Exploring public transit options in sunny florida.

We love living in Florida, but we also understand the challenges and unique opportunities in Florida for public transportation.

We have lived in areas such as Chicago, Seattle, New York, and New Orleans. As a result, we have a good understanding of what high-quality public transit should look like.

As real estate professionals who’ve lived and traveled extensively throughout the Sunshine State, we’ve got a quality perspective on traveling through Florida without a car. And, well… it’s not always great (more on that below)

Whether you’re considering moving here or simply visiting, understanding the ins and outs of Florida’s public transportation system is essential.

Today, we’re diving deep into what it’s like to travel in some of Florida’s most popular cities: Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville.

So, buckle up as we explore your options of getting around in Florida without a car.

Does Florida Have Good Public Transportation? (Short Answer)

In short, yes and no.

If you are coming from a large city like New York or Chicago, you are going to be VERY disappointed. Florida has a very immature rail system and no subway systems.

Orlando’s Public Transportation

Orlando is one of the most visited cities in the world: Disney anyone???

But, how is the public transportation in Orlando? Well, it’s “okay”.

The LYNX bus service covers a vast area, making it a reliable option for daily commuters and tourists alike.

In fact, this is the most used public transit used in Orlando.

For those looking to explore downtown Orlando, the LYMMO Downtown Circulator is a free, efficient choice—but it’s still a bus system.

LYMMO

LineAreas ServedFrequency
OrangeCreative Village, LYNX Central Station, Downtown Orlando, and more.Every 8 mins during office hours, 15 mins otherwise.
GrapefruitParramore, Amway Center to Lake Eola, including Thornton Park and more.Every 8-10 mins during office hours, 15 mins otherwise.
LimeNorth Quarter, LYNX Central Station to Federal Courthouse, including Bob Carr Theatre and more.Every 15 mins during office hours, 20 mins otherwise.

SunRail stretches across four counties, providing a more extensive reach for longer commutes.

This is Orlando’s main train system which serves high traffic areas like Orlando International (MCO) and Orlando Executive (OEA).

The problem is that SunRail really only travels north and south through the city, so east-west cities don’t reap the benefits of public transport and these areas are expanding very quickly—which is a transit issue.

Map of the orlando area with various location markers indicating points of interest or destinations.
Sun Rail Map

Brightline

The good news is that the ongoing expansions like Brightline’s intercity express train make Orlando a very attractive city.

Brightline is a train system that connects Orlando to the South Florida are like Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Being able to jump on the train in Orlando and end up in South Florida in 2 hours is a good step in the right direction.

Orlando Public Transit Overview

  • LYNX Bus Service: The fare details were not explicitly provided in your text. However, LYNX typically offers various fare options, including single rides and passes.
  • LYMMO Downtown Circulator: This service is free, as mentioned.
  • SunRail: Specific fare details were not included, but SunRail fares are usually determined by the distance traveled.
  • Amtrak: Fares vary based on destination and booking specifics.
  • Brightline: Since construction for the Orlando expansion is set to begin, specific fare details for Orlando are not yet available.

Tampa’s Public Transportation

Tampa’s got its charm and it’s a city we visit the most because it’s so close to Orlando. However, getting around Tampa can be a little bit tricky.

And, getting around Tampa without a car can be tricky.

Let’s dive into the bus system first: Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART).

Much like Orlando, the bus system in Tampa is the backbone of Tampa’s public transit, stretching across the city and beyond.

HART has commuter routes, local routes, service to downtown Tampa, and service to the Airport.

Check out the map below of HART.

A detailed map of a public transportation system with multiple colored lines indicating different routes and stops.
HART Map

HART is what most locals rely on for their daily hustle. Sure, it’s a bus system, but it’s pretty big and, dare we say, dependable?

Nearly 35,000 people ride HART the +-170 buses each day.

Now, if you are in the heart of Tampa and want to take the scenic route, the TECO Line Streetcar is where it’s at.

The TECO line runs from Centennial Park Station all the way to the Tampa Convention Center area.

The stops are limited (11 stops), but they provide stops on a cool streetcar in the well known areas of Tampa.

