Downtown Pittsburgh from Duquesne Incline in the morning by Dllu via Wikimedia Commons
Downtown Pittsburgh from Duquesne Incline in the morning by Dllu via Wikimedia Commons

Iconic public transit rides in the U.S.

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

You don’t have to be herded on a “tour” to enjoy a top sightseeing ride. Although public transit operates mainly for locals, a few transit rides offer great scenery, technological innovation and historical significance. My “favorites” list is limited to bus, metro and suburban rail trips that are used primarily for getting around, not for pure sightseeing, and I exclude the token “legacy” streetcar lines that have been developed in recent years primarily for sightseeing. If you’re close to any of these rides this summer, take them.

New York: Staten Island Ferry. The classic Manhattan skyline, renowned bridges, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty, and the trip is FREE! The Staten Island Ferry operates 24/7/365, every 15 minutes during commute rush hours, every 30 minutes off-peak and on weekends. Catch it on the lower tip of Manhattan Island; good subway connections.

Pittsburgh: Inclines. Once numerous, two “inclines” remain to carry passengers 400 feet up from the riverside to the bluff overlooking the city. The Duquesne Incline, built in 1877, and the Monongahela Incline, built in 1870, are both now integrated into Pittsburgh’s extensive public transit system. Fares from downtown are $2.50 each way, with free transfers to/from transit lines that serve the incline stations; children and disabled pay 50 cents, and seniors 65 or over with a Medicare card ride all local transit free. Inclines operate daily from early morning to midnight.

Monterey, Calif.: Big Sur Bus. Arguably the nation’s most scenic public bus trip, Monterey-Salinas Transit route “22 Big Sur-Monterey” runs from the city center through terminally quaint Carmel, then along legendary Highway 1 to Big Sur and Nepenthe. You cross Bixby Bridge, the spectacular concrete arch you see in so many car commercials. Out-and-back trips run three times daily Memorial Day through Labor Day; at other times, buses run twice daily on weekends only, with no service on major holidays. The one-way fare is $3.50, or $1.75 for children 18 and under and seniors 65 and over.

San Francisco: Cable Cars. San Francisco’s two cable car routes climb and descent steep Nob Hill, crossing at the foot of the historic Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels. Although famous, the cable cars are a marginal entry on this list because, at $7 a ride, the transit agency obviously wants them to be used mainly by visitors rather than locals, although local often use them, anyhow. The reduced $3 senior fare applies only between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. For more flexibility, you can buy an all-day, unlimited-ride transit plus cable car “visitor passport,” $20 for one day, $31 for three days, or $40 for seven days, no reductions.

Seattle: Bremerton Ferry. Every day, thousands of commuters ride 10 different ferry routes linking Seattle’s downtown with bedroom communities across Puget Sound. For most Seattle visitors, the 60-minute downtown-Bremerton route is probably the best choice. It provides great views of Seattle’s imposing skyline, distant mountains and green-covered islands. These large ferries include onboard food and beverage service, and you can ride inside or out, depending on the weather. The round-trip fare from Seattle is $8.20, $4.10 for youth age 618 and seniors 65 or over.

Vintage Streetcars: New Orleans and San Francisco. Although lots of cities boast shiny new “light rail” systems or short “classic” streetcar routes, New Orleans and San Francisco run large fleets of vintage streetcars in regular daily transit service. New Orleans lines run the length of Canal Street, along the riverfront, and through the Garden District. The fare is $1.25 or 40 cents for seniors 65 or over. San Francisco’s lines run along Market Street and the waterfront to Fishermen’s Wharf. The standard transit fare applies: $2.25; $1 for youth age 5 to 17 and seniors 65 or over.

Other outstanding options include the several ferry trips around Boston harbor, the unique people-mover public transit in Morgantown West Virginia, the nation’s last surviving electric inter-urban between Chicago and South Bend (for rail history buffs), Portland’s Aerial Tram, and Honolulu’s bus routes that circle Oahu. Wherever you are, check out the transit possibilities.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at

Tribune Content Agency — June 7, 2016


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