Smarter Travel On Public Transportation

CTA Buses 1
All Photos by Randy Stern

Mobility has been a huge buzz word lately.

When we think of mobility, we think of car sharing, peer-to-peer rentals, electric vehicles and autonomous driving. Some of these are already here, but others aren't too far away in the future. Yet, mobility during out-of-town travel often defaults to car rental. Sometimes, that is a great deal or something out of the necessity when traveling further away from downtown or any urban enclave. What if your travels take you to a downtown or a city where automobiles are not the best way to go? What if your budget limits you to doing car rental?

I have many travel trips to parse out. One that fits this situation is simple: Why not visit someplace with a good public transportation system?

In North America, there are several cities you can visit where you can skip reserving a rental car. Think of the savings when you take a public bus, train or ferry boat around town or out in the suburbs. Not to mention the incentives for using these services to the most popular locales. With new stored card systems and fare apps, paying for fares are easier.

Here's a listing of a few places in North America that you can get around easily by public transportation:

BOSTON: The oldest subway in North America, the "T" is a quick way around the city and the region. You can also connect with the busses if you need to get somewhere not accessible from the "T." Peak commute times are not ideal for travel, so try to avoid packed trains and stations. The "T" also runs commuter rail lines throughout the region. You may want to check out the "T" ferries that ride around Boston Harbor. A 1-Day Charlie Card pass for the subway and bus systems is $12.00, while 7-Day pass costs $21.25. Commmuter rail lines and Ferries now use an app-based fare system, called mTicket. The app will enable you to pay for your fare before boarding the train and have that shown with validation by an MBTA ticket taker.

CHICAGO: The city lives by the "L." The "L" connect both airports to The Loop and can connect you to a good chunk of the city. However, some neighborhoods would need a CTA bus connection or a local METRA commuter rail service to get to. The latter would be the case if you're heading to Hyde Park and Pullman on the South Side. I found the same METRA Electric Line convenient when I work the Chicago Auto Show as it goes from Millennium Park to McCormick Place. Speaking of METRA, most lines operate seven days a week to points throughout the Chicagoland area. The downside would be if you have to go to Woodfield, specifically to IKEA in Schaumburg, there is a lack of easy and quick connections to/from METRA. In fact, most of the Burbs are inconvenient by public transportation. Using the Ventra card, CTA/PACE 1-Day Passes are $10.00, while multi-day passes up to 5 days and gives you a discount depending on the number of days you are visiting. METRA riders can get a weekend pass, good for both Saturday and Sunday, for $8.00.

DENVER: For the Mile High City, it boasts a pretty good transit system. For starters, the RTD operates both a new light rail line to Union Station in LoDo and express busses to other parts of the area out of Denver International Airport. Once at Union Station, you can ride on the light rail and the vast network of busses. Day passes are now available for $5.20-9.00/Day, or you can purchase Day Pass Books for $26.00-45.00 with five day passes included. he skyRide ranges from $8.00-10.00 one way, depending on your destination.

LOS ANGELES: The RTD (Southern California Rapid Transit District) was my main form of transport starting in 1975. The all-bus system had evolved along the way since then. Even in my last year in my hometown, 1996, I was able to ride a subway in downtown Los Angeles. No one ever thought of bringing back rail transit to the City of Angels since they ripped up the trolley lines in the early 1960's. Nonetheless, you now have easy access to every part of the Los Angeles Basin through a growing network of Metro bus and rail lines using many forms of express services included. Metro's services, along with a network of local bus services and Metrolink commuter rail, stretches from Ventura County and the Antelope Valley down to Orange County and Riverside. The gem of the system is the subway linking downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, the Wilshire Cooridor and Universal City. LAX access is better served by a choice of options, from FlyAway express busses to share-ride vans for faster service to most places in Southern California. The Green Line from the south side of LAX is better served if you are staying down in the Redondo Beach area. Fares can be paid by the TAP card, which you can load a 1-Day Pass for $7.00 or a 7-Day Pass for $25.00 to use on most, if not all, Metro services.

Light Rail at Target Field

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL: The saving grace for the region is Metro Transit's network of light rail lines. The Blue Line runs to and from Downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America via the airport. In fact, you can ride free between the two terminal stations at the airport. The light rail network sparked a series of transit improvements the Twin Cities that are either currently operational and will be over the next several years or so. This includes the Northstar commuter rail service, Rapid Bus services and an expansion of the light rail network in Hennepin County. With the addition of bus services operated by the Metropolitan Council, SouthWest Transit and the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, the entire Twin Cities metropolitan area is covered well for transit at least for five days a week. By getting a Go-To card, you can load up on various fare options depending on how you want to use the transit system. You can get a variety of 10-Ride or 7-Day passes to load onto a Go-To card. A Day Pass is just $6.00 and can be purchased at a light rail station or on a bus.

NEW YORK CITY: If you can navigate the subways in Manhattan, you've just won half the battle. New York's arteries are the subway system and to manage your travel on them will help you get to where you need to go. The busses are fine, but Manhattan's traffic can slow your progress. Try non-peak times and weekend mornings to get around the bus. If you're heading elsewhere outside of the city, the various commuter rail networks operate seven days a week and later in the evening to points upstate, in Connecticut and New Jersey. A 7-day Unlimited Use MetroPass will run you $31.00. MetroPass cards can be purchased as a "Pay-Per-Ride" fare, starting at $5.50 for two rides on the bus and subway network.

