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Which U.S. City Has the Best Public Transportation System? (Hint: Not Us)

By Rebecca Ngu | February 26, 2016 3:37pm | Updated on February 28, 2016 4:35pm
  New York City's public transportation system ranked fifth out of 136th cities, according to a study by SmartAsset. 13
New York City's public transportation system ranked fifth out of 136th cities, according to a study by SmartAsset. 13
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Well, you can’t win everything. 

We New Yorkers like to think we have the best of everything: we have the best art, fashion, literature, you name it. But our pride takes a hit when it comes to public transit. SmartAsset, a technology and finance organization, published a list of best U.S. cities for public transportation and ranked New York City fifth out of 136 cities, beaten by the likes of Boston and Washington D.C.

This is perhaps unsurprising news for New Yorkers who just learned that our long commutes are slowly killing us. 

Here's the SmartAsset top ten:

1. Washington D.C.
2. San Francisco
3. Boston
4. Chicago
5. New York
6. Seattle
7. Jersey City
8. Pittsburgh
9. Philadelphia
10. Oakland

The study analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data on every city with a population over 175,000 people — 136 cities total — and measured its usage of public transportation according to five metrics.

The first two metrics were average commute time for transit users and percentage difference between average commute times of car commuters and transit users. This measured the efficiency of a public transit system — if it worked well, more people would prefer public transit to driving and their commute times would be shorter. 

The next two metrics — percentage of commuters who use public transit and total number of commuters who use public transit — measure availability and scope of the system, which happen to be two of New York's strengths by comparison with other cities.

The final metric, the difference between the citywide median income and the median income of transit users, aimed to measure the overall attractiveness and quality of the system. In many cities where the public transit system is shoddy, only the city’s poorer residents who can’t afford a car are compelled to ride it. If the system is high-quality, it would be a tool everyone used.  

The researchers admitted that “based on sheer size,” New York City would be the top city. With a population of over 8 million, we have a proportionately massive public transit system run by the MTA to keep us moving on a daily basis. In 2014, New York City subway and bus ridership totaled more than 2.5 billion rides, according to an MTA report. The next largest public transit system, belonging to Washington D.C., has a ridership of approximately 330 million rides per year. In terms of capacity and coverage, New York wins. 

However, size isn’t all that matters. The average commute time for NYC transit users is 48 minutes, 12 minutes longer than the average 36 minutes for D.C. users. In terms of commuting times, NYC ranked 81st out of the 136 cities analyzed. In addition, the study found that public transit users in New York City typically spend 48 percent longer commuting than car commuters. Who’d have thought that driving anywhere else would be easier than riding the train in New York City?

You can browse through the organization’s full ranking and analysis on their website.