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How do you figure out public transportation?

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Washing D.C. metro
Washington D.C. metro stops are clean and easy to navigate.
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Use these tips to use public transportation with ease.

One of the first things travelers and those relocating to a new city need to do is figure out public transportation. Learning public transportation is all about connecting the dots. Itís a process that takes time and patience, but itís not nearly as difficult as it may seem when youíre staring at a color coded mass transit map full of numbers and letters. The goal is to get you where youíre going and all it takes is a few successful trips to build confidence.

Buses, trolleys, trains, ferries and rapid transit provide transportation to cities throughout the United States. Rural and suburban areas also have public transportation, but these systems are less dense so travelers have fewer choices to make when navigating. This article will focus on methods for figuring out public transportation in cities, but many are applicable for non-urban commuters.

A few important things to note:

*Public transportation is not chaos. All public transport operates on a pre-defined schedule. Timetables are published online and at almost every station stop.

*Itís always a good idea to carry a small map until you feel completely comfortable. If you forget you map, you can usually find one at stations and posted on the bus or train if youíre already in motion.

*Youíll find that trains and buses are more frequent during weekday rush hours so if you miss your train odds are that the next one is not far behind.

*During off hours, stops are usually scheduled to fixed times on the hour, such as 8:15, 8:45, 9:15, 9:45 and so on.

Paying your fare:

Whether youíre paying by cash or card, learn the cost of a single fare. This will help you determine the most cost effective metro card to purchase. Options will include: one-way trip, round trip, and unlimited day, week or monthly metro passes, which save you money if you take public transportation daily. You can usually add money to a card as needed.

If youíre taking the bus, make sure to have plenty of loose change on you. Many public buses do not accept bills and drivers do not carry cash to make change for customers. It helps to have five dollars in change on your person. Most city buses, like those in New York City, also accept fares from the same transit cards you can buy in subway stations.

Orienting yourself:

1) Public transportation is confusing if you try to understand it all at once. The first step is to orient yourself with a few key points, and build your knowledge from there. Locate your hotel on the transit map and note the metro and bus lines nearby.

2) Start out simple and set out to take public transportation from point A, where you live, to point B. Note if you will need to travel north, south, east or west.

3) Look at a public transportation map and note if any metro or bus lines near Point A will take you directly to point B.

4) If you donít have direct route, youíll need to make a transfer. No problem.

Hereís what you need to know about transfers:

* Public Transportation is designed to provide maximum mobility so train lines intersect at select stations. Switching from one train or bus line to another is a called making a transfer and it's not hard to do.

* You donít need to pay twice. If youíre transferring from bus to bus ask the driver for a bus transfer slip (this is time stamped and evidence to the next driver youíve already paid for this trip).

Tips for mastering public transportation:

* Get to know the major stations in your city. This is where numerous train lines meet. The more familiar you are with the big stations, the quicker youíll be able to expand your knowledge and explore new train lines.

* Accept that you will hop on a train and travel a few stops before realizing you are going the wrong direction. Consider it initiation and simply get off the train and transfer to the correct platform or step out and explore a new area.

* Note the name of the stop you need to get off at and the stops that come prior so you can avoid missing your stop.

Travelers in major cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and New York are in luck. Check out for simple public transportation directions, including detours and service interruption notifications.

Good luck exploring a new city. Take your time, read signs and don't be afraid to ask for directions - most people are either friendly and helpful or simply lost, too.

Public Transportation
Mass Transit Authority: New York City

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