Getting around in Philadelphia is usually easy, as most of the city follows a grid plan. Philadelphia has one of the best public transport networks in the USA and, even on the busiest commutes, the city’s historic, leafy atmosphere provides a beautifully distracting backdrop. New arrivals can look forward to a comprehensive railway system, inner-city subways and buses administered by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).
Public transport in Philadelphia
As Philadelphia's public transport is mainly operated by a single company, the network is integrated and uses a smart fare system. The SEPTA Key, can be loaded with credit online and can be used on most forms of transport in the city. Weekly or monthly passes can also be loaded onto the Key. Alternatively, fares can be paid with cash, although this is a more expensive option and only exact change is accepted.
The rail network in Philadelphia is generally considered to be of a high standard. The city’s central train station is the 30th Street Station in Center City, which provides access to all major SEPTA rail, subway and trolley (tram) routes. Most lines operate from 5:30am to midnight, every day of the week.
The 30th Street Station also functions as a major hub for Amtrak, which provides the best means to travel to other cities such as Boston, New York and Washington DC. Train routes and rates are available at stations and on the SEPTA website.
The other major railway operator in Philadelphia is the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) which runs a line between New Jersey and Center City.
The subway in Philadelphia is simple; made up of only two lines, some of which are above ground. The Broad Street Line, also known as "the Orange Line", which runs north-south, is entirely underground, while the partly-elevated Market-Frankford Line, also known as “the Blue Line” or “the El”, runs east-west. The subway runs daily from 5am to 1am, but on Fridays and Saturdays, there are routes that run 24 hours.
Catching a bus in Philadelphia is easy. There are more than 100 routes that serve several city neighbourhoods and destinations across southeastern Pennsylvania. Some of the buses in Philadelphia run 24 hours a day along SEPTA’s Night Owl bus routes.
Trams in Philadelphia used to be a major mode of transport, and the existing streetcars are a relic of an extensive trolley system that dates back to 1923. Eight lines remain, mostly operating in the city centre, between the city's main attractions and most popular neighbourhoods.
Taxis in Philadelphia
Those wanting to get a cab in Philadelphia can do so quite easily. Taxis in Philadelphia vary in appearance. While there are classic yellow cabs, others are branded according to their company and some just have a light on the roof.
Taxis can be hailed from destinations such as bars and tourist attractions, although the most reliable option is reserving a cab online or by telephone. Ride-hailing applications such as Uber and Lyft are also operational in Philadelphia.
Driving in Philadelphia
Owning a car in Philadelphia isn't essential. The closer one moves towards Center City, the less likely it is that people own cars, given that public transport is efficient and parking is scarce and expensive. Under Pennsylvania state law, a valid foreign driver’s licence will be accepted for one year, provided that it hasn't expired. After a year, expats wanting to drive in Philadelphia will have to apply for a local licence.
Cycling in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is a remarkably bike-friendly city, with hundreds of miles of dedicated bike lanes as well as a bike-sharing system, Indigo. The programme is currently expanding and will consist of 350 stations around the city and more than 3,500 bikes available, once complete. Cycling is common as both a pastime and a mode of commute in Philadelphia.
Walking in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is one of the most walkable cities in the USA. This is especially true of Center City because of its grid layout. New inhabitants walking around this area of Philadelphia will notice a host of quirky “Walk! Philadelphia” signs to guide them around. The abundance of parks in the city also provides many a leafy spot to rest.
►Learn more about travelling around the country in Transport and Driving in the USA
Are you an expat living in Philadelphia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Philadelphia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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