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An Amtrak train at Grand Junction station in Grand Junction, Colorado
A HealthLine rapid transit bus in Cleveland
The New York City Subway, the largest heavy rail system in the world by number of stations
Cape May–Lewes Ferry, connecting South Jersey with Delaware across the Delaware Bay

The United States is serviced by a wide array of public transportation, including various forms of bus, rail, ferry, and sometimes, airline services. Most established public transit systems are located in central, urban areas where there is enough density and public demand to require public transportation.[1] In more auto-centric suburban localities, public transit is normally, but not always, less frequent and less common. Most public transit services in the United States are either national, regional/commuter, or local, depending on the type of service. Sometimes "public transportation" in the United States is an umbrella term used synonymously with "alternative transportation", meaning any form of mobility that excludes driving alone by automobile.[2] This can sometimes include carpooling,[3] vanpooling,[4] on-demand mobility (i.e. Uber, Lyft, Bird, Lime),[5] infrastructure that is oriented toward bicycles (i.e. bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks, and bike trails),[6] and paratransit service.[7] There is public transit service in most US cities.

Public transport


Further information: Amtrak

Most intercity rail service in the United States is publicly funded at all tiers of government.[1] Amtrak, the national rail system, provides service across the entire contiguous United States, but the frequency of Amtrak service varies. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is the location of the only operating high speed rail network in the Americas: the Acela Express.[8]

Regional and urban rail services are primarily fixed on a major city or a state.[9] Several cities have light rail systems which operate generally in the core of the city and their surrounding suburbs.

As of 2023, there is only one for-profit, private rail service in the United States, which is Brightline in Florida.[10]


There are two common types of urban bus service in the United States: local bus systems in urban areas using diesel or electric buses on the public streets or bus rapid transit (BRT) on its own right-of-way, and intercity buses. Nearly every major city in the United States offers some form of bus service, which have flexible routes on existing streets and make frequent stops. Bus rapid transit attempts to mimic the speed of a light rail system by operating on a separate right-of-way. Most inter-city bus service is private for-profit ventures, although they normally used publicly subsidized highways.

Several coastal cities offer ferry service linking localities that are across large bodies of water where constructing road and railway bridges is not financially viable. Ferry service sometimes is pedestrian only but sometimes may offer platforms for automobiles and public transit vehicles depending on the vessel used.


Long-distance public transit too far to travel by rail or bus is typically undertaken by plane.[1] Most airports in major regions are situated on the peripheries of major cities and are publicly owned, while airlines are typically owned by for-profit corporations.


20th century

After the rise of automobiles in the first half of the 20th century, urban transit companies went out of business and ridership declined.[11][12]

21st century

In the 21st century, the U.S. has a low level of public transport compared to other developed Western nations, which has been relatively consistent according to a study covering 1980 through 2010.

A 2012 comparison among 14 western countries found the US in last place in annual public transport trips per capita with 24 trips. The next to last country was the Netherlands with 51 trips and Switzerland was ranked first with 237.

Reasons for the U.S. having a lower demand for public transport than Europe include lower density cities, tax policy, and the high car ownership in American cities.[13] In some cities, there has been opposition to public transit on the grounds that it would increase crime.[14]


Further information: Rail transportation in the United States and List of rail transit systems in the United States

As of March 2020, Amtrak provides public railway transportation on 35 lines, with services concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, Northeast, California, and the Midwest. Amtrak also operates its own long distance bus system to support its train network. The Auto Train is available from Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida that is capable of carrying along passengers’ vehicles.[15]

In 2021, Amtrak plans to deploy a fleet of 28 new Acela trainsets to serve the Northeast Corridor. The first of these trains are currently undergoing a nine month high-speed testing phase and will include personal comforts such as outlets, USB ports, improved Wi-Fi access, and an overall improvement in interior space design allowing 25 percent more passengers. The trains will travel between Boston and Washington D.C. multiple times a day, a route 3.5 million customers took in 2019. [16]

High-speed rail

Main article: High-speed rail in the United States

Inter-city rail

Further information: Amtrak

Regional and commuter rail

Further information: List of United States commuter rail systems by ridership

Urban rail

Further information: List of rail transit systems in the United States


Inter-city bus

Further information: Greyhound Lines and Megabus (North America)

A Greyhound Lines bus arriving in New York City
A Megabus arriving at New York Penn Station

In the mid-1950s, over 2,000 buses operated in the U.S., including those of by Greyhound Lines, Trailways, and other companies connected 15,000 cities and towns. Passenger volume decreased as a result of expanding road and air travel, and urban decay that caused many neighborhoods with bus depots to become more dangerous.

