Jesef Williams, founder and owner of Spectacular Vernacular, is an avid adventurer who made it a point to experience each of the United States’ 10 largest rapid transit systems.

I GET AROUND

(The Mass Transit Edition)

Rapid transit rail allows me to soulfully experience rich culture across the United States with ease and affordability. I’ve ridden each of the country’s 10 largest systems.

– STORY AND PHOTOS BY JESEF WILLIAMS –

As an avid adventurer, I often set fun traveling goals that make my excursions even more exciting. Some of these quests are major, like visiting every U.S. state. (I’ve been to 46 of the 50 states.) Others are lower-profile, such as riding each of the country’s 10 largest rapid transit systems.

I gravitate toward large cities, which offer plenty of culture, rich history, delectable cuisine and captivating entertainment. For me, the mass transit infrastructure of these cities is fascinating, as well.    

A few years ago, after realizing I had already ridden several of the major systems around the country, I made it an explicit aim to experience each of the largest 10. Here’s the list, which only includes heavy-rail systems and is ranked based on annual ridership volume, according to the American Public Transportation Association:

  1. New York City Subway – NYC
  2. Washington Metro – DC / the “DMV”
  3. CTA “L” – Chicagoland  
  4. MBTA (the “T”) – Boston
  5. PATH – NYC and Newark, NJ
  6. BART – San Francisco Bay Area
  7. SEPTA – Philadelphia 
  8. MARTA – Atlanta
  9. Metro Rail – Los Angeles   
  10. Miami-Dade Metrorail – Miami

MANUEVERING IN THE 305

Coming into 2024, I had already checked off the top nine, with the Miami-Dade Metrorail being the lone system remaining. After deciding to take a last-minute flight to South Florida in March, I made sure to organize the trip in a way that would allow me to leverage that particular transit system.

Miami is similar to ATL, DC, The illadelph and Chi City in that its rail system has a station at the airport – a dynamic that creates great convenience. I was in Miami for an event downtown but decided to stay at the Sheraton Miami Airport Hotel, an attractive joint that is literally across the street from the train station. The amenities are nice and the price was favorable compared to hotels downtown.

Gorgeous palm trees and sunshine accentuate life in South Florida. I used Miami-Dade County’s Metrorail transit system to get from the airport area to downtown Miami, where the shot above was taken.

Following are Metrorail-related images, along with information about the system, which has been operating since 1984.

Miami-Dade Metrorail is the 10th busiest rapid transit system in the U.S.
Miami-Dade Metrorail is the 10th-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.
With an Easy Card, you can get anywhere on the Metrorail network for $2.25.
With an Easy Card, you can get anywhere on the Metrorail network for $2.25.
This Metrorail station is next to Miami International Airport. From here, travelers can easily reach downtown and other locations in the area.
This Metrorail station is next to Miami International Airport. From here, travelers can easily reach downtown and other locations in the area.

SAVE MONEY, REDUCE STRESS

Speaking of cost, mass transit travel is incredibly affordable. On the Miami-Dade Metrorail, you can get a one-way to anywhere on its network for $2.25. An unlimited one-day pass is just $5.65. Granted, Miami’s rail network isn’t extensive (especially compared to that of other cities). However, with stations at the airport, downtown and other key spots within and just outside the city limits, the train is a viable option.

A city’s mass transit infrastructure usually determines if I rent a vehicle or use Uber during my trip. When visiting New York City, for instance, exclusively riding the subway is a no-brainer for me. For $2.90, you can easily get anywhere in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.    

On the contrary, consider how quickly those taxi and Uber fees add up. And are you thinking about renting a whip to maneuver through the Big Apple? My thoughts about that, in a heavy NYC accent: “Forget about it!” Who wants to deal with pricey tolls and stressful traffic congestion?


“A city’s mass transit infrastructure usually determines if I rent a vehicle or use Uber during my trip.”

Jesef Williams

AVID ADVENTURER


This is a skyline shot of New York City taken from atop One World Trade Center.

I took the above photo of Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens from atop New York City’s One World Trade Center. I was wayyyy up. The irony is that I went underground to get there!

Here are views of mine from the legendary New York City Subway.

This is me in Midtown Manhattan posting up while waiting on the Q train to Brooklyn. The New York City Subway is by far the largest rapid transit system in the country in terms of annual ridership volume. It also has the most stations (472) among all transit systems worldwide.
This is me in Midtown Manhattan posting up on the subway platform while waiting on the Q train to Brooklyn.
I catch the 7 train pretty often going back and forth between Queens and Manhattan. The New York City Subway is by far the largest rapid transit system in the country in terms of annual ridership volume. It also has the most stations (472) among all transit systems worldwide.
I catch the 7 train quite often going back and forth between Queens and Manhattan.

