Car ownership costs continue to rise. According to AAA, the average annual cost of owning a vehicle rose to $9,280 in 2019 — the highest cost since 1950. Rising finance costs fueled much of that increase, but owning a car also requires fuel and maintenance, car insurance, and parking.
In 2015, a study by Kansas State University found that student parking permits ranged in cost from $80 per semester to almost $400. In many urban areas, students pay a premium for a parking space. Some schools, including Georgetown University, don't allow on-campus parking for undergraduate students.
Fortunately, you don't need a car to enjoy your college experience. Below, learn about the best cities for students without cars.
Our methodology considered each city's walkability score by Walk Score, which is awarded out of 100. Their advisory board includes experts in urban planning. The availability of public transit services and bike-friendly infrastructure and policies also impacted rankings. Other factors included educational opportunity and the cost of living.
Top Cities for Students Without Cars
Ithaca, New York
Students at Cornell University and Ithaca College enjoy a community easily navigated by foot. The city covers about six square miles, and more than 40% of residents report commuting to work on foot.
The city has also improved bicycling opportunities by creating dedicated bike lanes, although most city streets use a shared roadway. Cyclists can find hundreds of bike parking locations throughout the city.
The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit operates 37 bus routes, serving Ithaca, the Cornell campus, and surrounding areas. Students can connect their student IDs to pay for bus fares, with free rides after 6 p.m. during the week and anytime on weekends.
Traffic jams and lack of available parking make owning a car inconvenient in Boston. However, the city offers many ways to get around for the tens of thousands of college students who flock there each semester.
The city boasts a high walkability score thanks to its compact size, many sidewalks, and maps showing walking routes. WalkBoston advocates for continued improvements for the city's many walkers. Dining, entertainment, and recreation are available within a short walk of many neighborhoods and college campuses.
Boston Bikes helps promote biking and cycling infrastructure. The city continues to add bike lanes throughout Boston, and a bike-share program makes more than 2,000 bikes available to the public.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates a network of subway lines, buses, a light rail, and ferries, expanding access to the suburbs and beyond. College students can purchase a semester pass for discounted fares.
More than 300,000 college students attend a college or university in the greater Philadelphia region, but only a fraction of those students bring a car to school. The city's public transportation services, walking trails, and bike lanes make it easy to get where you want to go.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority operates bus lines, trolleys, and trains. Many buses offer 24-hour service, and most buses and trolleys accommodate bicycles on board.
New York City, New York
New York City continues to expand sustainable travel options for residents. A 2018 report found 62% of trips in the city took place by walking, biking, or public transportation.
Students can easily walk around their college campuses, with more than 50 colleges in the city. Most streets offer dining opportunities, and parks provide green spaces for casual strolls. Additionally, the city continues to open more streets to pedestrian-only traffic.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) serves a 5,000-square-mile travel area, with a combination of bus, subway, and rail services. Residents, commuters, and tourists make more than 2.6 billion trips with the MTA each year.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is home to the iconic cable cars, but its public transportation network extends beyond that service. Hybrid buses, streetcars, and trolleys make it easy to navigate many neighborhoods throughout the city. Additionally, the light rail system includes more than 70 miles of track.
Walking is a primary mode of transportation for a large percentage of the more than one million people in the city each day. City planners continue to innovate to make it easier for students and residents to enjoy the city's streets, with parklets and investments in safer intersections and crosswalks throughout the area.
Additionally, the demand for biking infrastructure continues to grow. The city has responded with new bikeways, more bike parking, and expanded bike-share services.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Jersey City, with nine colleges, is a vibrant area with entertainment, recreation, and cultural opportunities. It's also just a short train ride to all the amenities found in New York City.
The New Jersey Transit System's network of trains, buses, and light rail make it easy to get across the city or state. Jersey City recently launched an on-demand public transportation system in partnership with Via — a ride-share company.
The city wants to get cars off the roads and increase mobility in all neighborhoods of the growing community. To that end, the city continues to enhance walkability. Many residents already walk to work or to neighborhood shops and restaurants.
Several neighborhoods in Miami make it easy to walk while completing your errands, doing your shopping, and enjoying dining. Local colleges include the University of Miami in Coral Gables and Florida International University. Sidewalks, paved paths, and pedestrian signals help students navigate the city.
Miami-Dade Transit helps connect neighborhoods and features more than 95 bus routes. These buses work in tandem with the above-ground Metrorail and Metromover trains. Metrorail features 25 miles of track around the city. Metromover and trolleys offer free service for residents and tourists.
Chicago's pedestrian-friendly downtown and robust public transit system make it easy for the city's 2.6 million residents to get where they need to go without a car.
The Chicago L — an elevated rapid-transit system — extends 222 miles on eight train lines, making it simple to get around the city. The L connects with the Chicago Transit Authority's fleet of more than 2,000 buses serving about 12,000 bus stops.
Chicago has developed a pedestrian plan to make it safer and more enjoyable to walk around the city. A recent project repurposed an old rail line as a recreational trail connecting Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and Bucktown. The city also continues to encourage biking by providing new bike parking areas, a bike commuter map, and more bike lanes.
From the National Mall to a quiet neighborhood bakery, you can walk where you need to go in Washington, D.C. The city's original design featured a grid network of streets, making it easy to find your way around on foot. As traffic continues to grow in the District of Columbia, the city has expanded efforts to improve pedestrian crossings and install better sidewalks on popular routes.
Biking has grown in popularity thanks to encouragement from city officials and nonprofit organizations. Bike lanes, bike parking, and bike trails all make it easier to visit a business or take a leisure ride in the city.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority helps connect pedestrians with other parts of the region through subways, buses, and trains. Union Station connects the city's system with intercity buses and regional commuter trains.
