New Jersey

Total score: 43

6. Los Angeles, CA 

Los Angeles may be best-known for its car culture, but it’s working hard to expand its public transportation options.

Los Angeles has buses, bike-sharing options, and a metro rail with six lines that span from the LAX airport to the neighboring cities of Long Beach, Hollywood, Pasadena, and Santa Monica. 

There is currently a project underway to expand service around LAX to serve more communities and decongest the region’s famously busy freeways. Additional work is also underway to complete projects by the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Los Angeles ranking by ridership from Census data: 6th 

Los Angeles transit score: 96 trips per capita

Los Angeles transit fare: $1.75 one-way

Total score: 41

5. Chicago, IL 

Chicago makes it in the top five due to its robust public transportation system. The Chicago Transit Authority serves a whopping 35 different suburbs and millions of riders, making it a city with some of the best public transportation in the U.S. One of the main perks for residents and tourists is the direct rail service to the two major Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway airports. 

Chicago ranking by ridership from Census data: 2nd

Chicago transit score: 98 trips per capita

Chicago transit fare: $2.50 one-way

Total score: 24

4. Washington, D.C. 

The nation’s capital has one of the most frequently used and busiest public transportation systems. The public transportation network connects Washington’s four quadrants and serves communities nearby in Virginia and Maryland. It also is one of the primary U.S. cities with a subway system.

The local transit authority, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, has been around since 1967 and provides the Metrobus or the DC circulator, which costs $1 and frequents some of the major points of interest around the city, including the National Mall, Union Station, and in the summer, the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Washington, D.C. ranking by ridership from Census data: 4th

Washington, D.C. transit score: 99 trips per capita

Washington, D.C. transit fare: $2.00 one-way, with higher fares for express routes and subway trips to zones further away or travel at peak times 

Total score: 23

3. Boston, MA 

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority manages Boston’s public transportation system. The subways, buses, trolleys, and even boat service are often referred to by locals as the “T.”

Boston ranking by ridership from Census data: 5th

Boston transit score: 99 trips per capita

Boston transit fare: $1.70 one-way, with higher fares for commuter rail, subway, and ferry rides and trips of longer distances

Total score: 20

2. San Francisco, CA 

San Francisco has some of the best public transportation in the U.S., if for no other reason than its dizzying amount of options in the city, including Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter subway, Muni buses, light-rail trams, streetcars, and the world-famous cable cars. 

San Francisco ranking by ridership from Census data: 3rd 

San Francisco transit score: 99 trips per capita

San Francisco transit fare: $2.50 one-way, including two hours of transfers; BART fares start at $2.10, with higher costs when you travel longer distances or between counties or to an airport

Total score: 19 

1. New York, NY

New York City is well-known for its 24-hour subway, and as a result, the city is often touted as having the best public transportation in the U.S. 

The Metropolitan Transit Authority manages the subways and bus systems. You can get around New York with its comprehensive subway system and buses that connect seemingly all parts of the city and its various boroughs. There’s also the ferry and a bike-sharing program.

New York is the top-ranked city for public transportation use by percentage by APTA and the Census. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s our top city for public transportation in the U.S.

New York City ranking by ridership from Census data: 1st 

New York City transit score: 100 trips per capita

New York City transit fare: $2.75 one-way for most bus and subway routes

Total score: 14

Our Methodology

To determine the best public transportation, we looked at the total ridership, affordability, and how public transit affects health in the top 11 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

We used data from the American Public Transportation Association 2020 Factbook and Public Transportation Fare Database, Census data from the top 11 city metro areas, local transportation authorities, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation and Health Tool.

We scored each city metro area on a scale of one to three points and calculated the rank by multiplying the points scored by the city’s rank in each category and adding all the points together. The city with the fewest points achieves the highest overall ranking.

For example, New York City ranked ninth in affordability, first in ridership volume, and first in health impact. It earned a total of 14 points: nine points for affordability (one point x ninth place), two points for ridership (two points x first place), and three points for health score (three points x first place) for a total of 14 points.

The bottom line

If you take public transportation often, you’re likely a low-mileage driver

Low-mileage drivers and people who take public transit, even occasionally, can save on their auto insurance with Metromile. Drivers can save 47% a year on average, according to a 2018 survey of new customers who saved with Metromile, by switching to pay-per-mile car insurance

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.