Map of the teco streetcar system showing routes, stops, and points of interest.
Map of the teco streetcar system showing routes, stops, and points of interest.

This isn’t your average commute; it’s a ride with a view, connecting historic Ybor City to Channelside Bay Plaza.

Plus, it’s an easy hop to downtown dining, shopping, and entertainment spots. Think of it as Tampa’s version of New Orleans’s trolley system—fun but limited.

What about trains in Tampa?

Let’s talk trains. Or, the lack thereof.

Unlike Orlando with its SunRail, Tampa’s train game is more of a “maybe soon” situation. It doesn’t have a local train. It’s all buses and streetcars here for now.

While there is the Amtrak rail service, there aren’t any trains that connect you from neighborhood to neighborhood.

However, there are whispers of the Brightline expanding to Tampa and the conversations are getting louder.

It’s a real possibility with Brightline showing they can deliver with a route from Orlando to South Florida already active.

In theory, Brightline would connect Tampa to Orlando and South Florida via highspeed rail as reported by Fox News.

News headline discussing proposed legislation intended to accelerate the expansion of brightline high-speed rail service to tampa.
News headline discussing proposed legislation intended to accelerate the expansion of brightline high-speed rail service to tampa.

Imagine zipping to Orlando or Miami without battling I-4 or the Turnpike.

Now, that’s a step in the right direction. We would definitely wake up early in Orlando, jump on the train to Tampa, and be sitting on the beach by late morning.

Tampa Public Transit Overview:

  • HART 200 Bus Routes: Covering the Tampa Bay area.
  • TECO Line Streetcar: It’s more than just transportation; it’s an experience, with a side of convenience.
  • Tampa Union Station: For nationwide Amtrak rail services.

Miami’s Public Transportation

When discussing Florida transportation, Miami stands out. Its public transit system includes the Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus network.

The free Metromover is particularly beneficial for exploring downtown Miami’s attractions without spending any money. The Metromover is an automated people mover that provides service to downtown Miami, Omni, and Brickell.

Metrorail is a 25-mile dual track system serving Miami International Airport and running from Kendall to downtown Miami, with stops in other areas. It’s a real train, much like SunRail in Orlando.

It connects to Broward and Palm Beach counties at three stations: Historic Overtown Lyric Theatre, MIA, and Tri-Rail.

The Brightline train offers a modern, efficient alternative for inter-city travel or local commutes.

Think of Brightline like in between the Metrorail and Amtrak. It can take you from Miami to Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and all the way to Orlando.

It’s more of a local city to city train.

A metro train approaching a station platform.
Metrorail Courtesy of Flickr

The Metrobus operates an extensive network of over 95 routes, utilizing nearly 1,000 buses that cover a staggering distance of 29 million miles annually.

This large fleet of buses provides daily transportation services to countless commuters much like HART in Tampa or LYNX in Orlando.

The Miami Beach Trolley system as yet another public transportation option.

So, the Miami Beach trolley runs every 20 minutes between South Beach, Mid Beach, and North Beach. The Collins Express connects all the lines.

This is a great way to get around the Miami Beach area.

Miami Public Transportation Options

  • Metrorail: 25-mile elevated rail system.
  • Metromover: Free service around Downtown Miami and Brickell.
  • Metrobus: Extensive bus service across Miami-Dade County.
  • Brightline: High-speed train service within Miami and to other cities.
  • Miami Beach Trolley: Express service between the airport and Miami Beach.

Jacksonville’s Public Transportation

Like Miami, Jacksonville has some decent public transportation options.

Though, it’s biggest issue is with enough train options.

It makes sense, being that Jacksonville is the biggest city in Florida. Yah, we didn’t know that either before we moved to Florida.

The Jacksonville Skyway is a local monorail system with two tracks that runs from the Downtown area to La Villa and Johns River Avenue on the Southbank. It’s not a big train with many routes, but it can be useful. Unfortunately, there is no service to the airport.

The JTA (Jacksonville Transit Authority) provides regular bus, express bus, First Coast Flyer, trolley-replica buses, JTA Connexion for paratransit, St. Johns River Ferry, stadium shuttle, Park-n-Ride, and Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center services.