In 1960, U.S. intercity buses carried 140 million riders. By 1990, the rate decreased to 40 million, and continued to decrease through 2006.[17]

By 1997, intercity bus transportation accounted for only 3.6% of travel in the United States.[18] In the late 1990s, Chinatown bus lines that connected Manhattan with Boston and Philadelphia's Chinatowns began operating. They became popular with non-Chinese college students and others who wanted inexpensive transportation, and between 1997 and 2007 Greyhound lost 60% of its market share in the Northeastern United States to the Chinatown buses.

During the following decade, new bus lines such as Megabus and BoltBus emulated the Chinatown buses' practices of low prices and curbside stops on a much larger scale, both in the original Northeast Corridor and elsewhere, while introducing yield management techniques to the industry.[17][19][20]

By 2010, curbside buses' annual passenger volume had risen by 33% and they accounted for more than 20% of all bus trips.[17] One analyst estimated that curbside buses that year carried at least 2.4 billion passenger miles in the Northeast Corridor, compared to 1.7 billion passenger miles for Amtrak trains.[19] Traditional depot-based bus lines also grew, benefiting from what the American Bus Association called "the Megabus effect",[17] and both Greyhound and its subsidiary Yo! Bus, which competed directly with the Chinatown buses, benefited after the federal government shut down several Chinatown lines in June 2012.[20]

Between 2006 and 2014, U.S. intercity buses focused on medium-haul trips between 200 and 300 miles; airplanes performed the bulk of longer trips and automobiles shorter ones. For most medium-haul trips curbside bus fares were less than the cost of automobile gasoline, and one tenth that of Amtrak. Buses are also four times more fuel-efficient than automobiles. Their Wi-Fi service is also popular; one study estimated that 92% of Megabus and BoltBus passengers planned to use an electronic device.[17] New lower fares introduced by Greyhound on traditional medium-distance routes and rising gasoline prices have increased ridership across the network and made bus travel cheaper than all alternatives.[citation needed]

Effective June 25, 2014, Greyhound reintroduced many much longer bus routes, including New York City-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Vancouver, and others, while increasing frequencies on existing long-distance and ultra-long-distance buses routes. This turned back the tide of shortening bus routes and puts Greyhound back in the position of competing with long-distance road trips, airlines, and trains. Long distance buses were to have Wi-Fi, power outlets, and extra legroom, sometimes extra recline, and were to be cleaned, refueled, and driver-changed at major stations along the way, coinciding with Greyhound's eradication of overbooking. It also represented Greyhound's traditional bus expansion over the expansion of curbside bus lines.[21]

Local bus services

Bus rapid transit

GRTC Pulse bus rapid transit, which has serviced Richmond, Virginia since June 2018

Further information: List of bus rapid transit systems in the Americas § United States

Bus rapid transit (BRT), also called a busway, is a bus-based public transport system designed to improve capacity and reliability relative to a conventional bus system.[22] Typically, a BRT system includes roadways that are dedicated to buses, and gives priority to buses at intersections where buses may interact with other traffic; alongside design features to improve accessibility and reduce delays caused by passengers boarding or leaving buses, or purchasing fares. BRT aims to provide "fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities".[22]

In the United States several moderately sized cities have BRT as an alternative to light rail due to perceived costs and political will. Notable examples of moderately sized cities with BRT as their fulcrum of public transportation include the Silver Line in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the GRTC Pulse in Richmond, Virginia, and the BusPlus in Albany, New York. Several satellite and suburban cities to larger cities also have bus rapid transit systems as secondary public transit services to light rail and commuter rail. For example, the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray has the planned Murray Taylorsville MAX BRT route. The Denver suburb of Fort Collins, and the Washington, D.C. suburbs of Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia contain the Metroway system.[citation needed]

Some major cities have their own BRT routes within city limits that function as their own rapid transit line, or as auxiliary routes to the rail lines in their respective city. In Cleveland, the HealthLine, which is considered a standard for BRT in the United States, serves most of the city. Minneapolis has the Red Line, and Los Angeles has the F Line, which plans to upgrade to light rail.[citation needed]

