Philadelphia Named 5th Best City in U.S. for Public Transit

Take a bow, SEPTA. Philly ranks among the top cities in the country for getting around on public transportation.


Philadelphia public transit is great, the line goes, as long as you want to get to something on Broad, Market or Frankford.

Of course, it’s better than that. While the subway and El may just run down three streets, the rest of the system is bigger than you think: The bus system is expansive. Trolleys cover much of West Philly, at least South of Market. While it’s now impossible to figure out where you’re going now that SEPTA has eliminated the R[number] designations, the regional rail is generally pleasant.

Earlier this week, Seattle-based walkability company Walk Score named Philadelphia the fifth-best city in the U.S. for public transit. We’re No. 5! We’re No. 5!

Beating Philadelphia were (in order) New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. Philadelphia was the No. 3-ranked city in Walk Score’s Northeast region, but would have been no lower than 2 in any of the other three. Philly’s score of 67 ranks the city as “Good Transit – Many nearby public transportation options,” according to the site. But Philadelphia is also just three points away from having “Excellent Transit.”

This should really be a PNG

Philadelphia beat some cities that are generally regarded to have better public transit, such as Chicago (6th) and Hipster City U.S.A. itself, Portland (10th). Philly fares even better on the site’s eponymous Walk Score, which ranks the city at No. 4—behind New York, San Francisco and Boston, and just ahead of Miami. (Walk Score doesn’t factor in weather; if it did, I have a hunch Miami might — deservedly — move ahead of Philly.)

It’s easy to look at all the parking garages downtown and the cars in the middle of Broad Street and think this is a city where you need to own a car. But it’s not. If you live downtown (or even on a subway line), it’s incredibly easy to not have one. (I’ve been car-free since 2005, though I subscribe to a car share service.) Though it might be hard to find a good supermarket close by, you can walk to so many places and take the bus most anywhere. Even growing up in the more-suburban Far Northeast we walked to the strip mall, the playground, the woods and Franklin Mills; we took the 20 bus to the El to Center City.

Complaints about SEPTA’s quality of service sometimes make people forget the actual system is pretty good. I’d say it’s about fifth-best.

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  • DTurner

    ” While it’s now impossible to figure out where you’re going now that SEPTA has eliminated the R[number] designations, the regional rail is generally pleasant.”

    I don’t really understand this sentiment. I understand that it pushes us away from the concept of having regional rail as a rapid transit network, but if anything it’s more clear now.

    Anyway, I totally agree. Car-free or, probably more reasonable, car-lite living is possible in Philly and a good portion of its suburbs. I’m still amazed that the region has yet to really capitalize on this boon; many cities would love to have our transit system, but we don’t really utilize its benefits to their full potential by pushing for transit-oriented development for jobs and residences.

    • matthew brandley

      Agree. Since I moved down to md. the mta is a joke north of 695. the mass transit concept is non existent. Whenever I come up to phila to visit I always get the day pass after Ipark at ftc. and make a day of it. Just so much easier to take septa all day

      • DTurner

        Yeah, MTA buses are newer, but seem to be in worse shape than SEPTA’s. MTA rail is ok, but the light rail should be expanded.

    • Perhaps Dan was swayed by my loud but unsuccessful campaign to get SEPTA to bring the R-numbers back. While the riding public agreed with me, by and large, the agency has made its decision and is sticking to it. Michael Noda made a very good case for keeping the R-numbers in their grave on his Sic Transit Philadelphia blog – they truly do not reflect how the lines actually operate – but I think one reason for the continuing sentiment in favor of keeping them around is that they are simpler and easier mnemonic devices – that’s why Philadelphians, who are notoriously resistant to new names for familiar institutions, adopted them so quickly.

    • George Lee

      We need to let more people know that SEPTA is the best system in the country.

      • DTurner

        I think SEPTA could probably help itself in that regard by upping its marketing campaign, they should be getting volunteers at events to push the system and make people feel like its their own. Too many other systems (MTA, WMATA, etc.) treat their passengers as a given and as people to be informed on a need-to-know basis; SEPTA has shown (at least within the past few years) that actually kinda cares about its riders.