Seattle leaders want to build on the city's pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with safer traffic crossings, more sidewalks, and maps that make it easy to plan your route. Greenway development and street calming help citizens feel safer while walking to and from classes or work.
The city also operates a public transportation system that is integrated with regional transportation authorities. Streetcars serve two routes and connect to King County Metro buses, Sound Transit light rail and buses, and the Seattle Center Monorail. The West Seattle water taxi also offers access to downtown's waterfront district.
The city also encourages biking through the development of bike lanes and parking facilities. The bike program has mapped popular bike commute routes.
Minneapolis encourages pedestrians to use area greenways, with sidewalks available on 92% of city streets. The city's unique Skyway System connects buildings in 80 city blocks with enclosed pedestrian bridges.
The Metro Transit system operates more than 120 bus routes across the city. Bus-only shoulders allow buses to bypass traffic snarls and keep their schedules. A light rail system with six lines connects neighborhoods with rapid transit service.
The nonprofit Nice Ride bike-share program offers bikes and scooters at more than 400 locations around the city. This seasonal service closes for the winter but offers single-ride, daily, and annual subscription options.
Portland stays ahead of traffic growth by regularly improving its public transit systems, protected bike lanes, and miles of pedestrian walkways.
TriMet operates about 80 bus lines and more than 680 buses. The MAX light rail system offers five lines and more than 60 miles of track. Additionally, streetcars provide convenient transportation in the downtown area.
The 2015 construction of Tilikum Crossing added better access to several colleges and the east side of the city, with dedicated use by transit vehicles, bikers, and walkers. The city also offers multiple recreation opportunities for walkers, such as the Hoyt Arboretum and Mt. Tabor Park.
St. Louis, Missouri
Downtown St. Louis offers easy access to shopping, dining, business, and education opportunities for walkers and bikers. Public transportation helps expand access to these resources in outlying areas.
A growing number of St. Louis residents seek new ways to commute, such as biking or walking. Local governments, state agencies, and nonprofits formed the Gateway Bike Plan in 2012 to spur improvements like dedicated bike lanes and secure bike parking. They also mapped routes to find connections to hundreds of miles of bike corridors.
Metro Transit provides bus and light rail service to the city and surrounding area. More than 75 bus routes connect to the two light rail lines.
Several Baltimore neighborhoods offer highly walkable communities, such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore; Mount Vernon; and the downtown area. You can easily walk to restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques. The Jones Falls Trail — a nine-mile multi-use path — offers off-street biking and walking from the Inner Harbor to the Cylburn Arboretum.
The Jones Falls Trail also offers bus and rail service access from the Maryland Transit Administration. More than 80 buses operate on the city's streets, with light rail, subways, and trains enhancing resident mobility. This system also connects to other transit agencies, including those in the District of Columbia, south-central Pennsylvania, and northern Virginia.
Burlington encourages residents to use sidewalks and bike paths to get around. New crosswalks, extended sidewalk coverage, and street calming help pedestrians make their way from residential areas to the city's business district.
The Burlington Greenway offers eight miles of paved biking and walking paths along the Lake Champlain waterfront. A network of trails connects numerous parks around the community.
Green Mountain Transit offers bus service in the area, connecting Burlington with Essex, South Burlington, St. Albans, and other outlying areas. The network of routes includes local fixed routes, express routes, and commuter routes.
How Many College Students Don't Have a Car?
Many students may dream of packing up their car and driving off to college as their parents wave in the rearview mirror. However, the cost of car ownership and the hassle of on-campus parking keeps many students from bringing their own car to college.
According to AAA, about half of students leave their cars at home when they leave for college. However, that number varies dramatically based on school policies and the transportation services available. Some schools, such as The Pennsylvania State University, prohibit on-campus parking for first-year resident students.
Several schools in large cities do not offer student parking. Georgetown University students who want to park in the District of Columbia, for example, must pay high monthly parking rates. Parkopedia found monthly parking costs averaged $274 in the city.
How Can Students Get Around a City Without a Car?
Cities across the country have recognized the need for sustainable transportation. Many have responded by implementing policies and projects that encourage walking, biking, and using public transit.
Reach out to your local transportation department for available resources, such as maps, schedules, and fare cards. Study the maps to determine the best route to get to class, to run errands, and to enjoy a night on the town. Note what times buses or trains stop running to avoid a long walk or an expensive cab ride home.
Also, check for discounts available to college students. Cities may offer reduced fare cards for students during the semester.
What Is the Cheapest Form of Transportation for Students?
Walking requires little investment beyond a good pair of shoes and a sturdy backpack. However, walking can take longer than public transit or biking, so you should plan your schedule to allow for additional transit time.
Walking does expose you to the elements. If you're a regular walker, you may want to invest in a good coat for the winter, waterproof boots, and an umbrella.
Biking can also be economical. If you bike often, purchasing a bike will save you money compared to ongoing bike share costs. Keep your bike secure and well maintained to protect your investment.
Is It Worth Having a Car in College?
Having a car in college can make it easier to return home for visits or escape the city for recreational opportunities. However, those conveniences often come with a hefty price tag, especially in cities where parking space is at a premium. If you choose a school in a good city for students without cars, you can get through your college days without a personal vehicle.
With a little planning and a willingness to bike or walk to class, you can save on parking costs, gas, insurance, and car maintenance. The best cities for students without cars help you avoid car-related costs, boasting walkable streets and ample infrastructure for bikes and buses.