Getting Around in Philadelphia

Getting around in Philadelphia is usually easy. Most of the city follows a grid plan where roads running north-south are numbered, while east-west running streets are often named around a central theme.

Philly is famous for being one of the last American cities to still make use of streetcars, or trams, and it is said that more people walk to work in Philadelphia than in any other major North American city. This is perhaps part of the reason why the city has one of the lowest congestion figures of the USA’s 10 largest metropolitan areas; although, as with any other city, peak times are busy. 

Public transport in Philadelphia is easily accessible and there is a wide range of options available. Expats can look forward to a comprehensive railway system, inner-city subways and buses.


Public transport in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has one of the best public transport networks in the USA and, even on the busiest commutes, the city’s historic, leafy atmosphere provide a beautifully distracting backdrop.

The sixth largest transit system in the USA, public transport in Philadelphia is administered by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). 

Paying for trains, subways and trams in Philadelphia can be done by buying tickets for each of them, although SEPTA offers a variety of options such as tokens and passes. There is also the Independence Pass which allows commuters access to all modes of public transport for one day, presenting an opportunity for new arrivals to get to know the city’s public transport system a bit better.

Trains

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.

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 from New Jersey to Center City.

Subway

The subway in Philadelphia is simple, given that most of the city’s rail lines are above ground. The Broad Street 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.

Buses

Catching a bus in Philadelphia is easy. SEPTA’s bus routes serve a number of city neighbourhoods and destinations across southeastern Pennsylvania. Many of the buses in Philadelphia run for 24 hours along SEPTA’s Night Owl bus routes.
 
Using buses to travel between Philadelphia and cities such as New York is becoming increasingly popular. While Greyhound remains one of the most popular options, a number of discount bus carriers in Philadelphia offer inter-city bus services.

Trolleys

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 the 19th century. The five existing “Green Lines”, as the tram routes in Philadelphia are called, operate at street-level and use the subway system in Center City, connecting it to the western suburbs.


Taxis in Philadelphia

Expats 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 popular destinations such as bars and tourist attractions, although the most reliable option is reserving a cab online or by telephone. It should be noted that taxis from the airport charge a flat rate and, to ensure that the shortest route is taken, expats should plan their route before catching a cab in Philly.


Driving in Philadelphia

Owning a car in Philadelphia is not 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 is not expired. After a year, expats wanting to drive in Philadelphia will have to apply for a local licence. 

Congestion in Philadelphia is low compared to cities like New York and Los Angeles, although the city’s major routes still get busy. As with many other major cities, parking is a problem. It should also be noted that the city is known for having some of the worst drivers in the USA. As such, expats are advised to exercise caution, patience and defensive driving.


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. Expats walking around this area of Philadelphia will notice a host of quirky “Walk! Philadelphia” signs to guide them around, as well as uniformed guides posted by the city to help strolling tourists and new inhabitants. The abundance of parks in the city also provides many a leafy spot to rest.


Airports in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is the largest in Pennsylvania. PHL is situated on the edge of the Delaware River, which separates Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There are several transport options available from the airport. The SEPTA Airport Regional Rail line runs every 30 minutes between PHL and Center City and it is possible to take a bus along one of three routes from the airport to the city or the western suburbs.