Consider the JTA as all encompassing commuter solution. It aims to offer a comprehensive and convenient commuting solution for residents and visitors alike.

The St. Johns River Taxi is a popular alternative for transportation along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. It’s not comprehensive, but if you are in the area, it’s scenic and fun.

It only provides stops at various waterfront destinations. You’ll know the river taxi’s by their distinctive yellow color.

  • Skyway: An automated monorail providing free rides in downtown Jacksonville.
  • Buses: More than 30 JTA bus routes throughout Jacksonville and to the beaches.
  • St. Johns River Taxi: Offers transportation and tours on the St. Johns River.

Does Jacksonville have high-speed rail?

No, not yet. But there are reports that the planning is underway.

According to the High Speed Rail Alliance, there are plans to connect Jacksonville to Daytona and Orlando. Once connected, you can continue from Orlando to Miami (Brightline) and potentially even Tampa in the future.

Map showing proposed high-speed and regional rail routes in the southeast united states.
Map showing proposed high-speed and regional rail routes in the southeast United States (High Speed Rail Alliance)

Comparing Florida’s Public Transportation to Other States

Florida’s public transportation, particularly its train and rail systems, serves as a crucial component of the state’s overall transit offerings.

When compared to the extensive and densely integrated rail networks of other major states, Florida’s systems pales in comparison.

Let’s look an example of the public train offerings of Orlando vs Chicago.

Chicago

  • Metra rail system: 11 lines, 242 stations, 487.5 route miles, 1,155 track miles.Metra, the primary commuter rail system serving the Chicago metropolitan area, operates 11 rail lines with 242 stations
  • The Chicago “L” is the rapid transit system in Chicago, serving the city and some suburbs with a total route length of 102.8 miles

Orlando

  • SunRail, the commuter rail system in the Orlando area, spans about 49 miles from DeBary in Volusia County to Poinciana in Osceola County with 16 stations.

U.S. Cities Rail System vs Florida Rail System

StateSystem NameCity/Area ServedTrack Length (approx.)
FloridaSunRailOrlando49 miles
FloridaMetrorailMiami25 miles
FloridaBrightlineMiami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach (to Orlando soon)70 miles (Miami to West Palm Beach)
New YorkMTA SubwayNew York City248 miles
CaliforniaBARTSan Francisco Bay Area131 miles
New JerseyNJ Transit RailNew Jersey, New York, Philadelphia531 miles
TexasDART RailDallas93 miles
Track Miles by City in America vs Florida

There is no doubt that Florida cities are expanding their offerings, but the heavy reliance on bus routes and minimal track coverage compared to other cities is a real challenge.

How is the Public Transportation from Florida Airports?

Florida’s major airports in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville offer efficient public transit options to and from the city centers.

Whether it’s the direct Metrorail connection at Miami International Airport or the variety of ground transportation choices at Jacksonville International Airport, travelers can expect convenient links to their destinations.

We love how easy it is to get to and from the airport in our city of Orlando.

We also love that we can easily drive to other airports in the state and have quality public transit.

Orlando International Airport (MCO):

  • SunRail: SunRail connects Greater Orlando area and can be reached from the airport by bus or shuttle, linking to downtown Orlando and other destinations.
  • LYNX Bus Service: Offers direct routes from MCO to various parts of Orlando and surrounding areas, serving as a cost-effective way to get into the city.

Miami International Airport (MIA):

  • Metrorail Orange Line: The connection from MIA to downtown Miami is convenient for travelers to reach the city center and transfer to other Metrorail lines for wider access.
  • Metrobus: Provides routes from MIA to various parts of Miami-Dade County, including popular destinations like Miami Beach.
  • Tri-Rail: Accessible via a short shuttle ride to the Tri-Rail/Metrorail transfer station, connecting passengers to Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Tampa International Airport:

  • HART: Tampa’s bus service is the primary way to commute to the airport.

Jacksonville International Airport (JAX):

  • JTA Bus Service: Offers routes connecting the airport with downtown Jacksonville and other parts of the city.

How Florida Public Transportation Can Improve

Well, the good news is we have seen plans come to life with Brightline.

