Getting around by transit: RTA
Living car-free doesn't mean you don't get out and about. You're as busy as anyone else, and you have places to go. But living car-free does mean that when you go to work, school, shopping, out on the town, or to visit your parents you leave the driving (and the parking headaches, the traffic jams, the gas station pit stops and all the other joys of a car-full life) to somebody else. And that means that public transit is often just the ticket!
Fortunately, getting around on transit systems can be easy, affordable, and convenient. But you've got to know the system, and that's what this section of Car-Free in Cleveland is all about. From routes and schedules to fares and transfers, we'll give you the lowdown on the Greater Cleveland RTA. This page and its links will give you all the details for the RTA and the other transit agencies that you'll want to use when exploring the rest of our region.
We cover the basics here and give you some lesser-known hints and tips about using public transit. For information we can't cover here, just give the transit agencies a call. They all have helpful customer service and scheduling info lines.
With over 100 bus routes, four rapid transit rail lines, and 365-days-a-year operations, your most accessible choice for getting around car-free in Northeast Ohio is the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA). The RTA system serves more than 60 million riders each year, covers all of Cuyahoga County and conveniently connects with other county and municipal public transit systems operating in the region (not to mention Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Amtrak inter-city train service and Greyhound inter-city buses). The system's main hub is located in downtown Cleveland at Tower City Center, on Public Square. Other hubs are located east, west and south of the city.
RTA's bus system
There are three main types of RTA bus routes: Local buses, Express/Flyer buses, and the Community Circulators and downtown Loop buses.
Local buses provide extensive service throughout the City of Cleveland and other Cuyahoga County communities and cost just $1.25 a ride. They circulate on the major avenues and boulevards ("trunk routes" as they're called in transit agency lingo) and on some smaller streets, too, connecting Cleveland neighborhoods and many suburbs.
You'll generally use the Local buses for shorter trips, because stops are placed closely together (sometimes every two to three blocks). At busy times of the day, the bus may drop riders off or pick new riders up at every single stop. Intervals between Local buses may be as short as just a few minutes during peak-travel hours (but quite a bit longer during off peak hours). RTA's #6 bus, for example, has the highest ridership of all of RTA's routes and provides service every six minutes during the day up and down Euclid Avenue between Public Square and East Cleveland. In addition, most late-night service is provided by local buses.
Express and Flyer buses provide longer-distance travel with fewer stops, generally connecting Cleveland's suburbs with downtown. The cost per ride is $1.50. Express buses (designated by an "X" following the route number) usually run all day. Flyer buses get their name because they "fly" along the interstates, usually serving commuters only during morning and afternoon rush hours (designated by an "F" following the route number).
Stops along the Express and Flyer routes are less frequent than on Local bus routes, so check the route schedules for details, or, when in doubt, ask the driver.
Community Circulators & Loop buses: Community Circulator buses operate set circular routes within neighborhoods, such as in Tremont, St. Clair-Superior, and the Lee-Miles areas (they're numbered 801, 802, 803, etc.). They're inexpensive rides, costing just 50¢, and they link people's homes and apartments with local shopping, services, medical facilities and RTA's local and express buses. You can board a community circulator at any regular RTA bus stop or and this is unique for RTA busesyou can flag the driver to stop anywhere for you along the route.
The Loop buses, also just 50¢ a ride, circle through Cleveland's downtown area every few minutes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. There are two routesthe #147 City Center Loop and the #247 Outer Loopthat link just about all downtown destinations. Be aware, however, that Loop routes can sometimes be confusing, even to seasoned local transit users. Check out a downtown map, and don't hesitate to stop and ask drivers if they're going your way.
RTA's Rapid system
New Yorkers get around on the subway, Boston's got the "T," San Francisco has "BART," and Clevelanders ride the "Rapid." RTA's train service is Ohio's only rail-based public transit service, operating on the Red, Blue, Green and Waterfront lines. Tower City on Public Square is the rail system's hub, providing access to all of the lines and permitting easy transfers from one to the other, and to many RTA bus routes.
The Red Line travels from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport through West Side neighborhoods to the Tower City downtown station and then eastward to the Louis Stokes/Windermere Station in East Cleveland. It differs from the other Rapid lines in that it's a heavy-rail system with larger cars that are boarded from raised platforms inside Red Line stations.
