Travel Like a Local: Catch a Train, Bus, Ferry, or Bike

Local Insight — By Alex Resnik on September 8, 2010 at 6:30 am

It’s that time again when we challenge our worldwide network of Local Experts to give us their most specific, über-relevant on-the-ground travel advice. It’s the Local Expert Challenge!

This week, they gave us the run-down on their cities’ public transportation options. Buses, metro systems, ferries, taxis, or public bikes–we wanted to know how to use them, pay the fare, and blend in like a local. We’ve included some of the juicier tidbits of local transportation lore, and as always, you can click through to the destination pages for the whole story.

Buenos Aires

Think of BA’s thoroughfares as a jungle, and the city buses as wild beasts that roam, roaring as they tear recklessly down the narrow streets. The public bus or “colectivo” system in Buenos Aires is daunting and notoriously confusing for first-time users. It’s an expansive system: hundreds of separate bus lines operate with an utter lack of helpful, instructive signs to indicate routes, destinations, or fares. In fact, the colectivo may be one of the world’s least friendly metropolitan public transportation systems – particularly for non-Spanish speakers. It’s definitely not safe territory for the timid or the unadventurous.


In many ways, Barcelona can get things wrong. From customer service to government protocol and efficiency, visitors to Spain have all had their fair share of “Spain days,” when they want to go back to wherever it is they came from. However, one thing that the city has mastered is its incredible public transportation system and, in particular, the metro!


In May 2010, a new bus system called the BRT was launched. It utilizes a bus-only center lane and stations set between two lanes of vehicular traffic, connected to the outer sidewalks by pedestrian bridges. The first station is connected by a long pedestrian bridge to the Skytrain at Chong Nonsi station and has an air-conditioned waiting room.


Ottawans – like most urbanites– have a love-hate relationship with their transit system, OC Transpo. A long and nasty wintertime strike a couple of years ago still leaves a sour taste in many riders’ mouths. A running joke in town is, “Waiting for a bus in Ottawa on a January night gives new meaning to the words ‘Hell frozen over.'”


Imagine a quick-moving, crowded, wi-fi-equipped metro with video screens, a library and a of public art. Then move it several thousand miles south of where you thought you’d find it, and open your eyes: you’re in Santiago, Chile, home to the continent’s cleanest, most efficient and most modern metro.



There are three kinds of taxi in Cairo: black, white and yellow. Black cabs are the most common, and range in age from antediluvian to reasonably new. (Note: with older specimens, it’s not unusual to find bits of the car falling off or missing: door handles, paneling and so on.) Choose one that has, at bare minimum, four wheels. Regardless of age, the black cabs are unlikely to have seatbelts or air-con, and will not have a working meter.

New York

The NYC subway often gets a bad rap – it’s crowded, dirty, smelly, and can be highly confusing. It can even be dangerous (although nowhere nearly as dangerous as in past years). For a new visitor to the city, the subway can certainly be intimidating, but don’t give up hope! It can also be your most powerful tool in getting the most of what this amazing city has to offer during your trip, especially if you arm yourself with a few useful tips.


Copenhagen is known for its excellent public transport system that is far cleaner and safer than those of many other capital cities around the world. The reputation holds true, but even the best systems in the world can be confusing the first time you use them.

Atlantic City

The Atlantic City Jitney Association was started in 1915 and is the longest-running non-subsidized transit company in America. It was one of many jitney associations that sprang up at the turn of the century. In 1947, when the first jitney buses arrived in Atlantic City, they were large, black cars that had a rope and pulley system for opening the back doors. Today they are smaller, light blue minibuses that seat 13 passengers.


Athens can, on occasion, feel somewhat disorganized. Chaotic, even. But surprise! The Athens metro is one of the cleanest, safest, cheapest, most beautiful and reliable metro systems in Europe, if not the world. Riders can view 50,000 ancient artifacts on museum-quality displays in six of the central metro stations, where they were unearthed during construction.

Las Vegas

If you like treasure hunts, then you’ll love the Vegas Monorail stations. Due to the distance between the front of any casino and the monorail station in the back, you’ll have to follow several signs (think breadcrumbs, only lighted) without getting distracted by signs for the poker room, the casino bar, or the slot tournaments.

São Paulo

São Paulo’s subway is clean, safe and reliable in a country that is often mis-characterized as being  dirty, dangerous, and inefficient. The local tourism board and metro have even combined to streamline the subway experience for visitors with special Turismetro routes, which employ bilingual guides to elaborate on the city’s premier points of interest.

Los Angeles

Up to now, the subway system has been run on a honor system: officers were scattered through the system to randomly check if riders have their transit passes. This is starting to change now. Turnstiles, working on the TAP (Transit Access Pass) card system, have already been installed in the stations; they are just not yet functional.


The Dublin public bike project is hugely successful. The 1 millionth bike rental occurred in mid August, less than one year since the plan launched. It is a great way to travel independently around the city and explore it from a different perspective, rather than on top of a double decker tour bus.



Fun tip: check out the Tunnel of Light at Nydalen metro station, incorporating architecture, light and colours into the escalators.


The buses in downtown Seattle are a mix of bus, subway and trolley: you’ve got plenty of regular bus stops above ground, but also several stations underground that help beat the insane rush hour traffic.

And so many more…

Abu Dhabi
Bryce Canyon
Cape Town
Lake Tahoe
Salt Lake City
San Francisco
Tel Aviv

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