Public Transportation: Part II

Now that you have a basic primer on the Muni, let’s talk about San Francisco’s other public transportation options, the Caltrain and BART.

The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is like if the PATH and the Long Island Rail Road had a bastard child. Its primary function is to transport folks to and from Oakland and Berkley (San Francisco’s version of New Jersey – or a really far away Brooklyn). But it also makes several stops in “the city” (AKA San Francisco) making it sort of useful to navigate to a select few locations that may be under served by the variety of Muni options.

There are two significant issues with the BART. First, it’s carpeted, and that’s just not right. Second, I have no idea how to pay for the BART. If you’re taking the BART within San Francisco it costs the same as the Muni…

So let’s talk about that for a second. How much does the Muni cost? Well, officially all Muni rides cost $1.50, plus you can use your receipt for a second ride (in any direction) within two hours of your first ride. So that’s cool.

If your ride commences in one of the underground subway-like Muni stops, you will notice familiar turnstyles and booths and you’ll be required to pay the fare or show a transfer. BUT, if your ride begins at an above-ground Muni stop, you don’t really need to pay, because chances are no one will check. They ask that you pay the driver as you enter the car, but for the most part, they use the *honor* system here, although once in a while (typically near the first of the month in my experience) there will be police-type folks at the terminating station demanding to see your proof of payment – or else you’re hit with a substantial fine. I think $50? It’s much more than $1.50.

If you ride the Muni a lot (i.e. for commuting) you can also try and purchase a monthly Muni Card for $45. Not a bad bargain if you ride frequently, but one of the only place to buy the cards (as far as I can tell) is at a Safeway. Safeways are the major supermarkets in San Francisco, and they’re everywhere, sponsor everything and are the center of substantial consumer commerce. Monthly Muni cards go on sale near the end of the month and last until they sell out.

You can’t get them online. You can’t get them at the vast majority of Muni station. You can only get them for a limited period of time.

Welcome to San Francisco.

The monthly Muni passes also works on the BART, BUT ONLY within the city of San Francisco. If you’re going over the bridge to Oakland or Berkley, your Muni card won’t work. That’s not entirely true…it will work to get you ON the train, but the people on the other side won’t let you out of the station! So be careful if you’re planning a trip outside of “the city”.

I have no idea where Caltrain goes.

Ride safe!


About adamahata

On February 5, 2008, after 15 amazing years in New York City, I got married, changed careers, and moved out to San Francisco. All within a three-week period, and with very little preparation. This blog is for those of you who follow me out to San Francisco (or have been here for a while and are still trying to figure this place out). You're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.
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10 Responses to Public Transportation: Part II

  1. melissa kingman says:

    I resent you comparing Berkeley to NJ. That is a major insult…

    • adamahata says:

      My apologies Melissa, no insult intended. I did not mean to imply the environment or surroundings were similar to New Jersey, just how to think about the distance (physically and emotionally) Berkeley is from San Francisco. While Berkeley’s tenor may be more accurately aligned with Brooklyn, the super long bridge spanning the bay (that you can’t ride your bike across) and the need to take the BART (i.e. the Path) vs. a Muni (i.e. MTA) draws a closer parallel to the garden state.

  2. Steve says:

    What I want to know is, if I get a $45 muni pass and decide that I am going to go out of the city, can I use my muni pass to pay, plus pay the difference from the last station stop (embargadero sp?) to where I get off, say, Rockridge.

    Or am I confined to having to use a Bart ONLY pass. I take Bart to work every day from the city to Lafayette. Its $8.90 per day round trip for me, still cheaper by FAR than owning a car, insurance, parking, gas, payments, maintenance, etc. But It would be nice to kind of figure out a way to save a few bucks on Bart.

    • adamahata says:

      Sorry for the delay Steve! if you’re still looking for an answer: You can only use your Bart card on Bart. While Muni pass can be used on Bart in the “city”, you’ll need to buy a Bart ticket anytime you cross the bay).

  3. peggyluwho says:

    There’s a handy fare chart stuck to every machine that has one-way and round-trip fares listed for every destination station.

    How is that hard?

  4. adamahata says:

    Sorry Peggy Lu, but I must strenuously object. Buying a ticket for the BART is NOT like buying a Metro card.

    NY subway rides all cost the same amount regardless of where you are departing and where you want to go. With the BART, you need a magic decoder ring, golden plates and an advanced degree at a two-year college to decipher the rate table.

    You then need to enroll in a three-hour course at a local technical school to successfully navigate the electronic BART machine thingy.

    In my experience, you sort of just guess how much the fare will be and then hope for the best!

  5. peggyluwho says:

    Oh, and paying fares. . . you buy a ticket in the station before you go through the gate based on your destination . . . just like buying a Metro Card for the New York Subway.

  6. peggyluwho says:

    Muni passes ARE available online –

    You can also get them at the TransBay Terminal.

    Yeah – New York Subways are better than ours.

    BART’s predominant demographic is not people living in Oakland or Berkeley. It’s actually mostly people who live in Walnut Creek/Pleasant Hill/Concord. It’s the yellow line. That is the New Jersey you speak of.

    Oakland/Berkeley . . . Yeah, I guess we’re like a borough. We’re not that far away. It’s 15 minutes from downtown SF to downtown Oakland. On BART.

  7. adamahata says:

    It IS a bizarro land! Yesterday I saw a woman tap-dancing on a piece of wood on the street corner. Weird.

  8. Noel says:

    After my incessant complaining about moving back to the “city” Brendan gave me the link to your site. My background in a nutshell: I lived in oak/berk/sf 88-98, then I moved to The City (yes the one with those four other buroughs), and unfortunately I moved back to sf in may 2008.

    Re: BART. It’s pure insanity when Californians claim that “New York subways are soooo dirty” yet in the same breath they dare say how great they believe BART is. Carpet…at least the good old MTA can hose down the interiors of their trains. There’s nothing to be done about those foul smelling, flithy, germ infested fabric seats and carpets found in BART trains.

    It never ceases to amaze me how Northern Californians try to tout their ‘public transportation’. It’s pretty evident that not too many of them ever got out of the confines of California nor their cars.

    Next topic: CABS…actually I better not, otherwise I’ll go on and on, this is after all just a comment on your blog.

    Thanks for posting your observations, at least now I know I’m not the only person out here who feels like I’ve moved into some bizarro world that has no concept of effective public transportation.

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