Monday, December 27, 2004

How to get around crazy cities
By Harriet Baskas, special for USA TODAY

Business travelers may cringe when contemplating getting around big, increasingly congested cities. A car service or a cab may ease the pain. But limos get stuck in traffic, and cab fares can get pricey.

Philip Neidoff awaits a train at the Canal Street Station in lower Manhattan. Neidoff commutes daily to Citicorp Center from his Upper West Side apartment.

By Todd Plitt, USA TODAY

In some cases, subway, bus, light rail, ferry or other means of public transit may save time and money for the business traveler. (Related: Six cities with easy, cheap transit)

Veteran transit riders in some of the country's biggest, most congested cities share transit-riding tips:

San Francisco:

Jack Lucero Fleck, acting city traffic engineer for the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, says short-time visitors can get up to speed with some research and planning. Transportation options include cable cars, historic streetcars, subways (BART), buses, trolley buses and light rail.

Fleck, a transit user himself, says fare information and route maps are available online. He says the best view of San Francisco Bay and downtown is on the bus coming into the city on the top deck of the Bay Bridge. Buses let you sit up higher than cars. At $3, it's a bargain, he says. (Related:More travel tips)

New York:

In New York City, Citigroup investment banker Philip Neidoff makes his half-hour commute from Manhattan's Upper West Side to Tribeca via the often-crowded New York City subway.

GETTING AROUND

Ready to give local transit a try? Find additional resources at the Web sites of most cities' convention and visitors bureaus. Also, information booths at airports and train stations. Some helpful links:

Atlanta: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, www.itsmarta.com

Dallas/Fort Worth: Dallas Area Rapid Transit, www.dart.org

Denver: Regional Transportation District, www.rtd-Denver.com

Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, www.mta.net

Miami: Miami-Dade Transit, www.co.miami-dade.fl.us/transit

New York: Metropolitan Transit Authority, www.mta.nyc.ny.us

Philadelphia: Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, www.septa.com

Seattle: King County Metro Transit, transit.metrokc.gov

Says Neidoff: "It's definitely faster than taking the bus, but sometimes it's like that Jell-O commercial: There's always room for one more subway rider. My advice is to let one or two crowded trains go by before getting on."

Don't worry too much about the subway being scary, Neidoff says. "There are always lots of people around — normal, everyday people. It's comforting." (Related:More travel tips)

Chicago:

Chicago Public Radio general manager Torey Malatia acknowledges that driving to work is easier and more direct, but he prefers taking the train and bus because "it's saner, more restful and actually inspiring."

After spending one too many mornings waiting for buses that never arrived, Malatia offers two words of advice: planning and flexibility.

It allows him, for instance, to occasionally give up the wait for a direct bus to his destination in favor of a two-route strategy involving a transfer.

Travelers who research and print out potential bus, subway and train routes before arriving in a new town will have an easier time, Malatia says. "It's great, and somewhat cinematic, to see people of various backgrounds making a trip through the city." (Related:More travel tips)

Washington, D.C.:

Lynn Chadwick, a program officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce, echoes Malatia's advice about researching alternative routes.

"I know five buses that can get me a block or two away from my regular destinations," Chadwick says.

Chadwick makes a point of staying away from certain Metro subway stops when they're likely to be congested with tourists. It's easier to get out at a stop a few blocks away and walk, she says.

Cabs in Washington are plentiful and inexpensive. Fares for trips within the District of Columbia are determined by the number of taxi zones crossed, not by meters.

But Heather Dahl, managing editor of the Capitol Hill Bureau radio service, finds the Metro subway faster and less expensive than cabs.

Dahl warns: "Don't get caught eating on the Metro. They're fast to ticket folks who are snacking." (Related:More travel tips)

Boston:

Snack fines aren't a big problem on Boston's MBTA, or "T," subway system, says Judy Jacobson, deputy director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. But Jacobson and her office mates agree that the system can seem unfriendly to out-of-towners.

Their tips include:

• Get your bearings: Park Street is the hub of the radial, hub-and-spoke subway system. "Inbound" subway trains mean inbound to Park Street. Getting anywhere from Park Street anytime between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. is a nightmare.

• The B and C Green Line trains are free going outbound once the trains are above ground on Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street. (Related:More travel tips)

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