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Best Airports for Transit – Global and U.S. 2017 Rankings

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Taxi or train? Uber or bus?

For travelers seeking the best way to and from the airport, it’s a deceptively complex question. The answer boils down to a combination of time, money and convenience, but those factors aren’t always easily measured.

Sure, having someone drive you door to door is convenient…but not if you get caught in traffic for an extra hour. And, yes, a train directly to the airport sounds fast…but what if you spend 40 minutes waiting for that train?

And, of course: cost, convenience and speed of public transportation vary widely by city.

So we at CompareCards.com decided to compile the data, and rank the best and worst transit options to the world’s 50 busiest airports, as well as the 50 busiest airports within the United States.

How’d we do it? We examined four factors:

  • Time saved versus driving, calculated via a simple comparison of driving and transit travel time from the airport to the main city station used by the airport transit service. We used timetables for each service for transit travel times, and Google Maps estimates for driving times at noon on a weekday.
  • Cost, which varies from free (Boston’s Silver Line) to $33 one way (London’s Heathrow Express).
  • Frequency, or the number of times the train or bus service departs each day.
  • Convenience, which examines infrastructure-related factors that might create (or erase) extra hassle: Do riders need to transfer from one train (or bus) to another? Do travelers need to hassle with dragging bags down the aisle, or will they be on a dedicated airport line with easily accessible luggage storage?

Each category is worth 25 points, for a highest possible score of 100. No airport nabbed a perfect 100, but some came pretty close. You can read full details on our methodology at the end of this report.

Global Rankings – Best airport transit

It’s little surprise that Asian airports nabbed four of the world’s top five spots, given the area’s ongoing investment in transportation infrastructure and the fact that several of its cities are large and traffic-congested. United States cities, sadly, didn’t crack the top five (more on U.S. airports in a bit).

RankAirportServiceTotal ScoreTransit Time (minutes)Drive Time (minutes)% Faster / (Slower) than DrivingFare (USD)Departures per WeekdayConvenience
1Tokyo - HanedaTokyo Monorail8024254%$4.00250Direct with Luggage Storage
2DelhiAirport Express Line76214553%$1.0096Direct with Luggage Storage
3Shanghai - PudongShanghai Maglev7485084%$7.0051Direct with Luggage Storage
4Shanghai - HongqiaoShanghai Metro Line 273324020%$0.75236Subway / Light Rail, direct
5AmsterdamSprinter / Intercity71162536%$4.40148Train, direct
6AtlantaMARTA Red / Orange Line69172326%$2.50192Subway / Light Rail, direct
7Hong KongAirport Express67243429%$13.00115Direct with Luggage Storage
8Kuala LumpurKLIA Ekspres66285044%$12.0069Direct with Luggage Storage
8SydneyAirport Link66132343%$13.00128Train, direct
10FrankfurtS8/S965111839%$5.0084Train, direct
10IstanbulMetro M165303412%$1.00167Subway / Light Rail, direct
10London - GatwickGatwick Express65308063%$25.0081Direct with Luggage Storage
13BeijingBeijing Airport Express63162843%$3.5099Subway / Light Rail, direct
14Chicago - O'HareCTA Blue Line624039-3%$2.25177Subway / Light Rail, direct
14Mexico CityMetro Line 5 (transfer to Line 1)62385024%$0.25216Subway / Light Rail, transfer
14Paris - Charles De GaulleRER B62324020%$11.00121Train, direct
14SeoulKTN62435826%$7.0029Direct with Luggage Storage
18GuangzhouGuangzhou Metro Line 3615545-22%$1.30200Subway / Light Rail, direct
18ShenzhenMetro Line 1161253529%$3.00102Subway / Light Rail, direct
18London - HeathrowHeathrow Express61154567%$33.0075Direct with Luggage Storage
21TorontoUnion Pearson Express6025250%$9.0078Direct with Luggage Storage
21RomeLeonardo Express60324325%$15.0057Direct with Luggage Storage
21DenverUniversity of Colorado A Line6037381%$9.0072Direct with Luggage Storage
24New York - KennedyJFK Airtrain / Long Island Railroad58405830%$15.00186Train, transfer
25MinneapolisMETRO Blue Line5723230%$1.75109Subway / Light Rail, direct
26BangkokCity Line5423230%$1.2577Subway / Light Rail, direct
26SingaporeMRT East West Line543423-48%$1.17169Subway / Light Rail, direct
28MunichS1 / S8534638-23%$13.00122Train, direct
29Tokyo - NaritaNarita Express5260658%$26.0060Direct with Luggage Storage
30SeattleLink Light Rail503322-50%$3.00142Subway / Light Rail, direct
31BarcelonaR2472720-35%$3.0035Train, direct
31MadridC1 Line473122-41%$1.9437Train, direct
31DubaiDubai Metro Red Line472315-53%$1.65102Subway / Light Rail, direct
34Dallas - Fort WorthDART Orange Line434225-68%$2.5074Subway / Light Rail, direct
34San FranciscoBART432921-38%$8.9575Subway / Light Rail, direct
36NewarkNewark AirTrain / New Jersey Transit424240-5%$13.0077Train, transfer
37MiamiOrange Line412118-17%$2.2084Subway / Light Rail, transfer
38PhoenixValley Metro Rail362517-47%$2.0088Subway / Light Rail, transfer
39CharlotteCATS Sprinter341917-12%$2.0049Bus only
39Los AngelesLAX FlyAway3435388%$9.7548Bus only
41Las VegasWestcliff Airport Express281412-17%$6.0023Bus only
42Houston - BushBush IAH Express275330-80%$1.2552Bus only
43OrlandoLynx Route 11254329-51%$2.0033Bus only
44KunmingUnder construction0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit
44TaipeiUnder construction0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit
44ChengduNone0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit
44JakartaNone0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit
44ManilaNone0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit
44MumbaiNone0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit
44Sao PauloNone0N/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANo transit

