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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Catching a Ride

There are few things more frustrating for a traveler than being in a new city without a way to get around and see it. Sure, many smaller towns are making themselves more walkable, but if the weather’s bad or mobility is limited, having public transportation is a blessing. Like their big-city counterparts, a good number of mid-size cities offer low-cost and even no-cost downtown transportation options that allow locals and visitors to easily trek from one end of town to the other. Here are a few examples — and it is by no means a comprehensive list. Most of these shuttles also make sure they are accessible to all.


Green Going

Chattanooga, home to the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo, was on board early with electric transportation. Way back in 1992, the Downtown Electric Shuttle rolled out, and these nifty shuttle buses have been workhorses ever since, looping around the city’s long and skinny downtown. The free ride is perfect for taking those who meet at the Chattanooga Convention Center down the one-mile stretch to the heart of downtown along the Tennessee River. The shuttle stops every block, so passengers can check out food and fun along the way. The route stretches another half mile south beyond the convention center to the former Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel (now called the Hotel Chalet, with 127 rooms including 25 in nicely restored Victorian rail cars). The shuttle runs later on weekends, and the buses roll by every 10 minutes.

Scenery Shuttles

One upside to public shuttles in heavily visited scenic areas is a decrease in pollution that can result when fewer cars are on the roads. That’s part of the motivation for boosting public transportation in at least two mountain destinations that are also popular meeting spots. In Pigeon Forge, the gateway to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the city opened a new mass transit center a couple of years ago so it could expand the existing low-fee trolley system. It’s estimated that the expansion will allow it to serve millions more riders and keep more cars parked instead of creating traffic jams that clog roads in high season. In Colorado Springs, Colorado, a free electric shuttle bus launched in mid-2022, and there are plans to expand its routes in phases. Among its downtown stops is the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. With service every 10 minutes, the shuttle was designed to make seeing downtown easier in this fast-growing city, where  the population is expected to surpass that of Denver by 2050.

Circuit Cities

What’s bigger than a bike but smaller than a bus? A Circuit. These small electric vehicles are like mini cabs, with a driver, several seats for passengers and minimal fares. Like motorized scooter companies Spin, Bird and others, Circuit is popping up in cities all over, already in 30 markets in the most populous states, including New York, California, Texas and Florida. In Long Beach, California, the shared ride vehicles zip around the downtown waterfront, whisking passengers from the Long Beach Convention Center to restaurants, bars and shops. Financial support from cities and advertisers allows Circuit to keep fares low, never more than $3 per person and sometimes free. Like Uber or Lyft, passengers use an app. Similarly, Freebee, a south Florida electric transport company, uses GEM (Global Electric Motorcars) to shuttle visitors around a downtown service area. Customers can catch a ride by using the Ride Freebee app, calling a toll-free number or flagging down a Freebee driver.

Multiple Movers

Mid-size cities show us there’s more than one way to move people around lively downtowns. In Savannah, Georgia, one of the country’s hottest destinations, transportation options make it easier to enjoy the historic downtown, especially when temperatures climb and it’s easy to sweat while standing still. A passenger ferry, called the Savannah Belles in honor of strong women who shaped the city, shuttles convention goers across the Savannah River to downtown from the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center on Hutchinson Island. On land, the city’s express shuttle makes more than 30 stops around the historic district. The ferry and shuttle are free. Visitors to Scottsdale, Arizona, can tour the town on free motorized trolleys that cover three routes. The Grapevine, Texas’s visitors shuttle does much the same. In Jacksonville, Florida, a 2.5-mile monorail system is free and connects the Southbank to the Northbank. And, in Portland, Oregon, and Tacoma, Washington, light rail serves locals and guests. Portland’s system has more than 90 stops, including those throughout downtown and at the convention center and airport.

Networked Neighborhoods

In some towns, free shuttles connect multiple entertainment districts. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) makes more than two dozen stops, including the convention center and the Arena and Museum districts, in a downtown bursting with some 140 restaurants. In Wichita, Kansas, entertainment districts, museums and other attractions are the jewels strung along the free Q-line Shuttle’s three-mile route. A longtime shuttle system on the Ohio-Kentucky border ties together those states and three cities, Newport and Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. The shuttle crosses back and forth across the Ohio River as it loops through convention and entertainment districts in both states. Along its route are the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, as well as sports stadiums, bars, restaurants and museums. The shuttle isn’t free, but at $1 a ride or $3.50 for a day pass, it’s close.