Compare Efficiency of Public Transport NY vs Boston vs Chicago

The taboo once associated with using public transportation has all but vanished. It’s been outweighed and outmuscled by the benefits: cost, environmental impact and convenience, to name a few.


But factors like efficiency are important, too. Does getting from Point A to Point B matter as much from a cost standpoint when it’s taking twice as long to get to Point B? How polite can you really be to your fellow riders when your train is late … like really late … again? We’re looking into three major US cities with three massive public transportation systems and seeing how they compare in efficiency.


So exactly how efficient are the public transportation systems in New York City, Boston and Chicago? Read on!


New York – MTA:

  • Size of City: 8.406 million (2013)
  • Number of daily riders: In 2014, average weekday subway ridership was 5.6 million
  • Cost per ride: $2.50 with a MetroCard (+$1.00 fee will be charged for each new MetroCard)
  • Frequency of trains/buses: Rush hour ~3-5 minutes; at other times of day could run between 4 and 20 minutes
  • On-time percentage: 69.9% as of May 2015
  • Conclusion/Overview: The New York public transportation system has the largest number of daily riders by far. This means the chances of you having to wait for a second train based on a packed train or bus is extremely high. On top of that, the on-time percentage isn’t THAT great — so you might be waiting anyways. But don’t forget about the pros, like the fact that frequency increases during peak hours and the train system runs 24 hours every day.
  • Our efficiency grade: B-



Boston – MBTA:

  • Size of City: 645,966
  • Number of weekday riders: 1,297,650 (includes commuters who take the ferry, contracted bus and THE RIDE paratransit)
  • Cost per ride: Varies for commuter rail (between $2.10 and $11.50); Train $2.10; Bus $1.60
  • Frequency of trains/buses: between 6 (mornings and rush hour) and 25 (late-night) minutes
  • On-time percentage: 86.4 (for the month of Oct. 2014)
  • Conclusion/Overview: Don’t be fooled by the small size of the City of Boston — the MBTA services 175 Massachusetts cities and towns and covers 3,244 miles! The frequency and on-time percentages are pretty good, but are they enough to overcome some major problems the MBTA has already faced in 2015? This past winter was a rough one for the MBTA as the record snowfall affected the service negatively. Service was disrupted so badly that some commuters were stuck on a red line train for more than 2 hours because of a power failure . Problems like this create an inefficient experience for riders, and while the MBTA is making changes internally and dealing with debt, they still have lots of work to do. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that the MBTA doesn’t run 24 hours. Ever. They do have extended weekend hours on most of the trains that run until 2 a.m.
  • Our efficiency grade: C



Chicago – CTA:

  • Size of City: 2.719 million
  • Number of daily riders: 1.7 million
  • Cost per ride: “L” train fare $2.25; Bus $2
  • Frequency of trains/buses: Between 3 and 20 minutes depending on the time of day/
  • On-time percentage: Between 89.7 and 97% depending on where you are in the city
  • Conclusion/Overview: Even on an off day (or an off train line), Chicago proudly boasts better on-time percentages than both Boston and New York City. This is extra impressive considering the transport operates in Chicago and 35 suburbs with a service population of about 3.5 million (according to 2010 census). Still the CTA sees much room for improvement when it comes to on-time performance, and they’re actively looking into correcting any issues . And though the entire system doesn’t run for 24 hours daily, there are certain buses and train lines that do.
  • Our efficiency grade: A-


The winner: Chicago




City Population

New York City MTA

Boston MBTA

Chicago CTA