Score factors

RankAirportServiceTotal ScoreSpeed vs Driving ScoreFare ScoreFrequency ScoreConvenience Score
1Tokyo - HanedaTokyo Monorail8010232125
2DelhiAirport Express Line762025725
3Shanghai - PudongShanghai Maglev742522325
4Shanghai - HongqiaoShanghai Metro Line 27313252015
5AmsterdamSprinter / Intercity7117231220
6AtlantaMARTA Red / Orange Line6915241615
7Hong KongAirport Express671519925
8Kuala LumpurKLIA Ekspres661819425
8SydneyAirport Link6618191020
9IstanbulMetro M16512251415
9London - GatwickGatwick Express652213525
13BeijingBeijing Airport Express631823715
14Chicago - O'HareCTA Blue Line629241415
14Mexico CityMetro Line 5 (transfer to Line 1)621425185
14Paris - Charles De GaulleRER B621320920
18GuangzhouGuangzhou Metro Line 3615241715
18ShenzhenMetro Line 11611524715
18London - HeathrowHeathrow Express61229525
21TorontoUnion Pearson Express601021525
21RomeLeonardo Express601418325
21DenverUniversity of Colorado A Line601021525
24New York - KennedyJFK Airtrain / Long Island Railroad5815181510
25MinneapolisMETRO Blue Line571024815
26BangkokCity Line541024515
26SingaporeMRT East West Line540241415
28MunichS1 / S853519920
29Tokyo - NaritaNarita Express521112325
30SeattleLink Light Rail500241115
31MadridC1 Line47224120
31DubaiDubai Metro Red Line47024715
34Dallas - Fort WorthDART Orange Line43024515
34San FranciscoBART43221515
36NewarkNewark AirTrain / New Jersey Transit42919510
37MiamiOrange Line4162465
38PhoenixValley Metro Rail3612465
39CharlotteCATS Sprinter3472420
39Los AngelesLAX FlyAway34112020
41Las VegasWestcliff Airport Express2862200
42Houston - BushBush IAH Express2702430
43OrlandoLynx Route 112502410
44KunmingUnder construction00000
44TaipeiUnder construction00000
44Sao PauloNone00000

The best

1. Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport


This elevated option is actually just one minute faster than driving (24 minutes versus 25). But it scored a perfect 25 points in the convenience category, thanks to handy luggage storage and direct service to the city center. And, since the Monorail runs 250 times each weekday, maximum wait time is about five and a half minutes. Not included in our calculation, but a nice bonus nonetheless, is the elevated line’s excellent views of Tokyo Bay.