The New York City Subway is by far the largest rapid transit system in the country in terms of annual ridership volume. It also has the most stations (472) among all transit systems worldwide.
The 4, 5 and 6 trains are three of several lines you can ride to reach The Boogie Down Bronx and Uptown Manhattan, which we also call Harlem World!
And speakin
g of trips: For the dice rollers, “rolling a trip” is the only thing that beats 4-5-6 in a game of Cee-lo.
The 4, 5 and 6 trains are three of several lines you can ride to reach the Boogie Down Bronx and Uptown Manhattan, which we affectionately call Harlem World!

And speaking of trips: For the dice rollers, “rolling a trip” is the only thing that beats 4-5-6 in a game of Cee-lo.
Subway performers regularly entertain passersby, including during the yuletide season.
Subway performers regularly entertain passersby. I took this photo of a saxophonist and bassist during the yuletide season in Midtown Manhattan.
Here’s a close-up shot of one of the subway ticket machines. It saddens me that they’re ultimately doing away with the vintage MTA Metro Cards. I’m holding on to mine as a souvenir.
Here’s a close-up shot of one of the subway vending machines. It saddens me that they’re ultimately doing away with the vintage MTA MetroCards. I’m holding onto mine as a souvenir and memento forever.

“Forever!? Forever ever!?”

“ForEVER ever!”  
Here’s a system map of the New York City Subway, which is by far the largest mass transit system in the United States. It doesn’t run to Staten Island, though. You have to take the ferry. That’s the only NYC borough I have yet to visit.
This is a system map of the New York City Subway, which is the largest mass transit system in the United States. It doesn’t run to Staten Island, though. You have to take the ferry. That’s the only NYC borough I have yet to experience.
I was masked up during this train ride on the New York City Subway.
I was masked up during this train ride on the New York City Subway.

I captured this candid video while waiting on a train in Midtown Manhattan. The sights and sounds (and even the smells!) are so New York. I love it!

“NYC everything!”


CULTURAL CONNECTIVITY

On top of affordability and practicality, there’s something sensationally cultural to me when it comes to mass transit. I feel a greater connection to the city and am more authentically able to absorb the sights, sounds and vibes that give a particular metro area its uniqueness. I feel truly enmeshed in the city.

During a six-country European excursion in 2022, my travel partner and I rode the train a good bit. In Europe, that’s what people do. They are ON rail travel. Have you seen those comparison maps that show the prominence of heavy-rail networks in Europe compared to the United States? The difference is stunning.

However, there are efforts to make rail travel sexier and more viable again in the U.S. An example is Brightline, a private rail company that has launched a rapid-travel route in Florida from Orlando to Miami. The company is working on a route out West that will link Las Vegas to Southern California. Exciting stuff!   


Jesef Williams, founder and owner of Spectacular Vernacular, uses the Metro subway system to get around Washington, D.C. WIlliams is an avid adventurer who made it a point to experience each of the United States’ 10 largest rapid transit systems.

The Diamond District (better known as Washington, DC) is home to our country’s federal government. While monotonous political gridlock occurs above ground, there’s always much happening beneath along the Metro transit system.

Here are Metro photos of mine.

The Metro subway stations in DC have a distinct look with those classic ceiling vaults. The Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.
Washington Metro subway stations in DC have a distinct look with those classic ceiling vaults.

The Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.
This is a Metro ticket of mine from either 2005 or 2008. I can’t recall on which DC trip I copped this.  
Here's a better look at those marvelous ceiling vaults that give the Washington Metro stations their signature look.
Here’s a better look at those marvelous ceiling vaults that give Washington Metro stations their signature look.
Use a SmarTrip card to ride the Washington Metro, which is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.
This is my current Metro card. Peep the illustration, though. They have blue school bus-looking trains, possibly without wheels, rolling through lofty green grass.

That’s cute.
You can ride the Metro directly to DCA (Reagan National Airport), which creates convenience compared to having to reach The District from IAD (Dulles International) or BWI (Baltimore/Washington International).
You can ride the Metro directly to DCA (Reagan National Airport), which creates convenience compared to having to reach The District from IAD (Dulles International) or BWI (Baltimore / Washington International).

On a related (and important) note: Allow me to take a moment to shout out Largo and the rest of PG, aka Prince George’s County, Maryland.

PG is one of a number of legendary counties across the U.S. that are truly cultural brands. Like folks in Duval County in Florida, people from Prince George’s County are HIGHLY likely to say they’re from PG long before ever mentioning what specific city or town in the county they’re from. It’s a thing.

Much love goes to the DMV!