  • Steve Grantz

    I grew up in South Philly, went to Central. Of my dozen or so close friends in high school, only about 3-4 had a license to drive. A couple of those guys never got a license until they left the city.

  • matthew brandley

    Its the people who trash the system who urinate on the el, leave trash on the buses, trains , play loud music, scream on the cell phones, eat when they shouldnt that make it un enjoyable. SEPTA has won numerous awards recently as best transit agency in the country. they proves that thye phila area should be proud of what we have.

  • tsarstruck

    Philly’s system looks even better when you consider how close we came to beating cities with insanely small borders like Boston which excludes Cambridge, Somerton, etc.

    Chicago’s system is routinely panned as sub-par: when it’s excellent, it’s excellent, but coverage is poor. Portland? No one in their right mind would say that it’s public transit is in the same ballpark unless they had A) never been there and B) confused bikes with public transit.

  • Joe Burkle

    Doesn’t surprise me that Philly is fifth. Shame it’s so limited unlike NY and others, Philly is such a cool city. I wish public transit was much better..

    • It’s not as good as it could have been had the city not run out of cash, but it’s better than I think you think it is.

      San Francisco’s higher showing is not because that city has better rail transit – it’s less extensive than what we have here. But the city is very compact (roughly a square seven miles on each side) and served by an incredibly dense network of surface bus and trolleybus routes.

    • George Lee

      Philly’s transit is MUCH BETTER than NY’s dysfunctional MTA.

  • It’s not even necessary to live on a subway line to live car-free in Philadelphia, Dan. I have two supermarkets, a drugstore and a cleaners all in walking distance and live near an intersection served by two of the top 10 most heavily used bus routes in the SEPTA system. Most of the time during the week, I can step out my door and be at City Hall in 30 minutes flat. And there’s a car-share station at the shopping center with one supermarket and the drugstore.

    Those buses go a long way towards explaining this city’s pretty high Transit Score, as you yourself note.

  • Patrick

    I’m from Philly, but now live in Miami. I don’t understand how Miami made it on any list pertaining to transit or walkability. Weather aside, Miami makes Philly look like a transit Mecca and a pedestrian paradise.

    • George Lee

      Forget Miami. Philly has better transit than New York.

      • Patrick

        Did you even read my comment? I said Miami transit sucks and didn’t mention NYC at all……and Philly’s okay, but it’s certainly not the best city with the best infrastructure in the entire country. Sounds like you’re trying to sell something.

        • George Lee

          Yes, I read the comment. What I meant was that Miami’s too insignificant to be compared to Philly and Philly’s transit is better compared to New York (which Philly still beats in quality of service)

  • George Lee

    Walkscore is wrong. Anyone who lives here or who has visited should realize that Philly’s No.1 in transportation and walkability. SEPTA is MUCH easier to use than New York or DC’s convoluted systems. The Regional Rail is clearly the best system in the country. Here’s another thing: Center City is the ONLY downtown to get above 90 in all 3 categories of walk, transit, and bike. Bottom line, Philly is THE BEST CITY IN AMERICA. If you think otherwise, please do some research first.

  • George Lee

    Also, who agrees that Center City is the most walkable downtown in the country? What other city has such extensive narrow streets?

  • deeeeep

    I lived in DC for about 8 years in the late 90’s into the early 80’s. I was car free the entire time. It was great and easy to get anywhere on public transit, either on bus or by the metro. Living in Philly I do need my car for work. But other wise I would not own one. I usually walk within in the city. The problem is that I find Septa to be very unsafe and the subway system is to limited. It would be nice to have a few more lines. It wold be nice if there where a few lines that ran parallel to the broad street line. Like on 5th St and maybe one on 20th that ran most of the length. The regional rail line is a pretty good system and one can get to most suburbs from center city.

    • George Lee

      DC’s Metrorail isn’t really good. I once waited almost 20 min. for a train, something which would never happen w/ SEPTA