While the Tokyo Hamamatsucho station the Monorail leads to isn’t perfectly centrally located, it’s as good a jumping off point to the rest of Tokyo as the destination stations of other airport lines are to their city centers.

2. Delhi Metro Airport Express Line to Indira Gandhi International Airport


Launched in 2011, this train to and from Delhi’s international airport is almost everything public transportation should be. It’s 53 percent faster than driving, thanks to few stops,  includes convenient luggage storage on train cars dedicated to airport service and costs about one U.S. dollar. Delhi would’ve been number one on our global list if it had closer to 150 trains a day instead of the 95 or so it operates now.

3. Shanghai Maglev Train (SMT) to Shanghai Pudong International Airport


The much-hyped Maglev (which stands for magnetic levitation) is yet another direct-to-airport train with designated luggage areas. Most importantly, though: It’s the fastest public-transportation option on our list, reaching speeds of up to 267 miles per hour. SMT takes just 8 minutes from the city center to the airport, which is a whopping 84 percent faster than the average drive time of 50 minutes. SMT did, however, lose a few points for only having 51 departures per weekday, with 20 minute waits between trains during parts of the day, and no service after 10pm.

4. Shanghai Metro to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport


Locally known as Line 2, this isn’t a designated airport train but is a subway line to and from Shanghai’s city center. It’s no surprise that the Metro is significantly slower than the Maglev, but at 32 minutes it’s still 20 percent faster than a taxi ride from the airport on Shanghai’s congested streets. It might not be as sexy as its magnetic neighbor, but Line 2 beats the Maglev in both frequency (236 departures per weekday) and price (75 cents).

5. Intercity / Sprinter to Amsterdam Schiphol


Travelers to Schiphol love taking the train for two main reasons. First, the station is located just under the terminal, a quick elevator ride away. Second is the free luggage carts available to all riders. Beyond that, the Sprinter earns high marks in our survey for its relatively low fare (just under $4.50) and direct service to the city center. The 16 minute ride may not be every traveler’s definition of a sprinter, but it beats driving by about 11 minutes.

The worst:

6 airports have no reliable public transportation from the airport to city center. Among the rest that do have an option, Orlando, Houston and Las Vegas all scored at the bottom for their sluggish, inconvenient bus routes. All three options are significantly slower than simply getting in a taxi; Houston’s IAH Express line, for example, takes 53 minutes and is 80 percent slower than driving, on average.

U.S. rankings – Best airport transit

Here in the United States, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Only six of the public-transport options are generally faster than driving. Or put another, more gloomy way: At 44 of the 50 largest airports in the United States, taking the train or bus from the airport is slower than taking a cab. However, some U.S. cities have invested in infrastructure to ease travelers’ pain, and there are a few bright spots.

Score summary – U.S.