Transit bus networks on streets

Local bus systems are categorized as public transit, especially for large metropolitan transit networks and in medium or small cities across the U.S. that rely on a bus network. These networks rely on diesel engine buses usually with fare controls and run on public streets. A public transit network generally orders vehicles to its own specifications as to length and passenger capacity, seated and standing. Buses meet standards set forth in the ADA and ADA updates to accommodate riders using a wheelchair, and information systems for riders with vision or hearing impairments. Electric-powered buses are appearing in some transit systems in the 2020 decade, as transit operators shift away from diesel fuel and its air pollutants, to this newer technology.[23][24]

Some urban transit buses are built as articulated, longer vehicles to serve routes with high passenger demand. These buses bend midway, with an extra set of wheels.

Large metro areas in the US have bus networks with frequent scheduled service at a low fare, and in recent years in the 21st century, riders can learn the time of the next bus from software applications that work on a smart phone. New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, and Los Angeles County are a few of the places offering this type of service, with transfers between bus routes, or between bus and rail, to serve more trips.

A Metro bus in Los Angeles

Towns or smaller cities with a university campus may have excellent bus networks tailored to their market of riders. Ames, Iowa, for example, offers this sort of bus network with its CyRide system.

A Gillig bus in CyRide service in 2023

In the Chicago metropolitan area, there are two large transit bus networks. One is operated by the Chicago Transit Authority in Chicago proper and the other network is operated by the regional agency PACE, serving all the surrounding suburban towns and counties. Fares and transfers are coordinated in that region.

A subset of urban transit buses is the higher-fare, longer distance bus for people commuting to work in one or two US metropolitan areas. Those operate where no train service is in place to meet the demand, such as some routes between New Jersey's suburbs and Manhattan in New York City, although there may also be regularly scheduled bus routes. These buses may have more seating than typical buses, since the trip is longer. Providers of such service may call the bus a coach as a marketing term.[25]


Further information: Paratransit


This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (June 2020)


Some North American cities arranged by size along the horizontal axis and public transportation use on the vertical axis. Many U.S. cities have lower public transit use than New York and some similarly sized Canadian and Mexican cities.

The number of miles traveled by vehicles in the United States fell by 3.6% in 2008, while the number of trips taken on mass transit increased by 4.0%. At least part of the drop in urban driving can be explained by the 4% increase in the use of public transportation [26]

About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation's rail riders live in New York City and its suburbs.[27][28]


See also: List of rail transit systems in the United States and List of bus transit systems in the United States

Most medium-sized cities have some form of local public transportation, usually a network of fixed bus routes. Larger cities often have metro rail systems (also known as heavy rail in the U.S.) and/or light rail systems for high-capacity passenger service within the urban area, and commuter rail to serve the surrounding metropolitan area. These include:

