Several mid-size cities and small towns around the world offer free inner-city transit in hopes of decreasing traffic and increasing ridership. For example, the city of Hasselt, Belgium abolished fares in 1997 and measured that ridership was as much as 13 times higher by 2006. In Asia, Bangkok, Thailand has 800 free buses that run along 73 routes for its population of 12 million. In England, Leeds offers a free city bus between key locations in its city center. Meanwhile in the USA city-wide free transit has been slow to catch on, but for the thrifty traveler or savvy cheapskate these cities offer ways to hop around (at least parts of) town for free after coming here by flights to USA.
One of the best examples of free transportation in the U.S. is in Portland, Oregon where all streetcar and light rail trips are free within the “Free Rail Zone,” a 330 square-block area, encompassing most of downtown Portland. See the train routes in the Free Rail Zone (the light orange section of the map). And while trains are free in Portland but buses aren’t, its the opposite in Seattle. In downtown Seattle’s “Ride Free” area, which features its Public Library and famous Pike Place Market, buses are free everyday between 6am to 7pm. See the bus routes in the Ride Free Area (the light orange section of the map). Similarly, Pittsburgh, PA offers free public transit within its downtown area.
Other U.S. cities of note include Boston, Massachusetts and Dallas, Texas. In Boston, transportation between its two main train stations Back Bay and South Station is free. Simply hop on any commuter train at South Station which is near Boston’s Chinatown and hop off at Back Bay to enjoy one of the busiest shopping and business districts in Boston. See the train station connector schedule. And Dallas, Texas’s heritage trolley transports riders for free along a three-mile stretch from downtown to uptown McKinney Avenue seven days a week, 365 days a year.
In the U.S. several college towns offer free transit to students, which can also be taken advantage of by local riders. For example, Chapel Hill, North Carolina has offered free transit since 2002. Ann Arbor, Michigan’s city bus service, “the Link” runs a free bus service between campus and downtown Ann Arbor. Rides are free for everyone, although students typically pay for this transportation service as part of their tuition. In Amherst, Massachusetts, The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), funded by local governments and the Five Colleges, provides public transportation in the area. Close, but not quite making the cut is Austin, Texas’s free bus service which operates under the citywide bus system and only provides free transportation to University of Texas students, staff, faculty, uniformed police, fire, and military personal, and City of Austin employees. Rumor has it, that it’s quite easy to pass as a student and ride for free, if you can look the part.
Many U.S. mountain towns provide nearly 24-hour free public transit like Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Vail, Colorado, which has 20-hour bus service every day in the winter. And in Mountain Village, Colorado hop on the free cable car or free shuttle bus over to Telluride. For those wanting to hop around Denver, Colorado, nestled under the Rocky Mountain skyline, the city offers a free shuttle bus in the downtown area along its 16th St Mall. See the MallRide Schedule.
If you prefer sand to snow, you may want to check out the few beach towns in the U.S. which offer free public transport including Vero Beach, Florida, a town with a population of 140,000. Their GoLine service offers 14 free routes on public transit which serves 700,000 annual riders. Hyannis, Massachusetts the center of the summertime tourist destination in Cape Cod operates a free shuttle loop on Main Street to many of the downtown beaches during July and August each year. For those traveling in downtown Miami, Florida be sure to check out the “Miami Metromover” train system.
Even New York City offers free transit. The Staten Island Railway is free of charge to riders originating or terminating at stations other than St. George or Tompkinsville as is the Staten Island Ferry, which operates between Whitehall, Manhattan and St. George, Staten Island 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and offers great views of the New York skyline. See the Staten Island Ferry schedule. For travelers getting to and from the airport, the Airtrain at JFK and Newark Liberty International is free within the terminal loops.
So before you decide to hop a turnstile or dine and dash, consider taking advantage of a few of our cities’ free public transit systems to save on cash.