The Green and Blue lines connect downtown Cleveland's waterfront attractions and Tower City Center to Shaker Square on the eastern edge of the city. They then split, continuing to the east into Shaker Heights. The Green Line follows Shaker Boulevard due east from Shaker Square and teminates at Green Road. The Blue Line cuts southeast at Shaker Square, follows Van Aken Boulevard, terminating at Warrensville Center and Chagrin roads.
Trains that run on the Green and Blue lines are light-rail cars which load from low-level platforms. Since the Green and Blue lines are combined with the Red Line between Tower City Center, East 34th St./Campus and East 55th St. stations, these three facilities each have high-level and low-level platforms. Cleveland's rail system is the only one in the nation which has these dual-platform stations.
The Waterfront Line is a westerly continuation of the Green/Blue Rapid lines starting from Tower City. The route takes riders through the Flats entertainment district and past North Coast Harbor destinations, making very easy connections with popular tourist spots such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center and the Steamship William G. Mather Museum.
Rapid schedules: Rapid trains run every 6 to 24 minutes on weekdays, and every 15 to 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. First trains run on the Red Line at 3:39 a.m. westbound and 4:32 a.m. eastbound; on the Blue Line at about 4:30 a.m.; and on the Green Line at 5:55 a.m. Last trains run on the Red Line at 10 p.m., and on the Blue/Green/ Waterfront lines at about 12 midnight (a shuttle bus continues Red Line service on the West side between the airport and Tower City between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. only). If there is an evening sporting event downtown the last trains will leave Tower City no earlier than 90 minutes after the end of the game, even if it goes into overtime. During summer weekends only, Rapid service to 2 a.m. is available (see special services, events and routes in the next section).
Special services, events and routes
RTA runs several routes to serve regional attractions and special events. For example, several Flyer Service routes have been established to shuttle Cleveland sports fans directly from suburban Park-n-Ride lots to Jacobs Field and Cleveland Browns Stadium. Costing $1.50 each way, these buses depart one hour before game time from eight locations: Brecksville Municipal Parking, Euclid Park-n-Ride, Great Northern Shopping Center, Parmatown Mall, Solon Square Shopping Center, Southgate USA, Strongsville Park-n-Ride and the Westlake Park-n-Ride. Immediately following a game's end, riders board the buses for the return trip (see Laketran section for Lake County Gateway buses).
Rail service on the Red, Blue, Green, and Waterfront lines offers extended evening hours on Fridays and Saturdays, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This is available for people staying downtown late to enjoy a night on the town. The last trains leave downtown for the suburbs at 2 a.m.
Another special service is the #441 bus route connecting the Van Aken/Blue Line Rapid station, Randall Park Mall, and Southgate USA with Geauga Lake Amusement Park and Sea World. In service only when the parks are open (roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day), the #441 buses run every 30 minutes from about 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Call the RTA Answerline (216-621-9500) for details about these and other special services. Also, watch for notices about discounts to many special events at Gund Arena and elsewhere that are available when you present an RTA transfer card at the box office.
Although many of RTA's regular bus services are equipped with lifts for the disabled, a special ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Complementary Paratransit Service is also available. Paratransit service is available Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. You must apply for ADA certification through the RTA offices, then call ahead to schedule your trip.
Transit centers are beginning to appear where several bus routes and/or Rapid lines come together so that riders can transfer with greater ease. These centers offer a landscaped plaza, heated/cooled waiting room, and pay phones. Centers are now at Parmatown Mall in Parma, west of Westgate Mall in Fairview Park, and downtown Cleveland at Tower City Center. Plans are currently in the works for many more.
Hours of operation
RTA trip frequencies vary widely according to the route, the time of the day, the day of the week, and sometimes even according to season of the year. Basic RTA services run from early in the morning (around 6 a.m.) to early at night (about 9 p.m.). So if you want to get to work early or leave the office late, catch a 7 a.m. airplane, go see an early evening movie, or visit friends on your way home from school, you probably won't be stranded.
In some cases, there are even bus routes providing "night owl" service around-the-clock from Monday through Saturday. So if you've got a graveyard work shift or you just want to close your favorite pub, RTA will meet your needs. On the other hand, some routes, such as many of the express and flyer suburban commuter routes, may have as few as two or three buses a day and only during rush hours.
For more information, check with the RTA. If you want confirmation that the bus you need will be running when you want it (particularly if you're traveling early in the morning or late at night), call the RTA Answerline at 216-621-9500. The Answerline is a 24-hour, automated system, with operators available during the daytime until 6 p.m.