Region Name Locale Type
New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
Includes: Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, New York City Subway, MTA Regional Bus Operations, and Staten Island Railway
New York City, Long Island, Lower Hudson Valley, Coastal Connecticut Commuter rail, local and express bus, subway, and bus rapid transit
Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) Newark / Hudson County, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York Rapid transit
Los Angeles Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Los Angeles County, California Rapid transit (subway), Light rail, Bus, Bus rapid transit
Metrolink Southern California Commuter rail
Chicago Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Chicago, Illinois Bus and rapid transit, including the Chicago "L"
Metra Cook County, DuPage County, Lake County, Kane County, Will County, McHenry County Commuter rail
Pace Northeastern Illinois Commuter and paratransit bus
Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) Houston Bus Service, Light Rail, Paratransit Services, Express Lanes
Phoenix Valley Metro Phoenix metropolitan area Light rail, bus, BRT, Vanpool
Philadelphia SEPTA Delaware Valley Commuter rail, interurban, rapid transit, streetcar, transit bus, and trolleybus
Austin Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Greater Austin Commuter Rail, Local, Express, Bus Transit and Van Pool
San Antonio VIA Metropolitan Transit Greater San Antonio Local, Express, Bus Rapid Transit
Atlanta Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Atlanta Metropolitan Area Bus routes, bus rapid transit, rail track, rapid transit, and streetcar
Atlanta Streetcar Atlanta Streetcar
Baltimore Maryland Transit Administration (MTA Maryland) Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area Bus, light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail
Charm City Circulator Baltimore Bus, watertaxi
Greater Boston Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Bus, bus rapid transit, light rail, commuter rail, trolleybus, and ferryboat
Erie and Niagara counties, New York Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Bus, light rail, and rapid transit
New Jersey, Manhattan, Rockland and Orange counties, New York, and Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania New Jersey Transit Commuter rail, light rail, and bus
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina Lynx Rapid Transit Services Light rail and streetcar (bus rapid transit planned)
Cuyahoga County, Ohio RTA Rapid Transit Rapid transit, light rail, bus rapid transit, and bus
Dallas, Texas Dallas Area Rapid Transit Bus, light rail, commuter rail, streetcar
Denver Metro Area, Colorado Regional Transportation District Bus, light rail, and commuter rail
Los Angeles County, California Metro Rail Rapid transit and light rail
Greater Miami Miami-Dade Transit Rapid transit, people mover, bus rapid transit, and transit bus
Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area Metro Light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit
City of New Orleans and Orleans Parish, Louisiana New Orleans Regional Transit Authority Bus, heritage streetcar
Allegheny County and bordering portions of Beaver, Washington, Westmoreland and Armstrong counties Port Authority of Allegheny County Public transit, light rail, bus rapid transit, and inclined-plane railway (funicular)
Portland metropolitan area, Oregon TriMet, Portland Streetcar Bus, Light rail, Commuter rail, Streetcar
Sacramento, California Sacramento Regional Transit District Bus and light rail
Greater St. Louis MetroLink Light rail
Wasatch Front, Utah Utah Transit Authority Bus, light rail (including TRAX), commuter rail, and streetcar
San Diego County, California San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Buses, bus rapid transit, light rail, commuter rail, paratransit, and streetcar
San Francisco Bay Area Bay Area Rapid Transit Rapid transit
San Francisco San Francisco Municipal Railway Bus, trolleybus, light rail, streetcar, and cable cars
San Jose, California Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Bus and light rail
Puget Sound region, Washington Sound Transit Regional express bus, commuter rail, and light rail
The District of Columbia and parts of Maryland and northern Virginia Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Rapid transit (Washington Metro), bus (Metrobus), and paratransit (MetroAccess)
Downtown Las Vegas starting from close to McCarran International Airport Las Vegas Monorail Elevated monorail currently connecting local hotels and the Las Vegas Convention Center


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2010)

American mass transit is funded by a combination of local, state, and federal agencies. At the federal level, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provides financial assistance and technical assistance to state governments and local transit providers. From FY 2005 to FY 2009, the funding scheme for the FTA was regulated by the SAFETEA-LU bill, which appropriated $286.4 billion in guaranteed funding.[29] The FTA awards grants through several programs, such as the New Starts program and Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program.

Historically, public transportation in the United States has been reliant on private investments. Congress first authorized money for public transport under the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) of 1964, with $150 million per year. Under the UMTA of 1970, this amount rose to $3.1 billion per year. Since then, ridership has risen from 6.6 billion in the mid-1970s to 10.2 billion today. None of the major transit systems in the US generate enough revenue to cover their operating expenses, but those with the highest percentages include the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District with 71.6 percent and the Washington, DC metropolitan rail system with 62.1 percent.[11]

The most widely used source for public transport funds in the United States is general sales tax. Whereas most countries usually don’t put motoring taxes to a specific use, there are instances in the United States where this revenue is earmarked to fund public transport. For example, bridge tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco are used to subsidize local bus and ferry Services. In contrast to other Western countries, public transport use is low and mostly by the poor, which makes it harder to raise additional funds. In response to reductions in Federal support for public transport, individual states and cities sometimes levy local taxes to maintain their transit systems. [30]


On June 26, 2008, the House passed the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act (H.R. 6052),[31] which gives grants to mass transit authorities to lower fares for commuters pinched at the pump and expand transit services. The bill also:

