The basics
THE USA: Essentials - Must read

Essentials: Public transport in the US

Intimidated by how large America is? Want to see the country but not sure how? Read our guide to getting around America, including the transport options available to you...

Getting around America - San Francisco tram

America is a huge country with many different environments across its vast landscape. While these can be a joy to experience, all in one country, they can be troublesome to navigate (especially when you have to get around day-to-day). While you might know about the hustle and bustle of New York’s famous underground subway from films you've seen, you won’t necessarily find the same transport options in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Your university will have some local transport information on their website while university staff can advise you too (plus you can always use Google Maps to plan journeys or see what’s available in the local area).



On the road

For some reason public transport in America has a slightly negative perception, specifically buses. Many Americans prefer to drive themselves from point A to point B in their own cars. This is often because America is so large and things are spread out further apart, so driving is simpler than relying on public transport. The main area where driving is preferred is California, though this is the same in areas of Arizona and New Mexico too where there is a lot of desert and empty, sparse landscape.


Luckily you probably won’t be studying in a tiny town where the population is just a few hundred people. Plus it’s accepted that not all students can own their own car or bring it with them to university. So there should be a more than satisfactory public transport system in place where you’re studying – you just need to ask and find out about routes and timetables. 


You’ve probably seen many movies where characters have travelled across the country on an epic journey using a Greyhound-style bus. This is one of the most popular ways to travel across America, as you can see the scenery of the open road without worrying about driving yourself – plus you might meet some interesting characters travelling with you. Depending on the journey you can find really great deals on fares, especially for the distance travelled; plan your Greyhound journey on their official website.



By underground

That is not to say that all of America rely on cars.


In New York City for example, due to the heavy traffic and narrow streets, most rely on the famous underground system, referred to as the “Subway”. Boston, Chicago and other large cities have their own versions of the underground system which make getting around the city easy. Just exhibit caution when using these late at night when you’re on your own. If you’ll be using these regularly, buy a weekly or monthly ticket to save money.



By rail

The over ground train isn’t quite as adored in the States as it is in the much smaller UK where it is widely used both intra-city, inter-city and nationwide. All the same, the train is still used by many to move around cities as well as for those commuting in from the suburbs and surrounding areas. You can use Amtrak to plan a journey and book tickets online.


Some cities also have a city tramline which runs on the roads. Usually these will be in cities which attract a lot of tourists, allowing them to jump on and off to explore; the most notable are these are found in San Francisco and New Orleans.



By taxi

While you may recognise New York’s yellow version of cabs, you can always get a cab elsewhere around the country to get around town (though the number of firms available to choose from will depend on the area). Make sure you only get in a cab registered with a reputable firm or company; never get into a strange car or simply assume that a cab is who they say they are, especially at night.



Planning your journey

If you’re planning on making an important journey, and you need to know where you are going in advance then make use of the Google Maps journey planner which allows you to plan a journey in advance either by foot, by car or by public transport. It is pretty easy to use; simply enter your start destination and your final destination and Google will do the planning for you! However, most transport providers which service cities and towns will have their routes and timetables available online. Alternatively most towns have a “bus depot” from which coaches arrive and depart; these should have all the local transport info too, or someone who can advise you.



Now that you’ve worked up the appetite, why not discover American food culture for yourself whilst you study and start browsing courses in America now?



Read more:

‘The US higher education system... simplified’

‘Tuition fees in the USA’

‘Applying to study in the US’

‘Applying for a US student visa’

‘Student accommodation in the USA’

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About Author

Getting around America - San Francisco tram

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.


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