Chicago is the epicenter of Midwest soul and culture. You can ride trains along the L transit system to experience deep dish pizza, blues music and much more that gives our country’s third-largest city its personality.

“And you say Chi City!”   

The Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” is our country’s third-busiest rapid transit system. Riding this joint made it easy for me to get around the ‘Go! The L stands for elevated.
The Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” is our country’s third-busiest rapid transit system. Riding this joint made it easy for me to get around the ‘Go!

The L stands for elevated.
In Chicago, the “L” runs straight to O’Hare International Airport. Mad convenient!
In Chicago, the L runs straight to O’Hare International Airport.
The setup is mad convenient!

“On top of affordability and practicality, there’s something sensationally cultural to me when it comes to mass transit.”

Jesef Williams

MASS TRANSIT CHAMPION


Boston is the largest city in Massachusetts, as well as the cultural and economic hub of the entire New England region.

If you ride its MBTA rapid transit system, there’s no need to drive and “pahk the cah.”

My travel homie Kells was focused on those ticket options at a “T” station in Boston. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) – commonly called the “T” – has the country’s fourth-busiest transit system.
My travel homie Kells was focused on those ticket options at a “T” station in Boston. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) – commonly called the “T” – has the country’s fourth-busiest rapid transit system.
Here's the “T” day pass I copped during my first trip to Boston in 2015. I love the accents up there in New England. I have hilarious accent tales/impressions on deck to share.
Here’s the “T” day pass I copped in 2015 during my second trip to Boston.
These are maps I checked out during one of my Boston trips. It’s among my favorite cities to visit.

On a side note: I love the accents up there in New England. I have hilarious accent tales and impressions on deck to share.

YOUR TRANSIT TAKES?

What are your thoughts on mass transit? Have you used it when traveling and getting around major metro areas? Do you have reservations or concerns about mass transit?

As you consider those questions, I’ll share some specific tips involving rail travel that can help you save money and create ease when getting around.


GOOGLE MAPS IS YOUR FRIEND

When navigating any transit system, use Google Maps on your smartphone. Google’s navigation system is stellar and easy to use and performs faster and more accurately than lesser-known apps created specifically for particular transit systems.

There’s no need to download those local joints. Rock with Google Maps exclusively.


WINNING IN THE A

Traffic in Atlanta is notoriously challenging, especially downtown during major events. If traveling to the 404, strongly consider staying at a hotel near the airport or College Park and taking the MARTA downtown. As referenced earlier in my story, MARTA has a train station along its Red and Gold lines right at the airport and another station immediately to the north in College Park.

A one-way ticket is just $2.50. An unlimited one-day pass is $9 and an unlimited two-day pass is $14. That easily beats dealing with nasty ATL traffic and paying for expensive parking.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is the eighth-busiest transit system in the United States.
Atlanta’s MARTA rail system is underwhelming in that I’d expect it to be more extensive. Nonetheless, you can rock with it to easily get downtown from the airport, and vice versa.


Here's a map of the MARTA system, which features just four lines. The system is underwhelming in that I’d expect it to be more extensive. Nonetheless, you can rock with it to easily get downtown from the airport, and vice versa.
Here’s a map of the MARTA system, which features four lines.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is the eighth-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.
This was my view from the escalator at a MARTA station in downtown Atlanta. I find it fascinating how deep into the ground subway stations go. Think about all the engineering and construction considerations that are involved.
This was my view from the escalator at a MARTA station in downtown Atlanta.

I find it fascinating how deep into the ground subway stations go. Think about all the engineering and construction considerations that are involved.
This is my Atlanta MARTA transit card.
Here’s my MARTA card.

“And take you from the start to when luxury transportation meant a MARTA card!”

– André 3000 of Outkast

BIG DECISIONS IN THE BIG APPLE

You have three airport options when flying to the New York City area: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.

If you’re trying to explore NYC, I highly recommend flying into LGA (LaGuardia), even if flights to JFK or EWR (Newark) cost slightly less. That’s because it’s easy, quick and cheap to access the city from LGA via the subway.

LGA offers free, 15-minute shuttle bus rides to and from the nearby Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station in Queens. Shuttles run about every 8 minutes and operate 24/7. From the Jackson Heights station, subway connections are available via multiple train lines. That’s my trusted go-to move when traveling to NYC. It’s easy, culturally dope and costs just $2.90.

Getting from LGA (LaGuardia Airport) to the rest of New York City is easy. Hop on the free airport shuttle, which will take you to the nearby Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station in Queens.
Getting from LGA (LaGuardia Airport) to the rest of New York City is easy. Hop on the free airport shuttle, which will take you to the nearby Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station in Queens.

