Transport in the U.S.
Driving is Still King in the U.S., but There are Other Options
When it comes to transport in the U.S. the vast majority of American’s choose to use a car to get around and commute to work. Public transit options can be either limited or extensive, depending on where you settle. The quality and cost varies according to location. Here’s a rundown on driving in the United States, and the other options available to you.
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America has often been called “a country in love with cars”, and driving remains the most popular form of transport. In 2016, there were over 222 million licensed drivers in America and 269 million vehicle registrations. When it comes to commuting to work, cars are the number one choice, with 76% of American’s driving on their own to work, and a further 9% carpooling.
Cars and roads in the U.S. tend to be bigger on the whole than in Europe. Cars such as SUV’s and Hummers are common, and these larger vehicles reflect attitudes towards driving. In America cars can be seen as a way of life, rather than just something to get you from A to B. Other differences are that cars with automatic gears are more common than “stick shift” cars, and because of the lower price of gas in America, they are often not as fuel-efficient.
Fuel for cars in the U.S. is much cheaper compared to that of most European countries. In 2016 the average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. was $2.14, compared with around $6 in countries like Germany and the U.K. However the overall cost of owning a car is around $9,576 on average, of which only $1,968 was for gasoline.
You must have a valid driver’s license and car insurance to drive a car legally in the U.S. Once you have bought a car you must also register it and renew registration once a year. The process will vary from state to state but usually, you present your paperwork to the states DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and pay a registration tax. You will then get a metal license plate, a validation decal, and a registration certificate.
Unlike European countries like the U.K. where you have to have an annual safety inspection (MOT in the U.K.), there is no annual safety test to pass. However, some states might require that your car pass an annual emissions test. The rules vary from state to state so check the relevant rules for where you plan to relocate to.
The vast majority of the roads in the U.S. are owned and run by state and local governments. There are some toll roads, which are run by private companies and will levy a toll to use them in order to pay for their upkeep. Tolls can range in price but typically around $3 for cars and $14 for trucks. You can use an interactive map on websites such as Sixt to check for toll roads and their prices by state.
The American love affair with cars does come at a cost – 5 out of 10 of the world’s most congested cities are located in the U.S. On average, Americans spend over 41 hours per year stuck in traffic jams during rush hours while on their commute.
Choosing whether to invest in a car might depend on how good public transport links are in the area you plan to relocate to.
Public transport (transit) in the U.S. is a much less popular way of getting around than driving. In the years 2012 to 2016, 5.1% of workers commuted regularly by public transport. Transit is more popular in cities and built-up urban areas as a whole, accounting for 10% of work trips in 9 out of the top 60 urban areas, and 10% of total trips in New York.
If you decide to settle more rurally public transport can be sparse and will often not serve you if you have to commute to work.
Despite this, there are a variety of public transport options available, which vary depending on which state or city you settle in. For the most part, public transport is a cheaper option, with monthly and yearly passes for bus or subway services coming in at around $100 per month and $1200 per year in most areas.
There are local railway services in over half of all American states, but the extent of the area they cover will vary from state to state. Some of these railways have over ground and underground routes, and in other cases, there is an underground service, commonly called subways. The largest and most well-known of these is the subway in New York, which carries 5.7 million passengers per day.
In some cities, local railway connects with major airports.
Buses are available in most cities and larger towns, as well as larger urban centers. For the most part, buses are not seen as the first choice for transport. This is due to the relative slowness of service and perceived issues with both desirability of using this form of transport and with maintenance and upkeep.
The news is not all bad, however. In many cities, projects are being introduced to improve the quality of bus services as well as public perception of riding the bus. For example, in Minneapolis, a new bus service called the A-line has increased ridership by 30% after upgrades to the service made it a more attractive option. These include introducing right of way rules for buses, the ability to pay before boarding, a peak service running every ten minutes and traffic signals holding greens for buses to pass. New stations also have better shelters and arrival displays.
As many sections of America become more environmentally conscious and the popularity of new schemes are seen, bus services like the A-line could continue to receive investment and improvement.
When traveling shorter distances, taxis can be an option in many inner-city and suburban areas. Taxis can usually be hailed in the street or booked over the phone or online. The U.S. is also one of Uber’s biggest markets with over 750,000 Uber drivers. Lyft is another company who is growing rapidly and now operates in over 300 cities in the U.S.
Because America is such a large country, flying is the best option for many people taking trips cross-country. The U.S. has an extensive airport network with over 500 commercial airports throughout the country.
Nearly 90% of all flights in America are domestic, and flying is one of the most popular forms of interstate travel. There are a variety of airlines to choose from, some of which offer budget options. For the most part, mile for mile flying is more expensive than driving, although it is more convenient.
Another option for traveling longer distances is Amtrak rail services which provide intercity links between 500 destinations in the U.S. These trains can include sleeper accommodation and in some cases, you can take your car or a bicycle with you.
Overall, how you choose to commute to work is going to depend on your location, the quality of the public transit available to you and how you feel about driving compared to taking transit. Using a car to get around might well be the best option in more rural areas or suburban centers with less public transit or if you plan to drive further afield regularly. On the other hand, if you choose to settle somewhere like New York City, you might find you barely have need for a car at all.
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