The utilization of public transportation by vacationers is on the rise with 57% of U.S. travelers dedicating their transit needs to the visiting city. Millennials, travelers ages 18-34, are actually the most likely to utilize public transit, 68% of them in fact. However, there is still a stigma on public transportation that tells of dirtier days, decades ago, when subway stations were filled with filth and only insane asylum escapees took the bus. This isn't the case and I'm here to tell you why.
First of all, using public transportation can save you big bucks. This is a major budget do and unless you're planning on taking side trips into uncharted territory, where the city is smaller and doesn't have a great public transportation line, resist from renting a car. You see, major cities like Los Angeles and Chicago recognized that their top tourist attractions were among the most visited spots in the city and so they redirected their lines to intersect with your needs.
Major cities, from Seattle to Austin have been noticing an increased attention to public transportation and have been expanding their lines for the past several years. San Francisco, for example, doesn't only have a light rail and bus line but also cable cars, BART subway lines, and commuter rails.
Transit day passes make everything easier. If you're going to be in a major city for more than one day, I recommend at least looking into multi-day passes through the city's transportation authority. For example:
- Los Angeles: 7 day pass (all Metro lines) = $25
- Chicago: 3 day unlimited pass (any CTA train or bus, anytime) = $20
- Boston: 7 day LinkPass = $19
- Portland: 7 day pass (ages 18-64) = $26, (ages 7-17) = $7.50
This is in straight competition with personal cars, both owned and rented. The average price of an economy rental, in the past year, was $45-65 per day, comfortably fitting two adults and two children. For a little bit bigger car, the standard size fitting five people, costs $55-75 per day. By contrast, if you're staying in Chicago, let's say, for three days with three people, you can navigate the city on $60 between the three of you compared to the $135 for the base model economy car you might rent (not including gas and parking). With public transportation you don't have to worry about filling the gas tank, parking spots or fees, or navigating a new city. In cities like New York, which is the only major U.S. city that over half of all households don't own a car, it's nearly impenetrable by automobile during certain hours. Go under or over the hectic rush hour traffic with the light rail or subway systems. On top of everything, public transportation is more economical and energy efficient, allowing several dozen travelers ride in a single vehicle.
Tips for Riding Public Transportation:
- Look into day passes, as stated earlier.
- Use apps to plan your route, or if you prefer paper, print off transit times and maps from the city's transit website. Don't spend money on brochures and maps when you can find everything you need online.
- Hold onto your kids, if you have them. They can easily get lost in the chaos of crowds.
- Plan your route based on transit lines and decide how much you want to walk to your destinations.
- Carry cash/transit coins as buses and metro don't take cards. Many light rail and subway stations have ticket stations and places to buy tickets with cards, however.
- As always, price out how much money you will save with various plans including gas, parking, etc.
Best U.S. Cities for Public Transportation:
(Transit scores include walkability and biking, the efficiency of transit lines, the abundance of lines, etc.)
- NYC (transit score 81.2)
- San Francisco (transit score 80.5)
- Boston (transit score 74.8)
- Washington, D.C. (transit score 70.4)
- Philadelphia (transit score 67)
- Chicago (transit score 65.3)
- Seattle (transit score 57.3)
- Baltimore (transit score 56.9)
- Los Angeles (transit score 49.9)
- Portland, Oregon (transit score 49.6)
Traveling as a college student, for a graduation trip, with a school or youth group, or even with family can get stressful when you're working around a tight budget. It takes a little research but it's possible to visit even the most expensive cities without going over budget. Call us (877-397-5700) to talk to one of our talented travel agents to get a quote on your next trip or if you want advice on how to fit your dream vacation into your budget.