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How to Buy a New Car in 8 Steps

How to Buy a New Car | Metromile

If your old car is on its last legs or you’re simply ready for an upgrade, a new car may be in your future. The car buying process can feel daunting, especially if you’re not sure where to start.
If you want to know how to buy a new car, consider these eight steps to find the right car for you.

How to buy a new car in 8 steps

1. Determine how much you can afford.

Understandably, you want a deal on your car purchase. No one wants to pay more than they really should.

Before you start, it’s essential to determine what you can afford. It’s fun to think about our “dream car,” but our budgets and lifestyle may have other ideas. 

To start, determine how you will pay for your car. You can pay cash or take on auto financing. 

If you have cash on hand, fantastic! If you decide to take an auto loan to finance your car purchase, you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • The overall total you’re borrowing (i.e., your loan amount)
  • Your monthly payment amount
  • The interest rate of the loan
  • Repayment term or how long your loan payments will last

Each of these factors will typically affect the total cost of your auto loan. 

After considering your current income, existing expenses, any debt you might have, and your other financial goals, make sure your car purchase doesn’t break your budget. Your budget will need to allow for everything else you want or need in your life.

2. Research vehicles.

After determining a budget for your new car purchase, research new vehicles that fit within your budget. You’ll also want to consider your lifestyle and needs as well. For example, you’ll need a different car if you’re living alone in a city than if you have a family and need to drive your kids around town.

A good place to find different makes and models of vehicles for sale is an online car marketplace. You can research new or used vehicles for sale, like how you might buy shoes or anything else online.

When shopping for a car, you’ll want to consider durability, dependability, and the total cost of car ownership. You might also want to understand:

  • Does the type of car typically need a lot of maintenance or repairs?
  • Are there known issues with the type of car?
  • What is the typical fuel efficiency or miles per gallon for the vehicle? 
  • What is the depreciation like on this model? 
  • How safe is the car?

When shopping for a car, it’s easy to look at upfront costs, such as the price of the car, the cost of any accessories or add-ons, or the fees associated with financing, but you’ll need to think about the long-term. As a car owner, you’ll also want to think about additional costs, including maintenance, repairs, gas, and depreciation as part of your budgeting.

3. Get pre-approved for an auto loan.

Cars are often expensive, so you might need to secure some financing before you can make the big purchase.

Before heading to a car dealership, look into getting pre-approved for an auto loan at a reputable bank, credit union, or lender. A good place to start is any financial institution you already have a relationship with, as they might be able to provide benefits or discounts because of your existing accounts. 

Getting pre-approved before you buy your car could also earn you a more competitive interest rate. Financing at a car dealership may not be the best available rate, and you may end up paying more than you would elsewhere. 

You also may have more leverage or room to negotiate prices or rates if you get a pre-approval ahead of time.

4. Get a car insurance quote.

On top of any monthly payments for your car and the regular costs of gas, maintenance, and repairs, you’ll also likely need to get car insurance coverage

The make and model of your vehicle impacts the price you pay for auto insurance. Before you make a car purchase, it could be beneficial to review average or typical car insurance premium costs for any car you’re considering.

If you don’t often drive (many Americans drive 40 miles or less every day), you could save money with a pay-per-mile car insurance policy. Car owners and drivers could save 47% a year on average, according to a 2018 survey of new customers who saved with Metromile.

5. Compare prices ahead of time and get quotes from a dealership.

Don’t start your car purchase unprepared.

It’s a good idea to do some legwork before heading to a car dealership or searching online. You’ll want to compare prices for specific makes and models so that you can easily spot if any quotes or prices are off base. 

You might find different prices for the same vehicles at different car dealerships or online car marketplaces. 

Often, you can email different dealerships and get a quote on any cars you’re considering. You can also use websites to research typical car prices and any discounts, incentives, or rebates that might be available.

When you ask for a quote, make sure you get the total cost of the car, inclusive of any taxes and fees, so that you can make fair, apples-to-apples comparisons.

Research ahead of time can keep you from getting overcharged or a lower trade-in value when you make your car purchase.

6. Schedule a test drive.

Once you’ve determined your budget and found car makes and models you like, it’s time to see if each car is the right fit for you and how you like to drive. That’s where a test drive comes in. 

Schedule a test drive ahead of time so that you can get a feel for the car and how it rides on the road. 