PHILADELPHIA: This is a great city to visit. Philadelphia offers loads of history that is easy to get around on SEPTA. SEPTA operate a network of subway/el, busses, light and Regional Rail throughout the Philadelphia area and are quite easy to navigate. There is an easy Regional Rail connection from the airport into Center City. You can get a SEPTA One-Day Pass for $8.00, good for eight rides all travel within the SEPTA system. A $12.00 One-Day Independence Pass gives you more access to the SEPTA network, especially to and from the Airport. SEPTA still uses tokens, where you can get two for $3.60, five for $9.00 or a roll of ten for $18.00.

PORTLAND, OREGON: This is not really a surprise, but for those who do not know about this gem in the Northwest may not know the true Portland. The heart of TriMet's system is the MAX light rail. It connects the airport with downtown and other key points in the region. You can ride the MAX to Washington Park where the best vistas in Portland can be had or visit the Rose Quarter, Expo Park and PGE Park along the line. You can also connect with their busses for travel elsewhere in the area. The Portland Streetcar, which is run by the City of Portland, provides a link down the heart of downtown. During the summer, they operate historic streetcars on the line along with its own modern cars. An One-Day pass on Tri-Met costs $5.00.

ST. LOUIS: If you plan on spending a lot of time in the city itself, take the light rail from the airport into town. The light rail runs through the heart of St. Louis into downtown and across the river into Illinois. To visit some of the other areas, Metro operates busses that connect to the light rail and downtown. St. Louis is well laid out so you can easily do everything on transit. A One-Day Adventure Pass is $7.50 and covers the entire Metro network.

SAN DIEGO: The key to getting around the San Diego area is the San Diego Trolley, which makes access from downtown to key shopping areas and Mexico easier. That's right, you can take the trolley to the border, cross over the bridge into Tijuana. Air service is covered by a direct bus route into downtown San Diego or a shuttle to a nearby Trolley station. An easy getaway along the coast is the Coaster commuter rail line that runs from the old Santa Fe Depot to Oceanside. You can get a Compass card loaded with a 1-Day Pass for $5.00 to $12.00 depending on how much you wish to travel throughout San Diego County. If you get on a bus and do not have a Compass card, that 1-day pass goes up to $7.00. There are even 2-, 3- and 4-day passes available for the Compass card, as well.

SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND-SAN JOSE: If there was one city on the West Coast that has been sustained by public transportation for over a century, it would be the Bay Area. Within the City of San Francisco, MUNI operates a varied network of busses, both regular diesel and trolley electric, light rail and cable cars. The cable cars are nice, but there's a huge queue to ride them. Save yourself the time and ride the historic street cars on Market Street and the Embarcadero. BART links you with SFO and Oakland airports and parts of the East Bay, while the Golden Gate Ferries takes you up to Marin on San Francisco Bay. Do you know the way to San Jose? Take Caltrain down for a faster trip down the peninsula. MUNI has a 1-Day Passport for $20.00, while multi-day passes up to 7 days and gives you a discount depending on the number of days you are visiting.

SEATTLE-TACOMA: The entire Puget Sound region is ripe with transportation options. King County Metro Transit, Pierce County Transit, and SoundTransit offer a network that handles most of the traffic in and out of Seattle through a combined network of busses, light rail and commuter rail lines. Add to the mix a network of Washington State Ferries that service the entire Puget Sound for adventures beyond the core of the region. With an ORCA card, you can load up a Regional Day Pass for $8.00/Day. That includes service on all transit services within the Central Puget Sound region – except for Washington State Ferries.

TORONTO: The TTC's subway covers downtown Toronto and the main arteries of the city. In some areas, you can catch a streetcar or a light rail line to get to. Busses operate on the main streets of the city. Perhaps most of your travel will be in the downtown area. The subway has no problem taking you from your hotel to your nearest stop and a short walk to the fun. New to the Greater Toronto Area is the UP Express (Union Pearson Express) which is a quick rail link between downtown Toronto and the airport. For excursions outside of Toronto, GO Transit operates a network of busses and trains linking within and beyond the GTA. Rail lines can take you to Oshawa, Hamilton or Kitchner. A TTC Day Pass is CDN$12.00. A one-way ticket on the UP Express is CDN$12.00, also.

Crystal City Metro Station

WASHINGTON, D.C.: There's no place like the Nation's Capitol. And, there's no better way to get around the region like the Metrorail. The locals just call it the Metro. Either way, you can get to all of the key destinations within walking distance of a Metro station. If not, connect to a bus that will get you to the door. Rush hour around the Mall and along the Blue Line in Arlington is to be avoided at all cost. Services from Reagan National Airport is covered by two Metrorail lines, while access to Dulles can be done via Metrorail's Silver Line at the Wiehle-Reston East station with a Washington Flyer bus to the terminal. MARC and VRE operate commuter rail trains beyond the District, including trains to Baltimore and into West Virginia. A SmartTrip Metrorail pass costs $14.50/Day. The pass will also allow you to add bus fares to it, as no

These are just a sampling of places around North America where you can enjoy your trip with stopping at the gas pump or hassling with the rental car lot. If you can save your money and let others drive you around, imagine how much stress you can leave behind by doing so.

Another tip: make taking the bus or rail fun! Some rides give you a bird's eye view of your destination, so why not utilize those scenic parts of a particular route as part of your free time on your trip.

Are you ready to ride? Fly from the airport and right by the rental car counters! Your bus or train is waiting!

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