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I am planning a Round-the-World trip and my first stop will be the USA. I am from England where public transport is quite good and covers everywhere. I have already purchased Greyhound tickets for inter-city travel, so my main question is how good is the public transport in the cities and what sort of prices should I expect? Can you get weekly travel passes that allow you to travel unlimited amount of times on Public Transport? I am doing my trip on a backpacker's budget, so I am looking for the cheapest method of transport.

The cities I am planning on visiting are:

  • Washington
  • Philladelphia
  • New York
  • Niagara
  • Chicago
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego

Are there particular types of transport that are better in particular cities i.e. Bus in one city but subway in another?

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possible duplicate of Travel between US towns not by plane. –  VMAtm Jun 22 '11 at 8:55
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@VMAtm Disagree. He is asking about travel WITHIN those cities. He says he already has Greyhound tickets for between the cities. –  Ginamin Jun 22 '11 at 9:02
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I'd recommend against using Greyhound for travel between cities on the East coast: It's one of the few areas of the US where city-to-city trains are actually relatively good. A one-way Amtrak ticket from NYC to Philadelphia will cost ~$40 and will take about the same amount of time as a bus. For ~30 minutes extra, you can do that trip for ~$20 by taking New Jersey Transit and switching to SEPTA in Trenton. –  ESultanik Jun 23 '11 at 12:53
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Into which airport are you flying? If you are flying into JFK, here's my preferred way of getting into Manhattan: Airport monorail to Jamaica station (~$5) to the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to Penn Station (~$15), at which point you can pick up the subway. You could alternatively take the subway from Jamaica (saving ~$10), but that takes a lot longer and requires a transfer. Penn Station is also the Amtrak and NJ Transit hub, where you can get trains to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. –  ESultanik Jun 24 '11 at 11:47
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A good alternative to Greyhound and Amtrak on the East coast is peterpanbus.com. They're cheap, and (when I last took them, which was admittedly many years ago) clean and comfortable. –  Beofett Jun 24 '11 at 15:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

With the possible exception of Niagara (Niagara Falls is a smaller, more tourist-oriented city, so the public transportation may be somewhat less comprehensive), all of the cities you listed should have extensive public transportation coverage. Most cities offer some form of unlimited travel pass, and in most cases a weekly pass is available.

I think in general, you will find that the schedules of US public transportation will be a bit looser than you are used to in the UK (at least from my limited experience of the London Underground). Pickup times can vary by 15 minutes or more in many cities without being considered unusual, especially for the bus lines.

Generally speaking, you want to be a few minutes early (5 or more), just to be safe.

Philadelphia, as Raj More mentioned, is serviced by SEPTA, and has a good combination of buses, subways and trains. The trains are generally reliable, and provide fast and easy access through the main parts of the city, operating out of 3 main hubs within the city, and provide access to most of the suburban areas. The subways provide good access throughout the city, to the areas not immediately serviced by the trains. The buses provide access to just about everywhere else, although they tend to run less frequently, particularly for the less popular destinations, and their schedules are more... flexible.

Chicago is served by the MetraRail that is similar to Philadelphia's SEPTA train system, providing access to most suburban areas. There is also an above-ground elevated train that provides good access within the city. I am less familiar with the bus system, since during the time I lived there, I took the elevated train ("the El") when traveling within the city.

New York's subway is an excellent means of travel within the city.

Edit: I missed Las Vegas, which deserves some special mention. Las Vegas may be a bit atypical, as, much like Niagara Falls, it is largely tourist-oriented. However, it diverges considerably from Niagara in attitude towards tourists. The lure of the free or cheap deal is frequently a means of attracting tourists to specific casinos, and this can frequently be exploited for traveling. Many of the hotels and casinos offer free shuttle services, plus there are a number of non-traditional public transportation methods available: link.

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Brilliant, thank you for your help on this one. I assumed the public transport would be good, and there would be some kind of weekly pass available, but did not want to rely on my assumption. –  Ben Jun 22 '11 at 12:26
    
@Ben Glad to help. I did miss Las Vegas in your question, so I've added a bit more information specific to that city for you. –  Beofett Jun 22 '11 at 12:33
    
as for Las Vegas, there is the Deuce which is a public bus but not that cheap, it offers day-pass for $7, and goes up and down the Strip. –  Vince Aug 29 '12 at 7:37

Philadelphia: Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority serves this city pretty well - especially the city and it's tourist spots.

You can buy a Weekly Transpass from SEPTA for use on any SEPTA bus or trolley.

If you are going to use the train system, you can get a TrailPass as well.

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Thanks @Raj, I will definately be getting the tranpass whe I go to Phiadelphia. –  Ben Jun 22 '11 at 12:26
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Busses are a great way to get around, however, the bus system can be a bit difficult to learn. It has gotten a lot better in recent years given its integration with Google Maps (great if you have a smartphone with an Internet connection). SEPTA also recently added live tracking of bus routes. –  ESultanik Jun 22 '11 at 16:45
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By the way, SEPTA works off of tokens, which can be bought from vending machines in most (but not all) subway stations. There are also human operators in most subway and all regional rail stations that sell tokens, but not all of them give change, and I believe the subway stations only accept cash. You can pay for busses and trolleys in cash on the spot (without a token), however, it is usually cheaper to pay with tokens and the busses/trolleys don't always give change. –  ESultanik Jun 24 '11 at 12:02
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Finally, be aware that the "high tech" station announcement system on the Market-Frankford subway line often gets out of sync, announcing a completely wrong station. Make sure to look out the window and see what station you are actually at before disembarking! –  ESultanik Jun 24 '11 at 12:03

NYC has the MTA http://www.mta.info/ which is both the subway and the bus. Avoid the bus at all costs (unless you have to). NYC traffic is horrible, so buses are always slow and never match the time at the stop (if the stop even has the timetable).

