In San Francisco, the tracks have been laid and the final touches are being put on the BART rail extension that will connect the city's airport with downtown later this year -- a system more than 30 years in the making.
Unfortunately, LAX doesn't have such a simple transit solution for its travelers. For the most part, the 57 million people who traveled through Los Angeles International Airport last year spent the first part of their trip searching for a parking place at the airport or nearby private lots.
Subways and high-speed rail lines such as BART are commonplace in cities around the world.
Although LAX offers a host of ground transportation options, most travelers arrive and depart in private vehicles, airport statistics show. Overnight parking in nearby airport lots can cost as much as $30 a day.
Of course, the best way to the airport depends on your priorities -- cost, convenience or flexibility.
Here are some alternatives to leaving your car parked at the airport.
Going to LAX by bus can be convenient and direct if you live near Metropolitan Transportation Authority routes or can get a connection or lift to one. Information: (800) COMMUTE (266-6883), http://www.mta.net.
The bus is usually the cheapest way to go: $1.35 is the standard fare (excluding transfers; seniors, children and some others pay less), and the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus charges 75 cents.
Several bus routes stop at the LAX City Bus Center on 96th Street east of Sepulveda Boulevard, by Parking Lot C. Walk 150 feet to the Lot C shuttle bus pickup spot. The C shuttle is free and leaves every few minutes.
MTA offers frequent service to LAX on many routes, including Redondo Beach and Union Station (Lines 439 and 42), Long Beach (232), Rancho Palos Verdes (225), West Hollywood (220), Downey (117) and Sylmar (561).
Three city bus agencies run lines to the center by Lot C: Santa Monica Big Blue Bus No. 3 (originates at UCLA), (310) 451-5444, http://www.bigbluebus.com; Culver City Bus No. 6 (also originates at UCLA), (310) 253-6500; and Torrance Transit Route No. 8, (310) 618-6266.
By rail, the Metro Green Line, also operated by the MTA, stops at Aviation station, about a mile from the airport. A free airport shuttle is available. The fare is $1.35 one way.
Several airport bus lines serve specific areas of the Southland. Among them:
Van Nuys FlyAway Bus: The bus offers 24-hour service from the Van Nuys Airport Bus Terminal, 7610 Woodley Ave.; (818) 994-5554. Rates are $3.50 one way for adults, $1.75 for children 2 to 12. Parking at the Van Nuys bus terminal is $4 per day with a 15-day limit.
Airport Bus: This line serves Orange County, with buses departing Anaheim and Buena Park hotels from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; (714) 758-4820, (714) 938-8900, http://www.airportbus.com. Rates are $16 one way for adults, $9 for children 3 to 11.
Airport Bus of Bakersfield: Buses depart downtown Bakersfield from 3:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; (800) 858-5000, http://www.coachusa.com. Rates are $27 one way for adults, $13.50 for kids 6 to 12.
Ventura County Airporter: Buses pick up passengers at the Ventura Sheraton hotel and Oxnard Airport eight times daily; (805) 650-6600, http://www.venturashuttle.com. Rates are $26 (with reservations and advance payment) one way for adults, $10 for children younger than 12.
Dozens of van, car and limousine companies serve area airports, and comparing prices is usually worthwhile.
At LAX, only two shuttle companies -- SuperShuttle and Prime Time -- are allowed to pick up "walk-up" passengers, although it is possible to schedule a pickup by another carrier.
Shuttle fares usually are 30% to 70% cheaper than a taxi for solo travelers, but couples or groups will find taxis competitively priced and usually faster. Some shuttle companies offer reduced fares for couples or groups.
Prime Time Shuttle: (800) RED-VANS (733-8267) or (310) 342-7200, http://www.primetimeshuttle.com.
SuperShuttle: (800) BLUE VAN (258-3826), (310) 782-6600, (323) 775-6600, (213) 688-0444, (714) 517-6600, (909) 428-6600 or (562) 498-6670, http://www.supershuttle.com.
Cabs may be more economical for people traveling shorter distances or riding with others.
Travelers should be aware of accidents and other safety problems with "bandit" (unlicensed) taxis. Use only licensed cab companies, which often offer flat rates to LAX. Avoid bandit taxis by going to official taxi stands at each terminal, monitored by airport employees. Cabs at those LAX stands must display the official seal of the L.A. Department of Transportation.
A $2.50 surcharge is added to all taxi fares leaving LAX. There is a flat rate of $30 ($32.50 with surcharge) between LAX and downtown L.A., and as many as eight passengers can share the cab or van for that charge.
Information desks at all the airports have copies of mass transit schedules.
Amtrak: (800) 872-7245, http://www.amtrak.com.
Metrolink: For schedules and information, call (800) 371-5465, http://www.metrolinktrains.com.
MTA and Metro Rail: For schedules, fares and other information, (800) COMMUTE (266-6883), http://www.mta.net.
TransStar: This trip planner, http://www.scag.ca.gov/transit, suggests how to get from point A to B. The same service is offered by the Ventura County Transportation Commission, http://www.goventura.org/transit.htm.