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."
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.