RankAirportServiceTotal ScoreTransit Time (minutes)Drive Time (minutes)% Faster / (Slower) than DrivingFare (USD)Departures per WeekdayConvenience
1AtlantaMARTA Red / Orange Line69172326%$2.50192Subway / Light Rail, direct
2Chicago - MidwayCTA Orange Line65253425%$2.25147Subway / Light Rail, direct
3Chicago - O'HareCTA Blue Line624039-3%$2.25177Subway / Light Rail, direct
4DenverUniversity of Colorado A Line6037381%$9.0072Direct with Luggage Storage
5New York - KennedyJFK Airtrain / Long Island Railroad58405830%$15.00186Train, transfer
5Washington - ReaganMetrorail582011-82%$2.55227Subway / Light Rail, direct
7Minneapolis - St. PaulMETRO Blue Line5723230%$1.75109Subway / Light Rail, direct
8Salt Lake CityTrax Green Line5320200%$2.5072Subway / Light Rail, direct
9SeattleLink Light Rail503322-50%$3.00142Subway / Light Rail, direct
10St. LouisMetrolink492823-22%$2.5078Subway / Light Rail, direct
11PhiladelphiaR1 Regional Rail4819190%$6.5039Subway / Light Rail, direct
12ClevelandRed Line462917-71%$2.2599Subway / Light Rail, direct
12OaklandBART4637408%$10.05127Subway / Light Rail, transfer
14TampaHART Route 30443514-150%$2.00240Bus only
15Dallas - Fort WorthDART Orange Line434225-68%$2.5074Subway / Light Rail, direct
15PortlandMAX Red Line434125-64%$2.5070Subway / Light Rail, direct
15BostonSilver Line431514-7%$0.00128Bus only
15San FranciscoBART432921-38%$8.9575Subway / Light Rail, direct
19NewarkNewark AirTrain / New Jersey Transit424240-5%$13.0077Train, transfer
20BaltimoreLight Rail422819-47%$1.7050Subway / Light Rail, direct
21MiamiOrange Line412118-17%$2.2084Subway / Light Rail, transfer
22Dallas - LoveDallas Love Field372015-33%$2.5074Subway / Light Rail, transfer
23PhoenixValley Metro Rail362517-47%$2.0088Subway / Light Rail, transfer
24CharlotteCATS Sprinter341917-12%$2.0049Bus only
24KahuluiUpcountry, Haiku Islander34770%$2.0020Bus only
24Los AngelesLAX FlyAway3435388%$9.7548Bus only
27New York -LaGuardiaQ70 Select Bus to 7 Train335535-59%$2.75128Bus only
27San JoseVTA Route 10 / Light Rail333010-216%$2.0064Subway / Light Rail, transfer
29AustinRoute 100322824-17%$1.2537Bus only
30Fort LauderdaleRoute 1312419-26%$2.0053Bus only
39ColumbusCOTA AirConnect311412-17%$2.7531Bus only
32Washington - DullesSilver Line Express to Silver Line295545-22%$8.6058Bus only
32RaleighRoute 100293428-24%$2.2523Bus only
34Las VegasWestcliff Airport Express281412-17%$6.0023Bus only
34San DiegoRoute 99228159-67%$2.2566Bus only
34NashvilleRoute 18282318-30%$2.2519Bus only
37MilwaukeeRoute 80273316-106%$1.7555Bus only
37Houston - BushBush IAH Express275330-80%$1.2552Bus only
37Houston - HobbyRoute 40275323-130%$1.2549Bus only
37SacramentoYolobus 42A271914-36%$2.2518Bus only
41San AntonioVIA Route 5264016-150%$1.3038Bus only
42Pittsburgh28X Airport Flyer254426-69%$2.7540Bus only
42IndianapolisIndyGo Route 8254223-83%$1.7533Bus only
42OrlandoLynx Route 11254329-51%$2.0033Bus only
45HonoluluRoute 19255120-155%$2.5034Bus only
46New OrleansE2 Line244423-91%$2.0027Bus only
46Orange CountyRoute 76241912-58%$2.0013Bus only
46Kansas CityRoute 129244225-68%$1.5019Bus only
46Fort MyersLeetran Route 50 to Route 140246530-117%$1.5013Bus only
46DetroitSMART Route 125247627-181%$2.0013Bus only

Score factors – U.S.

RankAirportServiceTotal ScoreSpeed vs Driving ScoreFare ScoreFrequency ScoreConvenience Score
1AtlantaMARTA Red / Orange Line6915241615
2Chicago - MidwayCTA Orange Line6514241215
3Chicago - O'HareCTA Blue Line629241415
4DenverUniversity of Colorado A Line601021525
5New York - KennedyJFK Airtrain / Long Island Railroad5815181510
5Washington - ReaganMetrorail580241915
7Minneapolis - St. PaulMETRO Blue Line571024815
8Salt Lake CityTrax Green Line531024515
9SeattleLink Light Rail500241115
10St. LouisMetrolink49524515
11PhiladelphiaR1 Regional Rail481022115
12ClevelandRed Line46024715
14TampaHART Route 3044024200
15Dallas - Fort WorthDART Orange Line43024515
15PortlandMAX Red Line43024415
15BostonSilver Line43825100
15San FranciscoBART43221515
19NewarkNewark AirTrain / New Jersey Transit42919510
20BaltimoreLight Rail42124215
21MiamiOrange Line4162465
22Dallas - LoveDallas Love Field3732455
23PhoenixValley Metro Rail3612465
24CharlotteCATS Sprinter3472420
24KahuluiUpcountry, Haiku Islander34102400
24Los AngelesLAX FlyAway34112020
27New York -LaGuardiaQ70 Select Bus to 7 Train33024100
27San JoseVTA Route 10 / Light Rail3302445
29AustinRoute 1003262410
30Fort LauderdaleRoute 13152430
39ColumbusCOTA AirConnect3162410
32Washington - DullesSilver Line Express to Silver Line2952130
32RaleighRoute 1002952400
34Las VegasWestcliff Airport Express2862200
34San DiegoRoute 9922802440
34NashvilleRoute 182842400
37MilwaukeeRoute 802702430
37Houston - BushBush IAH Express2702430
37Houston - HobbyRoute 402702420
37SacramentoYolobus 42A2732400
41San AntonioVIA Route 52602410
42Pittsburgh28X Airport Flyer2502420
42IndianapolisIndyGo Route 82502410
42OrlandoLynx Route 112502410
45HonoluluRoute 192502410
46New OrleansE2 Line2402400
46Orange CountyRoute 762402400
46Kansas CityRoute 1292402400
46Fort MyersLeetran Route 50 to Route 1402402400
46DetroitSMART Route 1252402400

