Transport Tips: Getting Around Major Cities in the USA

Get to know the public transport options before you arrive in New York, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles or Austin with these tips from nomads.

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Photo © Getty Images/Bryan Ledgard

Getting Around New York City

New York is an extremely walkable city, so try mapping out the places you want to go by checking walking distances. Some travelers prefer to use the subway – an "authentic" way to get around – but to avoid train delays, hail a taxi or use Uber for longer distances.

New Yorkers also love to give directions, so don’t hesitate to ask if you're feeling lost.

The city has become more bike-friendly over the years, and Citibike makes it easy to rent a bike using the bike share program. Cycling is a great way to explore a city, but Manhattan's streets can be chaotic. Start in the quieter, outer boroughs before you build your confidence to take on the busier streets.

Tip: don't jaywalk across streets anywhere in the USA. If you're caught, you could be fined for breaking the law.

How to Get Around Seattle

Seattle is known for its convenient public transport system, so do as the locals do and travel around the city by bus.

Buses in Seattle are reliable and run on a frequent schedule. Bus routes will take you almost anywhere you need to go. Bus travel is a popular choice among locals for a reason – taxis in Seattle are often delayed or take a while to arrive.

Get some fresh air by renting a bike or walking your way around the city. Seattle's handy bike lanes run through most neighborhoods. Otherwise, grab a cappuccino and set out on the sidewalk for a stroll.

Public Transport in Portland

TriMet runs all of Portland's public transit, which includes a robust network of buses, a few MAX light rail lines (one serves the airport), and a couple streetcar lines. 

Get yourself a Hop Fastpass card or pay using your phone for tickets on TriMet, C-TRAN and Portland Streetcars. TriMet will be decomissioning their ticket purchasing app in 2019, and Hop Fastpass cards will replace it.

Public Transport in Los Angeles

Public transport in Los Angeles doesn’t receive much praise, but the bus and metro system make getting around easy.

Use a TAP card to tap on buses and trains. A TAP card costs US $1, and can be loaded with credit at pay stations. These stations are found at certain metro stops. You can’t purchase a TAP card or add money when you board the metro or bus – you must do this prior.

You can purchase and reload a TAP card online, but it can take up to 48 hours for the money to be processed (or longer for a new card to be delivered).

It costs US $1.75 to travel one way, regardless of distance, but there may be additional fees for certain buses that travel on the freeway or to transfer from a bus to a metro.

There are discounts for students, seniors and people with disabilities, but unfortunately the application process for these special TAP cards might be longer than your trip in LA.

Skip the trouble of hopping on and off public transport by walking between neighborhoods, just check a map to be sure of the distance. Vermont Avenue, for example, is just over 23mi (37km) long.

Driving in Austin, Texas

When you arrive in Austin, get around by using ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft.

If you'd prefer to drive yourself around, car2go is a car-sharing rental service, and has cars parked along designated streets throughout Austin’s central corridor. Cars are also conveniently available at Austin Bergstrom Airport.

Metered parking downtown is tough to snag, but costs US $1/hour, payable by credit card, and is free on Sundays.

Capital Metro operates city buses, including the Night Owl which runs until 3am, and the MetroRail operates until late on Friday and Saturday nights. A one-way ride just costs $3.50.

For short trips, Austin B-cycle offers 24-hour bike rental from stations throughout Central Austin, with rates as low as US $12.

Traffic congestion in Austin can be a real pain. To avoid confusion before you arrive, be aware that there are two names for every major road:

  • MoPac (Loop 1)
  • Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360)
  • Research Boulevard (Interstate 183)
  • Ben White (US 290 or US 71)

Click here for tips on getting around San Francisco.

Want to know more about the USA? Check out our podcast. Hang out with orcas in Alaska, follow the barbecue trail through the Deep South (with a vegetarian), strap on your skis in Colorado, and learn about the thriving Creole cowboy culture.

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