When it comes to public transit in the U.S., there are certain predictable all-stars: the Metro in Washington, D.C., is convenient, efficient, and clean. The anthropomorphically nicknamed El and BART in Chicago and San Francisco are legendary. And everyone knows it’s easier to navigate New York City without a car than with one.

But what about the rest of the country? As cities big and small rethink how their residents get around, new systems are taking shape — and as gas prices and paychecks fluctuate, riders are responding in droves. While the current economic crunch is forcing many cities to hike fares and cut back on service, innovations continue, and the tracks are laid for a bright future.

Here are a few surprising places where public transit is gaining speed — steer yourself to the comments section below to leave your own nominations.

Phoenix light railBy the time I get to Phoenix, you’ll be riding.Jim JeffersPhoenix, Ariz. Pop. 1.5 million

The desert-gobbling Arizona capital opened its first light-rail line in January with much fanfare and a few days of free rides. The 20-mile line is a modest start, but it beat early expectations, proving that even a poster child for sprawl can change its ways. Future corridors would further connect the city, America’s fifth largest. One less-than-sunny idea: The county sheriff’s “Con Rail” plan to transport inmates on city rails. And drivers are still getting used to those big moving objects: vehicles have collided with trains 22 times this year, with motorists, not Metro, taking the blame.