Public transit is essential to any urban area, especially when you're a college student. Whether you can't have a car on campus, can't afford it or just want to lower your carbon footprint, the demand for public transportation is high. But when you're dealing with two urban areas in one, like in the Twin Cities, it can feel hard to navigate it all. Luckily, everything is under one system: Metro Transit. This includes all the buses, the Northstar trains and the actual METRO light rail. Without further ado, here's your guide to public transportation in the Twin Cities.

First, you have to figure out where you're going.

The simplest way to do this is to just use a system like Google Maps. When you put in your destination, click the "transit" option to get directions that only include public transportation and minimal walking. It will tell you which stop to go to, which line to take (and in what direction) and tell you where to get off. Make sure you keep the directions up on your phone until you get there, though, because not all of the buses are updated to announce or visually show the next stop. It's good to follow along and see where you are, especially because buses do not stop unless a passenger requests it or someone is waiting to get on.

If you want to be extra sure about any of the schedules, most (if not all) stops have real-time schedules on display. Metro Transit also has all times available on their website and app. You can also use their website to plan a route, but I personally prefer using Google Maps because I can follow along. However, if you want a more customized route (ex: only rail or only bus) or need wheelchair access, then I do recommend using the actual website.

Next, it's time to pay.

There are a few different ways to pay for Metro Transit. First, and my personal favorite, is the Go-To Card. You just tap this card on a scanner, and that's it!  For students who live in and around the Twin Cities, I recommend getting a stored-value pass. This means that the money you put on your card has no expiration, and you just keep adding value as you use it up. You can even opt-in to free auto-refill! Metro Transit also has an app, and payment works pretty much the same way as the Go-To Card.

If you don't think you'll be using Metro Transit that often, then you'll probably just buy a physical ticket. If you're taking a train or METRO light rail, then you buy your ticket before you get on. This is also the same for some of the bus lines, but many still have you buy your ticket from the driver.

The price for the bus and light rail lines is $2.00, or $2.50 if it's rush hour. If you're within the downtown zone, the fare is only $0.50. There are reduced fares for people with limited mobility. Prices for the Northstar trains and the Express lines also vary, so be sure to check here. Once you buy your ticket (or pay with your Go-To Card), it lasts for 2.5 hours. Remember to see if your school subsidizes Metro Transit fare (my school, Macalester, does!).

Anything else I should know?

There are just a few random things that might be good to know here and there. Metro Transit does have a lost-and-found located in Minneapolis, and usually found items are available the next business day. If you need to contact the transit police, you can use the app or text 612-900-0411. Emergency phones and intercoms are also becoming increasingly available, and are currently installed inside all light-rail train cars, as well as on the light-rail and rapid bus platforms.

Always remember public transportation etiquette! Sit towards the back of the bus if you're going to be on for a while so that people don't have to constantly move past you. Try not to spill any food or drink and pick up any trash that you may have dropped. Keep an eye on your belongings and double check to make sure you have everything before getting off. And of course, thank your bus driver!

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash