The number of student transportation options available to you once you are in the United States are several. Depending on where you live, some of these student transportation options are more practical than others. If you are living on campus, you may find that most everything you need is within walking distance. You may only occasionally have to leave your school campus and use one of the modes of transportation discussed below.
Sometimes a bicycle may be all the transportation you need. Some school campuses, particularly in rural areas, are very large and most students will use their bicycles daily to get to and from classes. School campuses in urban areas will have numerous businesses, shops, restaurants, and entertainment options within relatively short distances which are easily traveled by bicycle. If your school is located in a suburban area, you may find that there are fewer establishments within a short bicycle ride from your school. However, if you need to travel longer distances, there are often public buses and trains that will accommodate bicycles on board. Keep in mind that if you live in a location that has snow in the winter, you may need to rely on other forms of transportation during that time of the year.
In addition to a bicycle, you will also need a strong, reliable bicycle lock. Bicycle theft is common, particularly around college campuses. Keep in mind that some states now have mandatory helmet laws for bicycles. And even if you do not live in such a state, it is an excellent idea to always wear a helmet for your safety.
Almost all cities in the United States provide very affordable bus service. Depending on the city, however, buses may or may not be very efficient and convenient. If you are living in a major city, you will be able to get anywhere within that city by bus. If you live in a small city or suburb, there will be fewer bus routes, and the service will be less frequent. Also the hours of operation may be shorter. Buses run at regular intervals according to a schedule which can be obtained from the authority that operates the service. These intervals may be as short as five minutes, or as long as 30 minutes, depending on the route and the time of day. Typically, only large cities provide 24-hour bus service. You can also get maps of all the bus routes from the operating authority.
You cannot obtain change on a bus, so you will need to have the exact amount of cash for your fare before you board. Sometimes fares are lower for students (be prepared to show a student identification card). If you will be using buses frequently, you should consider purchasing a monthly bus pass. A monthly bus pass allows you to travel as many times as you like during that month for a fixed price.
Buses do not stop at every stop. They will only stop if someone is waiting on the road at the bus stop, or if one of the passengers has requested a stop. The normal mechanism for requesting a stop is to pull on a cord that runs the length of the bus. There will then be some light or sign that indicates a stop has been requested. If you need any assistance or information while riding the bus, ask the driver.
Trains and subways
Most major cities provide public transportation in the form of train service. The trains may run above ground, below ground, or both. They are called by different names in different cities, such as metro, subway, rapid transit, and light rail. Trains will get you where you are going faster than buses, but they make fewer stops. If there is not a train station or stop close to your school, you may have to use a bus or bicycle to get there. Trains also tend to run more frequently than buses, and may have longer hours of operation. Depending on where you live, you may find them more convenient.
In most train systems you must purchase a token or card before boarding. There are usually automated machines where you can purchase your cards, as well as cashiers who can make change for you. The price of the fare usually depends on the time of day and on the distance you are traveling.
Taxis (or cabs) are normally only used for occasional, longer trips. They are much more expensive than public transportation, but also much cheaper than owning and maintaining a car. You are most likely to use them for trips to and from the airport, or for shopping trips where you may have too many items to carry conveniently on a train or bus. You may also choose to use a taxi for safety when you are going somewhere late at night.
Unless you live downtown in a major city, you will not be able to simply walk out on the street and find a taxi. You will have to call a taxi company and request that a taxi come pick you up. Depending on the time of day and where you live, this could take up to 40 minutes or more. You can also arrange to have a taxi come pick you up at a specific time by calling in advance. You can find phone numbers of taxi companies in the local telephone directory.
Taxis run on meters. The fares are regulated by the city. Do not ride in a taxi if the meter is not functioning and the driver offers you a flat rate instead. There may be additional charges for travel to or from the airport, and for large pieces of luggage. These charges are also regulated and will be posted inside the taxi. If the taxi travels on a toll road or bridge, the cost of the toll will be added to the fare. It is customary to tip a taxi driver between 10% and 20% of the cost of the fare.
You will probably not need to purchase a car while living in the United States unless you live far from campus. While very convenient, cars are expensive to maintain and only make sense financially if you use them frequently. In some cities, it can be difficult to find parking, and free parking spaces may be very limited. Consider carefully whether a car is really worthwhile before purchasing one.
You must have a valid driver's license to not only drive, but also to own, a car. Each state issues its own driver's license, although you can drive in any state with a license from any other. Most states will not allow you to drive with your own country's driver's license. Even if you have an international driver's license, which is allowed, it is a good idea to obtain a local license. That is because the driving laws and regulations in the United States are different from those in your own country, and by studying for a local driving test you will learn them well.
Almost every state requires car owners to obtain car insurance. There are minimum requirements of coverage which you must pay for. Even if you do not live in a state that requires insurance, it is an extremely good idea to purchase insurance for your protection.
Driver's licenses and car registrations are issued by the state's department of motorized vehicles. You can locate the office that is closest to you by searching for it on the internet or in the local telephone directory. Contact the office to find out the requirements for obtaining a driver's license and registering a vehicle. You may also find all the information you need in the department's web site.