Plan on dedicating several hours to test driving so that you’re not rushed. Consider taking notes about features you like or don’t like on your phone, or bring a notepad with you for your test drive. Your notes can help you compare features or remind you of things you didn’t like after the test drive.

7. Score a deal.

Once you’ve found the car of your dreams, it’s time to move forward and look for the best price. 

If you have a pre-approved offer, use the quote or rate as a starting point for your negotiations.

Remember: You shouldn’t feel pressured into anything. A car is a major purchase and something you’ll have for a long time. It only makes sense that the purchase might take a long time, too.

Be sure to ask about any fees and be wary of any upsells. Consider declining any extras they try to sell you if you don’t really need them. 

You could also save money by opting for a shorter repayment term if you’re financing your car. You will have larger monthly payments, but you’ll typically pay less in interest over time.

8. Buy the car.

After you’ve done the research, taken a test drive, and determined how much and how you’ll pay for your car, it’s time to drive off with your new set of wheels. 

Before you get on the road, you’ll want to review any paperwork carefully. Don’t leave the dealership or make a purchase online without reviewing all the terms.

Don’t forget to ask about anything you don’t recognize and get any benefits, discounts, or complimentary add-ons you’ve negotiated in writing. After signing any paperwork, remember to keep a copy for yourself.

When buying a car, you can also ask if the dealership will register the vehicle for you. Car registration can be a complicated and lengthy process, but they may be able to help.

The bottom line

Buying a new car can be a rewarding process, but it can also be an overwhelming experience. These steps can help you get a good deal on your car and make an informed decision before you make a purchase.

After you make your purchase, you should also make sure you have the right car insurance coverage for your vehicle and lifestyle.

You can see if Metromile is right for you with a free trial. Download the Metromile app from your favorite app store and start a Ride Along™. After driving for about two weeks (you’ll want to keep your current insurance policy to keep your coverage during the trial), Metromile will tell you how much you could save by switching insurance companies. In some states, you can also earn up to an extra 40% off your initial Metromile quote for being a safe driver during your Ride Along™ trial.

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.

The Top 10 Questions About Electric Cars, Answered

How Do Electric Cars Work | Metromile

You’ve heard about electric cars, and now you’re thinking of buying one. The only problem might be that you have a few questions. 

While electric cars might be cool or more popular nowadays, there can still be some confusion. We’ve gone ahead and answered the top 10 most common questions about electric cars.

1. When was the first electric car made?

While you might think electric vehicles are a modern phenomenon, electric cars are older than you think. 

The first electric vehicle was created as early as 1828. It wasn’t until the 1870s that electric vehicles became smaller scale, more usable, and practical.

2. How do electric cars work?

Electric vehicles, sometimes called battery electric vehicles, “have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. “The vehicle uses a large traction battery pack to power the electric motor and must be plugged into a wall outlet or charging equipment, also called electric vehicle supply equipment.” 

Electric cars don’t use liquid fuel, so there aren’t any fuel pumps, fuel lines, or fuel tanks. Because they run on electricity, they also don’t emit any car exhaust from their tailpipes.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

3. Do electric cars use oil?

Electric cars don’t use oil. Instead, electric vehicles use electricity stored in a battery to run an electric motor.

Because electric vehicles operate differently from traditional cars, this also means they don’t require oil changes as a part of your car maintenance checklist.

4. Do electric cars have transmissions?

One of the major differences between conventional cars and electric vehicles is the transmission. Electric cars don’t have different speed transmissions. Instead, electric cars have just one single-speed transmission, which is part of the electric motor that runs the car.

5. How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Charge times for electric cars can vary based on different factors, such as the battery size and charging capacity. Cold weather and other environmental factors can also impact charging speed.

According to Kelley Blue Book, which used data from car manufacturers’ websites, electric vehicles can take as few as four hours to as long as 12 hours to max out its charge.

Here’s how long it might take for some common electric vehicles to charge fully:

Charging time of major electrical car models

6. How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

The cost to charge an electric vehicle depends on local electricity costs and whether you have to pay to use a charger. In California, electric vehicles might cost about $7 or more to fully charge. 

According to FuelEconomy.gov, there are sometimes free public chargers available, while other chargers may have a flat fee, a monthly subscription, or a per-use cost by time. 

You can also consider purchasing an at-home charger for your vehicle, which could cost between $400 to $1,000. You should also budget for any installation or set-up costs, such as fees, permits, or long-term maintenance.