The best

1. MARTA Red or Orange Line to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport


Though Atlanta’s public transportation option isn’t dedicated to the airport and makes frequent stops along the way, it’s significantly (26 percent) faster than driving on Atlanta’s congested freeways. And 192 departures per weekday means wait time is typically less than 10 minutes. MARTA is quite convenient for domestic travelers, since there’s a station stop adjacent to the airport terminal; international travelers need to transfer to a free shuttle bus. Either way: The $2.50 fare is money well-spent, given Atlanta’s notorious congestion and unpredictable traffic.

2. CTA Orange Line to Chicago Midway International Airport


Travelers arriving at Midway can reach the train station via a covered walkway. Once there, they won’t find anything incredibly new or fancy: Just reliable choice that can be 25 percent faster than a taxi down the Stevenson Expressway and, at $2.25, significantly cheaper. And the elevated tracks mean great views of the Windy City.

3. CTA Blue Line to Chicago O’Hare International Airport


It makes sense that Chicago has two of the country’s top five options, since the city’s transit network is the second largest in the United States. Yet, the “L” train from O’Hare to downtown is infamous for its snail-like pace and frequent stops—but, the 40 minute ride is about the same as driving on a typical weekday afternoon, and more reliable than dealing with rush hour traffic. This train made our top-five list thanks to frequent service (177 per day), low fare and no need to change trains to reach the airport.

4. University of Colorado A Line to Denver International Airport


This new train is the only U.S. option to earn a perfect 25 points for convenience. It’s a direct line to the city center, with handy luggage storage; even better, departing travelers can leave their checked bags right outside the train at a designated bag drop station. The train is only about a minute faster than driving, though; but with Denver’s airport over 30 miles out of the city it can be a big money saver. All things considered: If the A line ran more frequently than its current 72 times a day, Denver’s shiny new train would’ve scored significantly higher on our list.

5. AirTrain (via Long Island Railroad) to New York – Kennedy


This is another case of a city with such bad traffic congestion that nearly any public transportation option would be a good bet. But the Airtrain has plenty of advantages: It’s approximately 30 percent faster than driving to Penn Station and departs 186 times each weekday. Yes, travelers need to transfer from a train or bus to the AirTrain, but that pain is eased by the fact that connections are available to six bus and rail lines.

The worst

Our U.S. rankings looked at a larger number of domestic airports than our Global list—which means we found six transportation options with even lower scores than Orlando, Houston and Las Vegas. Among the 50 largest U.S airports, we found a five-way tie for last place: New Orleans, Orange County, Kansas City, Fort Myers and Detroit.

The best thing we can say about these cities’ options is that none costs more than $2. But frequency, convenience and speed leave plenty to be desired. Taking Detroit’s SMART route to the airport, for example, is 181 percent slower than driving (76 versus 27 minutes, thanks to frequent stops).

In these cities, taking a taxi to the airport is worth every penny.

Most time saving airport transit – Global

We think there’s a lot more than speed to consider when ranking airport transit options, but sometimes that’s the most important thing to consider.