By the way, this is the aforementioned MetroCard of mine I’m keeping “forever ever.”
The NYC Subway doesn’t run directly to John F. Kennedy International Airport. You have to connect to JFK’s AirTrain jawn, which costs an egregious $8.50 for a one-way ticket.
The NYC Subway doesn’t run directly to John F. Kennedy International Airport. You have to connect to JFK’s AirTrain system.

Reaching the city from EWR or JFK is more complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Generally speaking, I recommend only dealing with JFK if you’re going there to take an international flight.

Getting to and from JFK is a JOB, no matter what method of travel you choose. That airport is like a big separate city, complete with its own transit system. The NYC Subway doesn’t run directly to the airport; you have to mess with JFK’s AirTrain jawn, which costs an egregious $8.50 for a one-way ticket. “Man, why they wanna stick me for my paper!?”

Instead, mess with LGA, and tell ‘em I sent you!


Following are more photos to wrap up my rapid transit experiences along the rest of the systems on the top-10 list.

PATH
(New York City, NY and Newark, NJ)

If you need to get from New Jersey to New York City (and vice vera), rock with PATH. It’s the easiest and most affordable option. Port Authority Trans-Hudson’s system spans just 13 miles, but is the country’s fifth-busiest transit system.
If you need to get from New Jersey to New York City (and vice vera), rock with PATH. It’s the easiest and most affordable option.

Port Authority Trans-Hudson’s system spans just 13 miles but is the country’s fifth-busiest rapid transit system.
This PATH station is inside the Oculus, a massive transit center in Lower Manhattan that looks like the year 2060. It’s mad futuristic! You can use your NYC Subway card to pay for a PATH ride.
This PATH station is inside the Oculus, a massive transit center in Lower Manhattan that looks like the year 2060. It’s mad futuristic!

You can use your NYC Subway card to pay for a PATH ride.
Here’s an exterior view of the Oculus, which is directly across from the World Trade Center complex.

BART
(San Francisco, CA)

These are physical maps and the BART card I used during my trip to San Francisco in 2009, before smartphone navigation apps were really a thing. Bay Area Rapid Transit is the sixth-busiest transit system in the United States.
These are physical maps and the BART ticket I used during my trip to San Francisco in 2009, before smartphone navigation apps were really a thing.

Bay Area Rapid Transit is the sixth-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.

(By the way, I’m LONG overdue for a return trip to the Bay Area.)

SEPTA
(Philadelphia, PA)

Philadelphia’s SEPTA is another system that runs directly to the airport. That jawn also has a line that lets out along South Broad Street, where all the major sports venues are located. Shout out to The illadelph! Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has the seventh-busiest transit system in the United States.
Philadelphia’s SEPTA is another system that runs directly to the airport. That jawn also has a line that lets out along South Broad Street, where all the major sports venues are located. Shout out to The illadelph!

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has the seventh-busiest rapid transit system in the United States.
My aunt gave me this SEPTA coin when I was in Philly several years ago. I decided to keep it as a memento.
My aunt gave me this SEPTA coin when I was in Philly several years ago. I decided to keep it as a memento.

It’s a #215jawn.

METRO RAIL
(Los Angeles, CA)

While in Southern California, I messed with Los Angeles’ Metro Rail. I took this photo at the Hollywood station. (Fun fact: I got down with some legendary In-N-Out Burger shortly afterward.)
While in Southern California, I messed with Los Angeles’ Metro Rail. I took this photo at the Hollywood station.

(Fun fact: I got down with some legendary In-N-Out Burger shortly afterward.)
The Los Angeles Metro Rail is our country’s ninth-busiest transit system.
Like Atlanta’s MARTA, Los Angeles’ Metro Rail underwhelms, especially when you consider LA is the United States’ second-largest city. They say expansions are in the works.

Nonetheless, Metro Rail is our country’s ninth-busiest rapid transit system. My hope is that it can eventually climb higher on the list.

Why?

Because I like Southern California. They say the smog out there is actually fog. I’m skeptical, yet I want to believe them.

Why?

Because I REALLY like Southern California.


Jesef Williams is founder and owner of Spectacular Vernacular LLC. The Florida-based company provides personalized communications, marketing and storytelling services that help individuals and organizations:

  • Effectively convey sentiments
  • Properly emphasize points
  • Soulfully capture special moments, events and occurrences
  • Successfully reach target audiences

Visit SVwords.com to read about Spectacular Vernacular’s offerings and learn more about Jesef. 

2 Comments

  1. Enjoyed your train odyssey, Jesef. As that old Beach Boys song says, “You’ve been around!” (And then some).

    1. Dr. Timbs, I’m glad you enjoyed! Thanks for checking it out. And yes, those Beach Boys guitar riffs certainly played in my head a few times as I put this together. On to the next odyssey…

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