7. How do I charge an electric car?

There are three main ways to charge an electric vehicle: 

  1. Level 1 charger: This is a regular 120-volt outlet in your home and the slowest way to charge your car. Your car will likely come with a cord for you to use this type of charging at home. 
  2. Level 2 charger: If you’re looking to charge your electric car outside of the home, it’ll likely be a 240-volt or 208-volt charger. Level 2 chargers can charge your electric vehicle more quickly. You can also install a Level 2 charger at home. 
  3. Fast charger: Fast or rapid electric vehicle chargers, sometimes called DC fast charging or DC quick charging, is typically the fastest charge available. You could get up to 50 miles or more in range after about 20 minutes. Fast charging isn’t available for all electric cars, so be sure to check your car owner’s manual before you try to use a fast charger. 

You’ll want to check your owner’s manual to see which type of charger works with the make and model of your electric car.

8. How much are electric cars?

Electric vehicles vary in price by make, model, and year, with some costing as much as a traditional entry-level car.

Here are the typical starting costs of some common electric vehicles in the United States:

typical car cost for electrical models

9. Are electric cars better for the environment?

Electric vehicles can be better for the environment because they can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because they don’t use fossil fuels or gas to run an engine or motor, electric vehicles don’t produce any tailpipe emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “While charging the battery may increase pollution at the power plant, total emissions associated with driving electric vehicles are still typically less than those for gasoline cars—particularly if the electricity is generated from renewable energy sources like wind.”

10. Who makes electric car batteries?

As electric cars become more popular and commonplace, the need for electric car batteries has increased. There are now many electric car battery manufacturers. 

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, many electric vehicle battery pack manufacturers are assembled in the United States. 

Some major electric car battery manufacturers include:

battery makes for electrical cars

The bottom line

Electric vehicles aren’t just a trendy fad but are here to stay. They can be a more environmentally friendly way to drive compared to traditional cars.

If you drive an electric car or are thinking about purchasing an electric vehicle, chances are you don’t drive much or are actively looking to drive less. Pay-per-mile auto insurance can be a good fit for you and help you lower car insurance costs.

You can see if pay-per-mile car insurance is right for you with Metromile. Download the Metromile app and take a Ride Along™ trial for free. For about two weeks, you’ll drive like you typically do (you should keep your existing insurance policy to keep covered during the trial). After, you’ll see how much you could save if you switched to a usage-based insurance policy.
Drivers can also save up to an extra 40% off their initial Metromile auto insurance quote if they show they’re a safe driver during their Ride Along™ in select states.


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.

Should You Buy Premium or Regular Gas?

Types of Gas for Cars: Premium or Regular | Metromile

If you’re like many drivers, you buy the regular unleaded gasoline and don’t think much about the different types of gas.

For those who are curious about whether to buy premium or regular gas, this short guide will explain the different types of gas for cars and what you should know.

What makes up gasoline?

According to the Energy Information Administration, “gasoline is a fuel made from crude oil and other petroleum liquids. Gasoline is mainly used as an engine fuel in vehicles. Petroleum refineries and blending facilities produce motor gasoline for sale at retail gasoline fueling stations.”

The gasoline you’re used to is actually unfinished gasoline combined with additional liquids such as ethanol. It’s these different blends that determine the different types of gas that are typically listed by grade at the gas pump.

Different types of gas by grade, explained

There are three different types of gas at most U.S. gas stations, typically differentiated by their octane ratings:

  • Regular gas (typically 87 octane) is one of the most common fuel types. Many car manufacturers recommend regular gas, and it’s many drivers’ go-to option. Regular gas is a budget-friendly gas option and is standard for many vehicles. 
  • Mid-grade gas (usually 88 to 90) is a specialty gas. Some vehicles are made to run on gasoline with a higher octane level. For example, some sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) require mid-grade gasoline. The higher octane level can be good for performance.
  • Premium gas (often 91 to 94) is often the highest octane gas sold. A car rarely needs premium gasoline, but some vehicles designed for high performance may require a higher octane level.

You might also see the different gas grades referred to as unleaded, super, or super-premium. 

Using the right fuel for your vehicle can boost its performance and efficiency. If your car doesn’t require a higher octane level, there’s no need to use a more expensive type of gas. It could even potentially damage your vehicle if you fill up with the wrong type of gas.

Understanding premium gas vs. regular gas

When you’re reviewing different types of gas, it’s important to note that the octane level measures the gasoline’s compression. 

