Scope out public transit before your city trip
If your summer trip plans include a few days in a big city, chances are you’ll be using public transit to navigate the area. And if you do, it’s a good idea to arrange in advance for whatever special discounts and visitor tickets you might use, so you’re ready to get going right away and don’t waste time figuring out your transit needs.
If you haven’t traveled in a while, you might be surprised at two basic trends among big U.S. cities:
- New payment systems based on tap cards for fare collection. Some newer systems allow use of a regular bank credit or debit card; others rely on a unique paper ticket with RFID capability.
- Special ID cards required for use of senior and youth discounts. Driver’s licenses, Medicaid cards and such are no longer sufficient. In some places, you can arrange for that ID online before you leave home, but others require that you visit a local office in person.
If you don’t need a special ID, many new systems accept a credit or debit card without any preliminaries — no signing up for any program. I used that system in London, and it worked fine with both a Visa and an American Express card. The system keeps track — if you run up local one-trip fares to a level of a day pass, you automatically get a day pass and pay no more for future trips.
Each system is unique. Here are some U.S. cities with robust transit systems and where you’re most likely to need some advance arrangements.
Atlanta: Atlanta’s robust metro system includes service to the airport. The system uses special “Breeze” cards — both reusable and reloadable and one-time options. The base fare is $2.50. Children up to 46 inches tall ride free, with a limit of two children per paying adult.
Seniors age 65 or over are eligible for a 50% discount, but it requires a special reduced-fare Breeze card which is issued only in person at one of two offices in downtown Atlanta during weekday business hours — online applications are not accepted.
Boston: The system includes a mix of light rail, heavy rail metro, regional rail and harbor ferries, with service to the airport. Cash, single-use CharlieTicket, or stored-value CharlieCard are accepted. The one-way fare is $2.40 on metro and light rail, $1.70 on local buses; fares are distance based for commuter rail and ferry. Commuter rail and ferries accept paper tickets or “mTicket” smartphone app, but not CharlieCard.
CharlieCards and CharlieTickets for non-discounted fares include $11 unlimited-travel one-day pass and a $22.50 unlimited weekly pass. Seniors 65 or over obtain 50% discounts, but only with a Senior CharlieCard, which you can apply for online (https://www.mbta.com/fares/reduced/senior-charliecard).
Chicago: Chicago’s heavy-rail “L” serves both O’Hare and Midway, and regional rail also serves O’Hare infrequently. The basic L fare is $2.50 per ride, $5 for an all-day ticket or $5 single ride at O’Hare. Regional rail rates are zone-based.
Fare collection is moving to a regional Ventra system using cards or smartphone apps for contactless payment on L, regional rail, and regional buses. Seniors get 50% discounts, but only with an RTA reduced-fare card, which you can obtain online in advance (fares.rtachicago.org).
New York. An extensive metro system serves the New York area, with service to JFK and Newark but not LaGuardia. The base metro fare is $2.90 per ride, with tap-card fare collection via an OMNY card or simply your own contactless credit/debit card.
Seniors age 65 or over get 50% discounts, but only with a reduced-fare ID available online (reducedfare.mta.info/registration).
Other cities: You can apply online for senior ID in San Francisco, (mtc.ca.gov/ news/now-easier-apply-youth-and-senior-clipper-cards). Philadelphia (seniors travel free) and Washington (50% off) require you to have a senior ID card, which you must apply for in person. [Ed. Note: To get a Senior SmarTrip card, show a government-issued photo ID with proof of age at select metro stations or any Montgomery County Public Library. See wmata.com for details.]
Most Canadian and European cities offer a variety of fares and passes useful to visitors but not senior discounts; check before you leave home.
Email Ed Perkins at email@example.com or check out his website at rail-guru.com.
© 2024 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.