Earlier this year, Transit Score, an algorithm-driven tool developed by Redfin, released new rankings for the cities with the best public transportation. Their algorithm is based on measuring the distance to the closest stop on each route, as well as accounting for route frequencies and types. But, there’s a lot more to your morning commute than route frequencies. Accessibility, size, affordability and environmental impact are all areas worthy of review when it comes to understanding what makes a city’s public transportation “the best.” Here’s a look at the nation’s top five cities, what makes them great and the struggles they face to stay up and running.
System: Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
Annual Ridership: 1.757 billion
New York has the most sophisticated and intricate public transit system in the U.S. The MTA has 424 stations spanning 660 miles of transit routes. For some perspective, that’s three times as many stations as Chicago and five times as many miles as D.C. New York even holds the title for the busiest ferry in the country, with the Staten Island Ferry carrying 70,000 people across the New York Harbor every day.
Unfortunately for the MTA and its riders, aging infrastructure and increasing population are taking their toll. Inadequate accessibility for the mobility-impaired, subway platforms without air conditioning and increasing delays have driven down ridership. The good news is that plans are in the works to fix it. The MTA has recently announced Fast Forward, a plan to modernize the systems within the next 10 years.
System: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)
Annual Ridership: 129 million
San Francisco is the greenest city in the nation thanks to city-wide initiatives and a culture that values being on the cutting-edge. BART is no exception; the system displaces 2.6 times the emissions it creates through its own service. And, some of its greenest achievements include converting half of their bus and light rail fleet to zero emission vehicles and installing 42 electric vehicle charging stations. A boon for its workforce, San Francisco public transportation connects residents to 99.8% of the city’s jobs, meaning it’s never more than a half mile walk from a station to their place of employment. As with other cities, declining ridership has been a pain point. A 2018 SFMTA rider survey revealed that while people rely on their cars less, they aren’t opting for public transportation, but rather ridesharing services.
System: Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, commonly referred to as “The T”.
Annual ridership: 167 million
Boston, the third best city for public transportation six years running, was once at the top. As the first city with a practical subway, Boston had dibs on the #1 slot throughout the 1890s, but lost its ranking by the 1910s when New York’s subway started gaining ground. Boston was also one of the first cities to prioritize public art. More than 100 art installations can be seen throughout their six transit lines.
Annual Ridership: 179.7 million
If you value the affordability of your public transit, DC may be the city for you. The Metro costs just 1.85% of the median income with a monthly pass cost of $81. Compare this to Los Angeles, the most expensive city, which accounts for 8.69% of the median income or $122. A couple of years ago, D.C.’s Metro made national news for its unreliable service, but there are big plans in the works to get the city humming again. A complete bus system overhaul and a new fleet of rail cars are coming in the next several years.
System: Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)
Annual Ridership: 306.9 million
Philadelphia’s SEPTA is the busiest transportation system in the nation outside of the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas. Interestingly, Philly has the largest percentage of female riders at 64% and the 11th largest commuter ridership at 26%. One of their more innovative programs is their bike share program, Indego. A third of the bikes are stationed in low-income neighborhoods and a discount is available for those on food assistance programs, which helps to ensure the inclusion of all residents.