Advanced public transportation systems

Advanced public transportation systems (or APTS) is an Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, or IVHS, technology that is designed to improve transit services through advanced vehicle operations, communications, customer service, energy efficiency, air pollution reduction and market development. [citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Black, Alan (1995). Urban mass transportation planning. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0070055575. OCLC 31045097.
  2. ^ Haring, Joseph E.; Slobko, Thomas; Chapman, Jeffrey (January 1976). "The impact of alternative transportation systems on urban structure". Journal of Urban Economics. 3: 14–30. doi:10.1016/0094-1190(76)90055-3.
  3. ^ Correia, Gonçalo; Viegas, José Manuel (2011-02-01). "Carpooling and carpool clubs: Clarifying concepts and assessing value enhancement possibilities through a Stated Preference web survey in Lisbon, Portugal". Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 45 (2): 81–90. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2010.11.001. ISSN 0965-8564.
  4. ^ Bush, Leon R. Vanpool Implementation in Los Angeles: Commute-a-van. Aerospace Corporation, 1975.
  5. ^ Pavone, Marco; Morton, Daniel; Frazzoli, Emilio; Zhang, Rick; Treleaven, Kyle; Spieser, Kevin (2014), "Toward a Systematic Approach to the Design and Evaluation of Automated Mobility-on-Demand Systems: A Case Study in Singapore", Road Vehicle Automation, Lecture Notes in Mobility, Springer, Cham, pp. 229–245, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-05990-7_20, hdl:1721.1/82904, ISBN 9783319059891
  6. ^ Hegger, Ruud (May 14, 2007). "Public Transport and Cycling: Living Apart or Together?". Transportation Research Board. 56: 38–41 – via The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
  7. ^ Round, Alfred; Cervero, Robert (1996). "Future Ride: Adapting New Technologies to Paratransit in the United States". Working Paper UCTC Number 306. University of California Transportation Center.
  8. ^ "ACELA High-Speed Rail Network System". Railway Technology. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  9. ^ "Multi-Scalar Analysis of Transit-Oriented Development for New Start Commuter Rail". Transportation Research Board. January 12, 2016 – via The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
  10. ^ "Branson buys into Brightline". Railway Age. 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  11. ^ a b Mathur, S. (2016). Innovation in public transport finance: property value capture. Place of publication not identified: Routledge.
  12. ^ Zipper, David (27 April 2023). "Anatomy of an 'American Transit Disaster'". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 27 April 2023.
  13. ^ Buehler, R.; Pucher, J. (2012). "Demand for Public Transport in Germany and the USA: An Analysis of Rider Characteristics". Transport Reviews. 32 (5): 541–567. doi:10.1080/01441647.2012.707695.
  14. ^ Jaffe, Eric (December 11, 2014). "The Myth That Mass Transit Attracts Crime Is Alive in Atlanta". Bloomberg. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  15. ^ "Amtrak Routes & Stations." Amtrak Routes & Stations,
  16. ^ Palma, Kristi. "Amtrak to Begin High-Speed Testing of Its New Acela Trains, Coming in 2021.", The Boston Globe, 19 Feb. 2020,
  17. ^ a b c d e Austen, Ben (2011-04-07). "The Megabus Effect". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Archived from the original on April 11, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  18. ^ Transportation Statistics Annual Report (1997) edited by Marsha Fenn, page 7
  19. ^ a b O'Toole, Randal (29 June 2011). "Intercity Buses: The Forgotten Mode". Policy Analysis (680).
  20. ^ a b Schliefer, Theodore (2013-08-08). "Bus travel is picking up, aided by discount operators". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  21. ^ "Greyhound System Timetable June 25th, 2014". Retrieved 14 June 2014.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ a b "What is BRT?". Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. 2014-07-25.
  23. ^ "Electric buses —We're electrifying our entire bus fleet". Chicago Transit Authority. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  24. ^ Hawkins, Andrew J. (June 26, 2023). "Here come the electric buses". The Verge. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  25. ^ "Commuter Coaches to Manhattan". Columbia University Transportation. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  26. ^ "EERE News: U.S. Transit Use up, Driving Down in 2008". Archived from the original on 2009-05-04. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  27. ^ "The MTA Network: Public Transportation for the New York Region". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on 2009-06-03. Retrieved 2006-05-17.
  28. ^ Pisarski, Alan (October 16, 2006). "Commuting in America III: Commuting Facts" (PDF). Transportation Research Board. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  29. ^ SAFETEA-LU Implementation Archived 2010-08-27 at the Wayback Machine, Federal Transit Administration.
  30. ^ Enoch, M., Nijkamp, P., Potter, S., & Ubbels, B. (2014). Unfare Solutions Local Earmarked Charges to Fund Public Transport. Abingdon, Oxon: Taylor and Francis.
  31. ^ [1] Archived 2008-10-02 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading