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5 Best U.S. Cities for Taking the Bus or Train

Tickers in this article: NOTE

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Gas prices aren't a $4 nightmare anymore, but that $3.55 average price we're dealing with now isn't exactly inspiring General Motors to revive the Hummer, fill the tank and let drivers burn through the price of an average National Football League ticket.

As the latest Department of Energy numbers indicate, fuel prices have been inching steadily upward since hitting a low of $3.13 in November. Take it out to the West Coast and you're already looking at $3.80 a gallon.

Meanwhile, car use is slowly inching down as the days of $2 gas seem like a pipe dream. The share of new cars being bought by Americans between 18 and 34 is down 30% in the past five years, according to auto pricing site Edmunds.com. A Pew Research Center study notes that people under 35 bought 12% fewer cars than in 2010.

That's not just some recession leftover, either. The Department of Transportation notes that just 28% of 16-year-olds had driver's licenses in 2010, with just 45% of 17-year-olds claiming the same. That's plummeted from 50% and 66% respectively in 1978.

Overall, as DC Streets Blog and the Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund point out, Americans are driving roughly 6% fewer miles than they were in 2004. That's partially, as Census Bureau data show, because more people are living in cities than they were a decade ago. It's also because fewer Americans want to put up with the $818 a year in lost time and gas money sucked away by the average commute, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report.

So what's the alternative? Transit! Now, before you get all huffy about having to buy cards, stand in line and adhere to schedules, there are a few perks in it for you. First off, the National Association of Realtors found that home values fared 42% better when they were located near public transit. As an American Public Transit Association survey discovered in Boston, homes near public transit outperformed the region by 129%.

Don't believe a transit group? Fine. According to AAA, not living near public transit costs you $9,859 in auto maintenance and fuel every year on average. That's basically what you'd spend on a $135,000 mortgage.

The good people at WalkScore, a site dedicated to determining and rating the density of amenities and resulting "walkability" of various cities, revised their list of top cities in the country for public transportation recently. While their list is limited to cities with populations of 500,000 or more, it provides a basic blueprint of what to look for in a smaller-scale transit city.

The following are the Top 5 cities on WalkScore's transit list: