Landing in a new city and exploring it on foot is fun, but there’s something unique about using a public transportation system. It often defines a city and gives it character, and is a convenient and accessible way to commute and see the sights. Maps of transit networks can even become tourist attractions in themselves.

Public transportation has dozens of benefits: It connects communities, improves local economies, increases safety, and is vital to making a city more equitable, accessible, and carbon neutral. In fact, research shows that public transit saves 63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, on top of saving money for consumers. Unfortunately, just 55% of people in the U.S. have access to public transportation. 

But what makes a city transit-friendly? Walk Score, the authority on transit-friendliness, says that the number of routes, distance to the nearest stop on a route, frequency of service, and type of transit are the most important factors. Light rail and subway service are weighted the heaviest, ferries, cable cars, and trollies are second, and bus service is last. 

So, in this Redfin article, we’ll explore the U.S. cities with the best public transportation, diving into their ridability, infrastructure, and market trends. Whether you’re a current resident or are looking for a new place to live, hop on as we discover the cities with the best public transportation in the United States.

List only includes cities with a population of 200,000 or greater.

1. New York, NY

  • Transit Score: 88
  • Transit Card: OMNY
  • Median Sale Price: $779,500
  • Median Rent Price: $4,085

New York City has the best public transportation in the U.S. by a wide margin. Its subway network alone has 472 stations across four boroughs, just a few dozen fewer than the combined total of all other subway systems in the country. The bus routes don’t fall far behind, either, with 327 routes. 

Served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), this interconnected system meets most riders wherever they live. The New York neighborhoods with the best public transit are the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Washington Heights.

56% of New York’s population use the city’s robust transit network every year, totalling more than 2.3 billion trips between subway and bus. It’s a good thing, too, because over 1.6 million people need to commute to Manhattan every day. Annual ridership on New York’s subway system is over 10 times higher than any other city.

New York is still improving, too. Statewide, there are initiatives underway to expand accessibility and improve equity with more regional routes and flat-fare options for those outside of the MTA. Within NYC, the new Interborough Express, Queens Bus Network Redesign, and dozens of accessibility and equity projects are underway.

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2. San Francisco, CA

  • Transit Score: 77
  • Transit Card: Clipper Card
  • Median Sale Price: $1,190,000
  • Median Rent Price: $3,335

The most walkable city in the country, San Francisco has the second-best public transportation in the U.S. Public transportation dates back over 150 years in the city with the installation of cable cars. Since then, transit has grown into a regional network of light rail, buses, trains, and ferries – along with three historic cable car lines – serving 433,000 people every week. Ridership declined during the pandemic but is steadily recovering.

Nicknamed the “Muni”, San Francisco’s public transportation system is operated by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA). The San Francisco neighborhoods with the best public transportation are Tenderloin, Chinatown, and Rincon Hill

Most transit serves the city proper, but BART trains can take you to regional destinations. Ferries also provide alternative transportation and are great for commuting and leisure.

San Francisco doesn’t just want to improve its public transportation; it has to. The city has a “Transit First Policy” written into the city charter (which also prioritizes walking and biking). The largest initiative is Muni Forward, which expands the rapid bus network, improving streets and mobility.

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Boston Marina

3. Boston, MA

  • Transit Score: 72
  • Transit Card: CharlieCard
  • Median Sale Price: $830,000
  • Median Rent Price: $3,435

Boston has the third-best public transportation in the country. Nicknamed the “T”, the city’s transit network is operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). 

Boston’s public transit includes buses, trollies, ferries, and 153 train and subway stations that seamlessly integrate into the city’s dense and diverse neighborhoods and suburbs. The Boston neighborhoods with the best public transportation are Beacon Hill, Downtown, and Chinatown-Leather District.

The “T” is also truly regional, connecting most of suburban Massachusetts with downtown Boston. And people take advantage of this. With more than 759,000 trips every week and 19 million every year, the T is the fifth-largest transit system in the nation. 

Improvements are underway to make Boston’s public transportation system even better. The city’s five-year Capital Investment Plan, for example, provides funding to renovate, extend, or improve all five primary subway lines. Go Boston 2030 guides the city’s investments and ensures they are equitable and accessible.