But, there is no doubt that Florida’s public transportation landscape presents both opportunities and challenges.

As it stands, the state relies heavily on bus systems to connect people which is quite limiting to minimize commuter times.

This isn’t uncommon compared to many states, but it’s uncommon for states with massive populations (Florida is 3rd most populated).

While buses are a great component to any public transit system, Florida’s current model can’t compete with the public transit of New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

And maybe it’s goal isn’t to compete on that scale…

What I mean is that maybe Florida’s goal is to connect each city to each other to create a unified Floridian experience without the need for a long and expensive Amtrak voyage.

However, with Florida consistently ranking near the top of people moving to the state, Florida cities need to work together to provide better rail systems in the city centers and out to the suburbs.

Expanding Coverage and Enhancing Track Length

For more local city improvements, there’s a pressing need for expanded coverage and enhanced track length within urban rail systems.

Take, for example, the SunRail in Orlando, which primarily runs north-south. While it serves as a vital role for commuters traveling in these directions, the absence of east-west connections limits its utility for a significant portion of the metropolitan area.

We love living in west Orlando, but we are really missing train convenience to downtown Orlando.

I know residents in Tampa and Jacksonville feel the same way with limited train options.

The Future of Brightline

We are really excited about Brightline. It stands at the forefront of our public transit transformation.

What’s great is that its already begun to change the narrative around Florida public transit by offering high-speed connections between key cities such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, and Orlando.

And as we mentioned above, there are rumors to connect Tampa and Jacksonville.

A state that is fully connected to high speed rail would be sensational and open up many options around where to live and work and play.

And, maybe that is where Florida hangs its hat?

The ability to jump on a train one great city like Orlando and land in another great city like Miami in a few hours is amazing.

Reducing Reliance on Bus Systems

While buses will always play an essential role in Florida’s public transportation system, reducing the state’s reliance on them by developing an expansive rail network is key.

Here’s the deal—buses are slow. And people more than ever want to spend more time with their families.

Cities with comprehensive train and subway systems offer faster, more reliable, and efficient services that can accommodate higher passenger volumes.

Florida needs to make this infrastructure investment if it wants to compete with top tier American cities. We already have the beaches, why not trains?

Can I live in Florida Without a Car?

Living in Florida without a car is challenging. You really have to be in the right city to make this happen.

The limitations of short track lengths and the concentrated nature of train services in specific neighborhoods significantly impact the feasibility of a car-free lifestyle, especially when compared to the more expansive and integrated systems found in cities like Chicago.

You may be able to get away with a car-free life in you live in downtown Orlando, Tampa, or Miami—but keep in mind these train options are very limited and you’ll most likely be relying on bus transportation.

For example, Miami-Dade County spans over 2,000 square miles, yet its Metrorail system covers only about 25 miles of track.

This issue highlights the gap between the potential for comprehensive coverage and the reality of current transit options.

If you want to live in the suburbs car free—good luck!

Unlike Florida, cities like Chicago or New York have developed public transportation systems that effectively support urban sprawl and a car-free lifestyle in the suburbs.

Chicago’s Metra rail system reaches into all major suburbs, providing a lifeline for suburban residents to access the city center without a car.

But most Florida cities do not provide train coverage from the city centers to the suburbs. In fact, most Florida transit via train is engineered to support city-related tourist hubs.

Even if we compare big economic hubs like Miami to Atlanta, you’ll see that Metrorail (Miami) only has 25 miles of track while MARTA (Atlanta) has nearly double the coverage at 49 miles.

Conclusion

Living in Florida has been a ride—sometimes literally.

Having seen what cities like Chicago and New York offer in terms of getting around, it’s clear Florida’s still figuring things out.

We’ve got buses for days, but when it comes to trains? Not so much.

But hey, there’s a bit of hope on the horizon with Brightline.

Florida’s got the sunshine and the beaches down pat. Now, if we could just get the train part sorted, we’d be golden.

The idea of hopping on a train to hit up another city sounds awesome. But until we get more rails laid down, it’s a bit of a tough sell for anyone wanting to ditch their car.

Here’s to hoping Florida’s public transport future is as bright as its sunny days.