The Wheels on the Bus

In today’s lesson, I will be teaching you about the various systems of public transportation in San Francisco. This is very complicated, and took me several weeks to figure out, so you may want to take notes.

There are 3 systems: the CalTrain, the BART, and the MUNI. Each one has it’s own function, and it’s own way to rip you off. I will explain each one, and also give you links to helpful websites.

(1) CalTrain (
If you need to go south to San Jose or “the peninsula”, and you have an hour to spare, then the CalTrain is for you! The peninsula includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Stanford Univ, and Google (and technically it’s an isthmus). The route is divided up into zones, and you get charged based on distance traveled. So if you are traveling from Stanford to San Francisco, that would be zone 3 to zone 1, and it would cost you $6 one-way. You have to buy your ticket before you get on and be prepared to whip it out when asked by the conductor. The CalTrain is a clean, above-ground train that allows you to ride with your bike. It goes to the San Jose airport (SJC), but not San Francisco (SFO).

click to enlarge

(2) BART (
Use the BART if you need to go to the San Francisco airport (SFO) or to Oakland (and the only reason you need to go to Oakland is for IKEA). The BART also charges based on distance traveled, but this time you get a ticket (or swipe your ClipperCard. More on that later) at the beginning, and then pay when you arrive at your destination. In other words, that’s two times you have to wait in line to talk to a machine. The BART is a smelly, cramped, under-ground train. The hours are different everyday, bikes are only allowed on certain trains, and it’s expensive. But, if you have to get to the airport, it’s your only choice.

(3) MUNI (
You will use MUNI if you are traveling within the city. They have 2 divisions: the buses and the light-rail. The buses are numbered and the light-rail cars are lettered (J, K, L, M, N, T). The light-rail runs on the central part of the city and the buses take you to the extremities. The MUNI schedule is posted online (and at all the stops), and it occasionally follows this schedule. One time we waited 30 mins for a T train and the “real time arrivals” screen read 10 minutes the whole time. The MUNI isn’t the best way to get around,  but we use it because it only costs $2 for the whole day. You can get on the 35 bus ride it to the light-rail station, get on the T train, and right it to the ballpark for $2. Then you can turn around and go home for free….just be sure you don’t lose your ticket.

click to enlarge

Final Notes:

  1. I’m sorry to tell you this, but no one uses the trolleys. I know this ruins yours whole idea of life in SF. They are cute and tourists love them, but they are way too slow if you actually need to get somewhere.
  2. I use to find out when the next bus is coming. BART has a similar site for real-time-arrivals.
  3. Google Maps has a public transportation feature. I found this really useful for planning trips.

And there you have it. This whole post reminds me of an episode of Rocko’s Modern Life, and also that movie with Rosie O’Donnell.


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