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4. Jersey City, NJ

  • Transit Score: 71
  • Transit Card: TAPP, NJTransit app
  • Median Sale Price: $747,000
  • Median Rent Price: $3,000

With nearly 50% of residents using public transportation to commute every day, Jersey City has the fourth-best public transit system in the U.S. Due to its proximity to New York City and Newark, most of Jersey City’s transit network is directly connected to its neighbors and not confined within one city. For example, the PATH train system connects Jersey City to NYC via two tunnels under the Hudson River. 

Other options within Jersey City include the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and dozens of bus lines. The Jersey City neighborhoods with the best public transportation are The Waterfront, Historic Downtown, and Journal Square. Additionally, the new Via rideshare is a vital part of the city’s infrastructure, serving predominantly lower-income residents. 

New Jersey public transportation is unique in that most cities don’t operate their own networks – instead, they’re served by the statewide entity New Jersey Transit (NJT). This arrangement provides a remarkably regional network of accessible transit. The 

Jersey City is looking to expand options within its boundaries, like adding more bus stops, rapid transit lines, and growing its microtransit. NJT is also extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

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Empty streets of downtown Washington DC

5. Washington, D.C.

  • Transit Score: 69
  • Transit Card: SmarTrip
  • Median Sale Price: $602,500
  • Median Rent Price: $2,600

Washington, D.C. has the fifth-best public transportation in the U.S. Operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), the Metrorail system has six lines and 98 subway stations, while Metrobus has 1,500 buses and hundreds of stops. Washington Metro operates all public transportation in the D.C. metropolitan area (DMV), which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia.

Metro has the third-largest ridership in the country, with nearly 100 million passengers in 2022. The Washington, D.C. neighborhoods with the best public transit are Downtown, Mount Vernon Square, and Logan Circle

As with most cities across the country, ridership plummeted during the pandemic but has started to rebound. Current projects and initiatives to improve the Metro include the Better Bus initiative, which will redesign the network and improve shelters, and numerous Metrorail improvements, like updating the Red Line. 

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6. Philadelphia, PA

  • Transit Score: 67
  • Transit Card: SEPTA Key
  • Median Sale Price: $234,700
  • Median Rent Price: $1,695

A diverse and historic city, Philadelphia is number six on the list of U.S. cities with the best public transportation. Coincidentally, Philly also has the sixth-largest public transit network in the nation, containing two subway lines (the “Subway” and the “El”), eight trolley lines, and 150 bus routes. Nearly all transit routes are operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA).

The Philadelphia neighborhoods with the best public transit are Washington Square West, Rittenhouse, and Avenue of the Arts South. Regional rail lines connect Philadelphia with neighboring counties, as well as Delaware and New Jersey. The PATCO line provides service to New Jersey and is not operated by SEPTA. You need a ticket or FREEDOM Card to ride this route.

Similar to many transportation agencies, SEPTA faces a massive funding shortfall, as federal pandemic funding runs dry. Even as ridership is increasing and accessibility is growing, SEPTA may need to cut service and raise fares to balance the budget. Amidst this challenge, SEPTA is still upgrading its infrastructure, such as modernizing trollies and providing full ADA accessibility at 45 local and regional rail stations. 

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newark new jersey with cherry blossom trees

7. Newark, NJ

  • Transit Score: 65
  • Transit Card: TAPP, NJTransit app
  • Median Sale Price: $419,950
  • Median Rent Price: $2,130

The largest city in New Jersey, Newark, has the seventh-best public transportation in the U.S. 

Similar to Jersey City, Newark doesn’t have its own dedicated transit authority and is instead served by New Jersey Transit (NJT), which operates most public transportation in the state. NJT actually runs the largest commuter rail transit system in the country, connecting most of the state to Pennsylvania and New York.

If you’re in Newark, it’s easy to get around using the Newark Light Rail or one of 38 local bus routes. These are especially convenient in Newark’s most transit-friendly neighborhoods, which are the Central Business District, University Heights, and Seventh Avenue. Most of the light rail is a proper subway, while the newer Broad Street addition provides an above-ground extension along the Passaic River. PATH provides service into NYC. 