Globally, the Shanghai Maglev is far and away the biggest time saver, over 80% faster than driving to the city center station it serves. London’s Heathrow Express comes second compared to driving to Paddington Station, nearly 70% faster, though if you’re trying to reach other parts of London a car becomes more competitive. London’s Gatwick comes a close third, nearly 65% faster than driving to Victoria Station, which is arguably better situated than Paddington for business destinations.

The worst

Houston-Bush, Dallas / Fort Worth, and Orlando had the least time saving options among the 50 busiest global airports, taking 80%, 68%, and 51% longer than driving to city center station stops. While Houston and Orlando rely on buses, Dallas / Fort Worth is served by DART Light Rail that started service in 2014.

Most time saving airport transit – U.S.

Unlike some of the top global airport transit lines, transit from airports in the U.S. is more about saving money than time.

Just 6 of the 50 busiest airports are served by transit options that can save time on a typical weekday afternoon, and that’s usually because they bypass a lot of congestion, rather than because they’re fast express lines. On a good, congestion free day you’d be hard pressed to find an airport transit line in the U.S. that rivals drive times.

New York – Kennedy, Atlanta, Chicago – Midway, Los Angeles, Oakland earn that distinction. Two options, New York – Kennedy and Oakland, require a change of trains from an airport rail shuttle to a main line. But even with that change of trains, congestion is bad enough to New York and San Francisco they can save time. While LAX’s FlyAway service is a bus, it can slightly beat typical drive times to Union Station thanks to using HOV lanes on the 110 Freeway.

The worst are simply not viable unless saving money is your only objective. The slowest, San Jose’s VTA Route 10 to Light Rail, takes 30 minutes to downtown San Jose, about 3 times longer than the 10 minute ride by car. Detroit’s SMART Route 125 takes well over an hour to reach downtown Detroit, compared to a less than half hour drive.


CompareCards.com looked at four factors to score and rank airport transit services: Time saved vs driving, fares, frequency, and passenger friendly infrastructure. Each was evenly weighted with a score of 0 to 25 possible for each factor, giving a highest possible total transit score of 100.

The airports studied were the 50 busiest in the world, and the 50 busiest in the United States, according to Airports Council International (worldwide) and the FAA (U.S.).

  • Highest score: 25 (Transit 80% faster than driving)
  • Lowest score: 0 (Transit 50% slower than driving)

We reviewed timetables for each transit service, and calculated transit times to the main transfer station, or to a reasonable city center location if none is available. Drive times from the airport to the same point were collected using Google Maps with a departure time of 12 noon on a weekday. The score is based on the transit time divided by the drive time, to reflect the relative time saved or wasted by using transit, and to avoid penalizing airports based on their distance from cities, which is not a factor transit infrastructure can change. 80% was chosen as the best outcome as it represents the time savings offered by the only airport maglev operation in the world, the Shanghai Maglev. 150% was chosen as the lower end of outcomes as a baseline for a reasonable tradeoff of time vs the cost savings of public transit.

Fare: 25 points

  • Highest score: 25 (Free service)
  • Lowest score: 0 ($50 one way)

We used the one way, at the airport purchase price for a ticket. Free service was considered the best possible outcome for scoring, while $50 was the upper limit of what could receive a score.

Frequency: 25 points 

  • Highest score: 25 (288 or more departures)
  • Lowest score: 0 (24 or fewer departures)

Airport transit that’s fast but not frequent isn’t very useful. We gave the highest possible score to a frequency of every 5 minutes, around the clock, and gave 0 points to service that is only hourly or less frequent throughout the day.

Convenience: 25 points

  • 0 points: No transit or bus only service
  • 5 points: Subway or light rail service, with a transfer required
  • 10 points: Traditional train service, with a transfer required
  • 15 points: Subway or light rail service, with no transfer required
  • 20 points: Traditional train service, with no transfer required
  • 25 points: Direct rail service using cars designed for airport use with floor level luggage storage

The ideal airport transit setup is direct to the airport, with no change of trains required, and cars designed for airport service that have space for luggage without having to lift them onto overhead racks. We gave higher scores to service using traditional trains over urban subways and light rail, which tend to be more crowded and harder to ride with luggage. And we gave lower scores to services that require a transfer to reach the airport from a main city station.

Photo credits: Wikimedia commons

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