Portland, Oregon has been named the best city in the nation for public transportation by U.S. News & World Report. In determining the “10 Best Cities for Public Transportation,” researchers took into account ridership, safety, government spending, and amenities based on data from the Federal Transit Administration and the American Public Transportation Association.

According to Mary Fetsch, Communications Director for TriMet, Portland’s regional transit agency, “One of the key reasons that transit works in the city and the rest of the region is because we link transit with land use planning, to help create livable communities and vibrant neighborhoods, and to provide alternatives to driving.”

“Transit isn’t just a commuter service,” she says. “It’s a community asset.”

U.S. News & World Report calls Portland “one of the nation’s leaders in public transit,” noting that the system provides riders with a variety of travel options, including buses, light rail, commuter rail, streetcars, and an aerial tram.

Portland is also recognized for its Free Rail Zone, called “Fareless Square,” which provides free light rail and streetcar rides every day of the week. Funding for this service is derived from an employer payroll tax (50 percent), passenger revenue (22 percent), operating grants (20 percent) and other sources (9 percent) (figures rounded), says Trimet’s Fetsch.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit, which was named the number five transit system in U.S. World & News Report’s rankings, also offers a free ridership service on Nicolet Mall, a key transit-only roadway in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. John Siqveland, Media Relations Specialist for Metro Transit, says that the free service began in response to a need by the City of Minneapolis and the business community. “That initiative, which links the city’s convention center with downtown hotels, shopping, restaurants and light-rail service, produced 325,000 rides and is operated 100 percent by cleaner, quieter hybrid buses.”

“Transit isn’t just a commuter service … It’s a community asset.” – Mary Fetsch, TriMet Communications Director

Neither Portland’s TriMet nor the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit systems have plans to stop here. Along with several partner agencies, TriMet is helping to fund the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project, the region’s sixth MAX light rail project. Plans include a new bridge that will carry MAX, buses, bikes, pedestrians, and a future Portland streetcar expansion- but no cars. Construction of this multimodal bridge – the only bridge of its kind in the country – is scheduled to begin in July 2011. The light rail project is set to open in September 2015.

The Metropolitan Council regional government, which operates Metro Transit, has a goal of doubling transit ridership by the year 2030, according to John Siqveland. A portion of that growth, he says, will come from development of a network of transit ways to support the current bus system, Hiawatha light-rail line, and North star commuter rail line.

But that’s not all.  Metro Transit is also in the final design stages of its next light-rail line, the Central Corridor Project, which will link downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul via the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. The agency also has two bus rapid transit services in development.

The other top transit systems recognized by U.S. World & News Report include Salt Lake City at number two, recognized for its high per capita spending and ongoing system expansions; New York City; Boston; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Honolulu; Denver; and Austin.