It can be hard to figure out how to get from here to there on public transit in the Bay Area. Some three dozen separate transit providers have evolved to serve specific and sometimes overlapping geographic areas in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This page is here to help you save you lots of time, money, and headache.
On this page you’ll find tools and tips for planning your trip and obtaining schedules. You’ll also learn how to save time and money (see right sidebar) and travel with comfort on transit.
Schedules and Getting Started
While at times frustrating to use, this web tool can help you find your most efficient public transit options. Unfortunately it sometimes has trouble recognizing locations or place names that it should, and will occasionally produce sub-optimal itineraries that can take an hour or more longer than the best option.
The trip planner can help when your trip will cross agency boundaries. This is important because many agencies’ customer assistance departments aren’t very knowledgeable about connecting transit outside of their territory. If the tool is producing results that seem wrong or outrageous, or you need more information, call the transit agencies mentioned in the results for help planning your trip.
Google Transit trip planner is also a good alternative, but it doesn’t cover all transit agencies the 511 does.
2) Call 511
You can also get transit and travel information by dialing 511, even from cell phones within the Bay Area. The voice menu will let you connect to customer service for any transit agency in the Bay Area –follow the voice prompts, or just say the name of the transit agency you want to reach if you already know it.
Popular Destinations Link how to get to popular destinations via transit.
How to get to Silicon Valley sporting, shopping and cultural/ entertainment destinations such as the HP Pavilion how-to guides prepared by the VTA Riders Union
MTC’s Getting There on Transit Guide This booklet provides an overview of transit agencies and routes throughout the SF Bay Area. The publication can be viewed on-line, but we suggest you order or pick up a printed copy as indicated to view the maps more easily. Contact individual transit agencies to get full-sized transit maps for the territories you travel most frequently.
Trip Planning Tips that Only Transit Experts Know
Read these, and you’ll know too!
- You can specify how far you’re willing to walk in part 5 of MTC’s Bay Area Trip Planner. The default is ½ mile. You can decrease or increase that distance depending on your health and ability to walk. Specifying longer distances can provide you with more transit options.
- Bicycles: You gain a lot of extra flexibility and access by using bicycles in combination with public transit. All public buses have bike racks that can accommodate two or three bicycles, and many trains will accommodate your bike also. See the 511.org Bikes on Transit page for information on each agency’s policies.Two things to worry about when using a bike with transit is that
- on BART, the rules change depending on when, where and in what direction you’re traveling (i.e. how crowded the train is or is likely to be);
- on buses and Caltrain there can be capacity issues during rush hour, where you may be denied boarding if all of the available bike spaces are already taken by other patrons.
Hint: Get a folding bike, one that you can fold in ten seconds if you encounter any capacity issues. You’ll be able to board at any time and stash the folded bike in areas reserved for luggage.
- There are many free shuttle buses between rail stations and major companies or employment areas. Most employer shuttles are publicly subsidized and free and open to the public — not just employees of private companies directly served.
- A number of cities also provide free or subsidized shuttle services. See the list at transit.511.org (scroll down to “Other Shuttle Systems”). On the Peninsula, the cities of Burlingame, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Stanford offer free city-sponsored shuttles.
- Consider taking the Greyhound bus for longer distance trips. For example, it goes from San Jose to Oakland in an hour, with some runs stopping in Hayward.
Six Things to Carry or Do — BEFORE You Go
- If you plan to pay the fare with cash, prepare a stash of quarters and dollar bills to take with you. Buses do not provide change, and more than one hapless soul has been stuck begging strangers for change to avoid paying $5, $10 or $20 in order to ride the bus. If you plan to ride transit on at least an occasional basis, you should consider getting a Clipper fare card, which you can prepay the fare and enjoy various discounts available to Clipper card holders.
- Memorize or write down the endpoints of the transit lines that you’ll be riding. This will help you verify you’re boarding a vehicle going in the right direction instead of the opposite one.
- Pick up a copy of the transit schedule and pick one up. Transit schedules for most agencies (except Muni) are available at transit offices, colleges, hospitals, public libraries, BART stations, and on board the trains and buses. This could be very handy so you don’t need to use the trip planner or call in case you need to depart at a different time. As an alternative, you can download transit schedules apps on your smart phone.
- Plan ahead for your comfort. Buses other than Greyhound do not have restrooms, and there is a shameful shortage of public restrooms at some bus and rail transit centers. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks BART decided to permanently close public bathrooms at underground stations to reduce the possibility of bombs being placed there. Caltrain, ACE, and the Amtrak Capitol trains do provide handicapped-accessible restrooms on the train.
- Be prepared for changing weather and temperatures, for example carry a light sweater or jacket so that you don’t freeze if you happen to stay out later than you planned. Dress in layers.
- Bring a water bottle and carry an energy bar or snack. However, don’t eat or drink on buses (except for Greyhound and the Amtrak bus), and remember you can get a citation for eating or drinking on BART (it’s happened to a number of people). You may eat and drink on Caltrain, ACE, the Capitols and the ferries –just be considerate of your fellow passengers (e.g. don’t eat really smelly food, please clean up any trash and dispose of it off the train using the receptacles by the platforms, since the on-board receptacles are meant for smaller quantities of trash).
What to Do While Riding
If you plan to take the bus, pay attention to the destination sign on the bus before boarding at stops that serve more than one bus or train line. Don’t just mindlessly board the next vehicle that comes by — you may find yourself headed in an unexpected direction, or on an express bus when you wanted a local one if you don’t check.
If you plan to take Caltrain, make sure that you board the right train. During weekday peak hours, Caltrain trains do not serve every stop. Make sure that you check the train schedule to see whether the train makes your stop. For some trips, a transfer is required.
Every Caltrain trip has a train number, which is used by the train crews and other Caltrain staff. Train numbers are included in the train schedule and are often display on the electronic message board in case of a delay.
Unfortunately, Caltrain does not have any other display on the vehicle (other than the one by the engineer’s window visible from the front of the train) to show the train number of destination. In case of a delay, check with the conductor or fellow riders on board to see whether the train serves your stops.
When boarding at San Francisco or San Jose (they have multiple stations tracks), check the sign by the platform entrance (in SF) or inside the pedestrian tunnel (in SJ) to see which train is stopping at which platform. This would help avoid either boarding the wrong train or missing the train you want to take.
Also remember when you’re at a train station, an oncoming train may not stop at your station. So you need to step back away from the platform edge and expect the train running at high speed by the platform.
A few minutes before the bus or train arrives at your destination, start getting ready to deboard. Don’t wait until your vehicle has arrived at your stop to do this or you may miss your stop. Gather your belongings, start heading for the door and take a few seconds to look back around the area where you were sitting to make sure you haven’t accidentally dropped or left something. This habit will help you to avoid losing sunglasses, umbrellas or something more valuable.
Most buses have a front door and a back door. You should generally exit using the back door, unless you have a bike on the front rack (as you exit, inform the driver that you’ll be removing your bike), or need to use the passenger lift or ramp (i.e. wheelchair users and other people who have difficulty walking). On some bus models, the back door opens automatically when you step down; on others, you need to push a button or touch a marked area on the door to get it to open. When bus agencies switch vehicle models, this can confuse even regular riders. Look for instructions by the door. By exiting out the back door whenever possible, you help speed up the bus for everyone else by allowing other passengers to board right away through the front door, instead of making them wait for you to exit first.
If, after all this, you conclude that our public transit could be improved, you’re not alone. Check out our frequently asked questions; and support our work and that of other advocacy groups to improve the integration of public transit into our communities