The subway is awesome - unlike DC, you can get wherever you want for the same fare. It's not calculated between entrance and exit stops. Most of Manhattan is within easy walking distance of a stop, so you don't need to use the bus anyway.

Getting from LGA to Manhattan will require some combination of bus or taxi, unfortunately.

Philadelphia's SEPTA works great +1

Washington, DC http://www.wmata.com/ has a phenomenal metro as well. Clean, safe (around the burbs and the downtown area, avoid the "bad part of town" - East/South), and (usually) on time. Highly recommended and it goes everywhere you want to go.

Unlike NYC, the stations don't blanket the city, so if you want to go somewhere slightly out of walking distance you'll have to use the bus line. When I lived there a few years ago, it was relatively safe and efficient.

Again, avoid the bad areas and if you find yourself trying to go "too far" from a subway stop whilst downtown, chances are you're in the "bad area".

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As for prices, all SEPTA trips are $2 (or cheaper if you buy from a machine) and I believe NYC metro trips are $2.50, regardless of the length of the trip. You can pay for SEPTA busses on the spot in cash if you do not have a token, but you will usually not receive change. As @Matt mentioned, the DC metro calculates fares based on distance. Expect to pay up to ~$5 a ride for long trips. Most of your trips between tourist attractions will only be ~$2, though. –  ESultanik Jun 24 '11 at 11:58
    
@ESultanik SEPTA gets MUCH more expensive than $2 per trip if you are taking the regional rail lines. –  Beofett Jun 24 '11 at 15:02
    
@Beofett: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. When I meant "all" trips, I really meant subway, bus, and trolley. –  ESultanik Jun 27 '11 at 11:47
    
@ESultanik Yeah, I figured you were referring to the subways, buses, and trolleys (although I forgot the trolleys even existed!). The trains are really only necessary if you want to hit the suburbs, but I thought it might be good to clarify in case someone was planning a trip to the 'burbs. –  Beofett Jun 27 '11 at 11:57
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Well, the regional rail conductors usually don't check tickets between the center city stops (30th Street Station, Suburban Station, and Market East), so you can often get a free ride between those stations using the train. But you didn't hear that from me! –  ESultanik Jun 27 '11 at 12:43

I noticed that no answers have yet mentioned Los Angeles or San Diego.

Los Angeles has little to no public transportation. You can't depend on it to get you places you're likely to want to visit within a reasonable amount of time.

San Diego, I'm given to understand, has much better public transit than when I lived there two decades ago. However, it still only goes to limited areas.

Your best bet. imo, is to cash in the LA/SD Greyhound ticket, rent a car to use in Los Angeles, and then drive it to/around San Diego. You may have to pay a little more to drop it off in a different city, but it'll be worth it.

BTW, whatever your expectations of Greyhound are—lower them. It can get pretty nasty.

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If you confine your stay in San Diego to downtown and Mission Beach, you might be able to get by with public transportation. They're less than 10 miles apart but it takes an hour by public transport. If you want to get out and see more of San Diego then you'll definitely need a car. San Diego doesn't have weekly transport passes but there are day passes for $5. As for getting from LA to SD, I'd take the train. It's much nicer than Greyhound and drops you off in downtown SD just a few blocks from the Gaslamp District. –  Sean Jul 10 '11 at 22:20
    
I found out about LA public transportation from the bad end. I was spending a holiday weekend in Claremont, outside the city, wanting to take the train roundtrip to downtown for sightseeing on foot. The posted schedules were very inaccurate, because AFTER having purchased the ticket from the kiosk, I saw a flyer showing that the next inbound was not for nearly 2 hours. Undoing the transaction was not possible (they were actually combative on the phone), and it cost me to NOT see the city this way. Everything out there pushes people into an automobile. No way around it. –  wbogacz Feb 2 '12 at 19:40

Chicago

CTA for within the city limits - http://www.transitchicago.com/ - Trains are pretty decent in the city. They run about every 10 minutes. Most of the lines go into the "loop" (downtown area of Chicago) and back out. City buses are less reliable, often becoming victim to bunching up because of the traffic in Chicago. Just about every major street has a bus line on it though so you can get where you need to if you have time. Fares are pretty reasonable at $2.25 with a transfer (http://www.transitchicago.com/fareinformation.aspx) Train and Bus trackers are available although the bus tracker is a little more reliable in my experience.
http://www.transitchicago.com/traintracker/ www.ctabustracker.com/bustime/home.jsp

PACE for the outer limits of the city - www.pacebus.com/ Haven't taken the PACE buses very much but they do accept CTA transit cards for travel so there is some convenience there.

Metra for outside of the city and into the city - metrarail.com/metra/en/home.html Metra are large trains that typically run from the suburbs to downtown Chicago.

Sorry about the links, apparently I can't post more than 2 hyperlinks.

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