Public transportation can be overwhelming no matter where you travel. But in the United States, it can be particularly challenging as different cities and towns have varying transportation solutions in place. And that array can be a lot to keep up with. Luckily, Global Nurse Partners is here to help lend some clarity to public transportation in the US.

Any country’s infrastructure history is bound to be complex, influenced by political and economic forces in both the public and private sectors. Interestingly, the development of the consumer economy in the United States saw a boom between 1910 and 1940. A period that included a world war, a post-war recession, an economic upsurge, and the Great Depression (considered the most significant economic depression in the history of the United States). Both state and federal funding during this time focused on investment in highways and airports rather than railways, as Europe had. 

The ripple effect of these efforts can be seen in the way that Americans travel about their country. Most obviously, the United States is heavily reliant on motor vehicle transportation. Interestingly, the investment in highways also resulted in the creation of highway loops for truckers to bypass congested areas of cities, inadvertently transforming some busy city downtowns into business districts rather than neighborhoods where businesses and residential buildings coexisted. If you’re like us and find this fascinating, check out this article on the history of infrastructure development in the United States to learn more. While the US has a unique vehicle-focused culture, there are still public transportation options depending on where you live.


Most of the largest cities in the United States have subway systems that are cost-effective and convenient. New York City is famous for its subway system. Boston calls its subway “the T”, Chicago calls its system “the L”, and in San Francisco, you’ll need to find yourself a Muni station. When it comes to getting around using these subway systems, it’s best to check out each transportation system’s website. There are several apps available to help find subway times and figure out how to get from one place to another. Citymapper and Moovit are both worth checking out for guidance.


If you’re moving to a city or even a larger town, rest assured that there is likely a bus system that can help you make your way around. Larger cities will have more extensive options. In larger cities, bus stops will be more frequent, and routes will run at all hours. In the suburbs, however, buses won’t run as often, and you may have to find alternative transportation options. Much like city subways, larger municipalities will have apps allowing you to track when the next bus is coming.

Trains & Light Rail Systems

Many larger cities also have trains and light rails that allow transportation from their suburbs to the city center. New York City, for example, has train lines that run from the city to commuter towns in Westchester County, on Long Island, in Connecticut, in New Jersey, and beyond. Sprawling cities like Dallas, TX, which has DART, and Houston, TX, which has METRORail, have been investing in improvements to their light rail systems over the last few decades.

Bicycles & Scooters for Public Use

Many large cities also have bike-share programs (New York City, for example, has Citi Bike) and/or scooter-sharing programs like Bird. If you choose to take advantage of these, it’s wise to look up bike laws in your state of residence and use extreme caution, as city traffic can be harrowing!

Other Transportation Options

Many large cities also have ride-share programs that are worth looking into. The Bay Area, for example, has an organized Casual Carpool that matches riders with similar commutes.

Large cities generally offer a card you can load funds onto and tap to pay at subway stations, on buses, and on other forms of transportation rather than scrambling for cash. In Boston, you can get a Charlie Card. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the Clipper Card is accepted on most Bay Area transportation agency vehicles from the ferry to light rail, to the bus.

Public Transportation Safety

Public transportation is generally safe in the United States, but it’s still important to keep your wits about you as you ride (this is the US term for traveling while using public transportation). Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind:

  • Plan your trip ahead of time. If you’re new to a public transportation system, scheduling a trip and finding your way can be confusing. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time as you learn the system.
  • Don’t run on train or subway platforms. 
  • Don’t attempt to board a subway as the doors are closing—they don’t always stop, and no one wants a sleeve to get caught!
  • Stay alert as your bus or train is coming to a halt and be sure to have a solid grip on a railing or pole.
  • If you are near an entrance or exit, be sure to yield space to anyone attempting to get in or out of the doorway.

Public Transportation Etiquette

Many large cities have unspoken rules of etiquette that it’s important to adhere to as much as possible. Each location is bound to be different, but there are a few commonly accepted practices to keep in mind:

  • If you’re on a crowded bus, train, or subway, please be mindful of elderly, disabled, or pregnant passengers who board and may need a seat. If you can give up one for them, it’s always appreciated.
  • Do your best to give other passengers their personal space. In the United States, fellow passengers are less tolerant of close quarters than in other countries.
  • If you are listening to music, ensure that you are using headphones and that your volume is low enough that you are not disturbing other riders.
  • Avoid talking on the phone if possible. If you must, keep your conversation brief and speak quietly.
  • Do not use multiple seats for bags. Be considerate of other passengers who need a seat.

Regardless of your city or town, it’s smart to research what public transportation offerings are available locally. If you’re unsure where to start, contact your local transit authority. Don’t be intimidated by learning the new systems. Public transportation organizations generally do a great job of providing resources and information. With a little time and determination, you’ll be riding like a local. And, of course, the Global Nurse Partners team will help you understand it all during your transition and adjustment to life in the US.