The main difference between premium gas and regular gas is the octane rating. This affects the engine’s performance and compression. 

Aside from that major difference, of course, there’s the difference in price points as well. 

Regular unleaded gas is typically the cheapest gas to purchase, as it is the most common.

Premium gas is typically the most expensive gas to buy. Some luxury car manufacturers and manufacturers of sports cars or foreign cars recommend higher-octane, premium gas to achieve the best engine efficiency. 

Double-check whether your car manufacturer requires premium or recommends premium gas. Your vehicle owner’s manual will tell you which gas you should use to get the expected vehicle performance.

Should I buy mid-grade gas?

Few car manufacturers suggest mid-grade gas. It has slightly more additives than regular gas, but generally, the results won’t be noticeably better.

If your vehicle doesn’t require mid-grade gas, you’ll be spending extra money without getting a meaningful improvement.

What kind of gas should I get for my vehicle?

When it comes to types of gas for cars, your car owner’s manual will list the recommended gas for your exact vehicle. 

Don’t splurge or use more premium gas because it won’t necessarily allow your vehicle to run faster or get better gas mileage if it only needs regular gas.

Can I use diesel for my car?

Diesel fuel has a much lower octane rating of 25 to 30. If your car manufacturer doesn’t recommend diesel, you shouldn’t fill up your car with it, even if it costs less than regular gas.

Diesel can cause damage to your vehicle’s engine because of the lower compression and octane level. You don’t want to get stuck with costly and unneeded car repairs.

Is the type of gas you use important to your car’s health?

You want to keep your car in good shape, so you may think splurging on a higher octane rating is better. Not exactly. 

If your car manual calls for a premium or mid-grade gas, but you pump regular gas instead, the lower octane level could reduce engine power, damage your car health, and lower fuel economy.

In contrast, filling your car up with premium gas when your car owner’s manual calls for regular gas may not damage your engine, but it probably won’t do much besides costing more money.

How does regular car maintenance keep your vehicle in good health?

Keeping up with regular maintenance like oil changes, having the proper tires, and being aware of any issues can help keep your car in good health. An easy way to keep your car running in tip-top shape for longer is to drive less.

Low-mileage drivers put less wear and tear on their cars. Driving less frequently generally means you’ll need to maintain your car less frequently, too.

Switching to pay-how-you-drive auto insurance could be a good idea if you don’t drive much. Metromile’s pay-per-mile insurance policies focus on the miles you drive, so people who don’t fill up often could also pay less for car insurance.

The table below shows the average annual car insurance savings enjoyed by new Metromile customers:

Pay per mile savings explanation
*Average annual car insurance savings by new customers surveyed who saved with Metromile in 2018.

If it’s an option, taking public transportation could also help you save money at the gas station.

The bottom line

There are many types of gas out there. If you want to save money on gas and keep your car healthy, stick to what your car manufacturer suggests. It’ll save you money and hassle. 

If you don’t drive much and are rarely at the gas station, you can get a free quote from Metromile and try pay-per-mile auto insurance (you’ll need to keep your current policy to remain covered) with the free Ride Along™ trial before making the switch.

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.

What’s the Most Environmentally Friendly Transportation Option when Traveling?

Top 10 Modes of Transportation while Traveling Ranked by Environmental Impact

As the world starts to open up again after the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking forward to traveling again. After staying home for months and months, people are ready to explore new places and have adventures, including so-called “vaxications,” or vacations to celebrate your vaccination.

Aside from traveling costs, you might want to evaluate how you travel in more detail. We’ve reviewed different types of transportation and came up with the top 10 modes of transport by environmental impact.

1. Walking

Though walking may not get you to a new destination, getting around via your own two feet is one of the top ways to travel once you’re in a new city. 

While walking, you’ll be outside, which is considered safer than indoors with current COVID-19 public health guidelines. Better still, you can reduce carbon emissions compared to driving or other transportation methods. 

Walking is also an affordable way to get around (free!) and can be another way to get some exercise while traveling.

2. Biking

Biking is another environmentally and cost-effective way to get around. Taking a bicycle can also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions compared to public transportation, driving, or other forms of travel.

Biking can also be a good way to travel outdoors and help you avoid crowds, which can help you stay healthy.

3. Scooter

In the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of micro-mobility options, most notably scooter rentals. New companies have placed electric scooters in many major cities, which can be convenient depending on where you might need to go.