Newark is currently undergoing numerous public transportation upgrades, such as renovating its iconic Penn Station and overhauling its bus network through the NewBus initiative.

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8. Chicago, IL

  • Transit Score: 65 
  • Transit Card: Ventra
  • Median Sale Price: $322,000
  • Median Rent Price: $2,290

Chicago has the eighth-best public transportation system in the U.S. Operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and known as the “L”, it’s easy to get around the city on one of eight subway lines or 129 bus routes. The Chicago neighborhoods with the best public transit are The Loop, Fulton River District, and South Loop. Regional transit is provided by Metra (train) and Pace (bus), connecting Chicago with 35 suburbs. 

Unfortunately, transit isn’t as easily accessible everywhere in Chicago as it is in cities like New York and Boston. However, aggressive efforts to modernize stations, upgrade tracks, and create community hubs around subway stations have been successful. This is a bright spot in the otherwise bleak $176 billion public transportation infrastructure backlog, which has plagued most cities in the country. 

The CTA is planning improvements to bus and subway services, as well as working on extending the Red Line. 

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9. Seattle, WA

  • Transit Score: 60
  • Transit Card: ORCA Card
  • Median Sale Price: $775,000
  • Median Rent Price: $1,950

Seattle has the ninth-best public transportation in the U.S. The Seattle neighborhoods with the best public transportation are the International District, Pioneer Square, and First Hill

Seattle’s public transit system is operated by King County Metro and Sound Transit, and includes buses, light rail, streetcars, and commuter trains. Washington State Ferries connect the city with surrounding islands.

Relatively undeveloped for decades, Seattle’s public transit has been going through massive expansions recently, with major projects planned all the way through 2044. Voters first approved building the light rail in 1996. Most of the planned work is focused on growing the regional Link Light Rail from one to four lines, connecting many Seattle suburbs and neighborhoods. Other projects expand bus and Sounder train service. 

While Seattle is undertaking the largest public transportation expansion in the country, projects have been mired with controversy and delays, pushing opening dates back and reworking routes entirely. However, when completed, the network is projected to span 252 miles and alleviate traffic congestion throughout the metro area. 

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10. Arlington, VA

  • Transit Score: 59
  • Transit Card: SmarTrip
  • Median Sale Price: $770,000
  • Median Rent Price: $2,450

Arlington is the U.S. city with the tenth-best public transportation. Culturally and financially connected to Washington, D.C., Arlington’s public transportation is conveniently served by Metro. This makes transit simple; Metrorail subway lines run all throughout the city, linking Arlington with the capital and beyond. The Arlington neighborhoods with the best public transportation are North Rosslyn, Ballston-Virginia Square, and Aurora Highlands.

While Metro provides subway service, Arlington operates its own bus network, called ART. ART has routes throughout the city, connecting neighborhoods to Metrorail and regional Virginia Railway Express trains. All ART buses accept SmarTrip payment.

Local transit improvement projects include expanding bus routes, upgrading to zero emissions buses, and improving metrorail service. 

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Where do we go from here?

The U.S. cities with the best public transportation are New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, and Boston, MA. These cities prioritize frequent, efficient transportation and are committed to further improvement. They also utilize subway and light rail systems, which are the most climate-friendly, efficient, and reliable mode of public transportation (in NYC, a subway train can travel 100,000+ more miles than a bus before needing repairs.)

No matter the type of public transit, fewer cars and increased public ridership has been shown to lower cities’ carbon footprints, helping to reach ambitious emissions goals. While more work is needed to make public transportation accessible for everyone, especially those with disabilities, many cities are committed to improving their systems. 

So, if you want to know more about whether your city or home is convenient for public transportation, search it on Walk Score. Transit Scores are available for 1,161 cities across the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

Methodology: Walk Score, a Redfin company, helps people find walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly places to live, rating areas on a scale from 0-100. To calculate a Transit Score for a city, Walk Score aggregates the relative usefulness of hundreds of routes using three equally weighted “usefulness” components: distance to nearest stop, frequency of service, and type of transit. Points are added, normalized against a canonical 100 transit score, and weighted logarithmically.

Bike Score and housing market data sourced February 2024.

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