While electric scooters have an environmental impact, especially compared to cycling or walking, many rental companies are working to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact so that you can take a short trip without worry.

4. Subway

Public transportation is one of the most affordable and environmentally conscious travel options. Depending on your city and how far you might need to go, a subway fare might set you back only a few dollars.

The subway also has the benefit of carrying a lot more people than other transportation methods, helping to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint, especially when compared to driving. Many cities and regions are also working to reduce the emissions of their subway trains.

5. Motorcycles

If you know how to ride a motorcycle, it can be a great (and fun!) way to travel. Just make sure to stay safe, as riding motorcycles can also be dangerous. Motorcyclists account for a significant amount of crash-related fatalities, much higher than the proportion of vehicles they make up on the road.

From an environmental standpoint, it has less of an impact than cars. According to the EPA, greenhouse gas emissions for motorcycles in 2019 were 3.6 teragrams of carbon dioxide, making it the most environmentally-friendly option compared to other on-road vehicles.

6. Buses

When considering types of transportation with a smaller environmental impact, buses are another good option to consider. 

Buses also tend to be more affordable than driving and might cost anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars depending on the city or region and where you might want to go. 

Buses also have a smaller impact on the environment. According to the EPA, as of 2019, buses had a total of 22.2 teragrams of carbon dioxide, making it second in line when it comes to the fewest emissions for on-road vehicles next to motorcycles.

7. Rail

Another efficient way to travel is by train.

The train can also be one of the more relaxing modes of transportation. Think of railways, such as Amtrak, which can let you see the country or get from one city to another quickly. If you’re outside of the U.S., taking the train can also be a more efficient way to travel to different regions or countries than flying. 

Costs can sometimes add up, depending on your route and when you want to travel, so you may want to do some research before leaving. You may also want to budget some extra time, as traveling by rail can also be slower than other transportation options.

According to EPA data from 2019, greenhouse gas emissions from rail travel were 37.6 teragrams of carbon dioxide.

8. Commercial airlines

Flying can be an efficient way to travel, especially if you need to go the distance. However, travel by air has some of the highest environmental impacts, and there have been growing concerns about air pollution from commercial airlines.

According to the EPA, as of 2019, greenhouse gas emissions of commercial airlines were 135.4 teragrams of carbon dioxide.

While the environmental impact can be hefty, sometimes you have no choice but to fly, and as a major form of public transportation, it can be better than other options.

9. SUV or minivans

If you plan to take a road trip or go off-roading, you might want to drive a sports utility vehicle or minivan. Be aware that the environmental impact of these vehicles, what the EPA calls “light-duty trucks,” can be high. Generally, SUVs or minivans have less fuel efficiency than smaller passenger vehicles, which can add up to pricey gas bills and a larger environmental impact.

The total greenhouse gas emissions for light-duty trucks were 323.1 teragrams of carbon dioxide in 2019, according to the EPA.

While a significant amount, the carbon emissions from SUVs or minivans is still less than medium and heavy-duty trucks at 444.4 teragrams of carbon dioxide. 

Fortunately, medium and heavy-duty trucks aren’t often used for transportation because of their cargo and commercial applications.

10. Passenger cars

When it comes to the least environmentally friendly type of transportation, passenger cars top the list. The EPA defines passenger cars as vehicles typically used to transport 12 or fewer people.

According to the EPA, as of 2019, passenger cars have a total of 762.3 teragrams of carbon dioxide, a considerable contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. 

While driving a car may not be the best for the environment, it’s possible to lessen your overall impact by driving an electric vehicle or a hybrid car to use less fossil fuels. Driving an electric vehicle or a hybrid vehicle could also help you save money on gas by filling up less often or not at all.

Our Methodology

We considered the environmental impact by analyzing greenhouse gas emissions by volume of different common transportation methods using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA measures greenhouse gas emissions using teragrams of carbon dioxide.

The bottom line

If you’re traveling, it can be overwhelming to consider the different types of transportation available. You may want to consider each method’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and their environmental impact. You might also want to consider affordability, convenience, and safety.

If you like to consider your environmental impact, you may want to consider Metromile to insure your car.

Metromile provides pay-as-you-drive auto insurance, incentivizing people to drive less and choose more environmentally friendly transportation methods. Because your rate is based on how much you drive, you could pay a lower rate if you don’t often drive.

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.

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.