San Francisco consists of 49 square miles of curvy streets, long boulevards, hidden alleyways, and many hills. With the right means of transport, you'll find moving around the city without a private car not only easy but also affordable and convenient. In this guide we look at the details of San Francisco public transportation including — Muni, cable cars, and ride sharing.
The public transportation in San Francisco is run by MUNI. We hear that Muni service can be slow, and it may be faster to bike or even walk to various locations. Despite this drawback, Muni is safe and offers much better service than what most U.S. cities can provide. Moreover, considering the driving and parking challenges in San Francisco (and the urban problems caused by ride sharing, as we will see), Muni remains the best choice — besides walking!
MUNI is the principal San Francisco public transportation transit operator. It's is an extensive network of trolleys, buses, cable car lines, and streetcars that serve all tourist destinations, residential neighborhoods, and shopping districts within the city. Route maps and schedules for individual lines can be found online. The system maps can also be found online, and you can purchase them at select retail centers. Various bus stops have system maps, and different busy stops have electronic displays that announce the arrival of the next bus in real time.
If you're paying with cash, be certain to ask for a transfer when boarding a trolley, streetcar, or bus. The transfers are usually proof of payments that are shown to inspectors upon request. You may be liable for a fine if you have no proof of payment. If you're paying cash in a cable car, you'll be given a receipt that acts as the proof of payment.
Apart from cash, you can ride the Muni using a transportation card. This option is great for passengers who don't want to carry cash around when traveling. The Muni 7-Day Pass is ideal for visitors, providing a full week of unlimited transportation on all Muni trolleys, buses, and even the historic cable cars.
The easiest and best way to get ahold of a Muni 7-Day Pass is by getting a San Francisco CityPASS before you leave home. The CityPASS not only gets you free transit rides, it also includes free entrance at museums like the California Academy of Sciences, as well as a San Francisco Bay cruise. To learn more, read our guide.
Street cars and cable cars are San Francisco's early public transit vehicles, still in use today. Cable cars can be found downtown and operate on three lines; California Street, Powell-Mason, and Powell-Hyde. The F-Line streetcars operate along the Market Street to Fisherman's Wharf. These services give you the option of purchasing tickets at various locations or paying the conductor when on board.
You're likely to fly into SFO, the San Francisco International Airport. Grab your bags and look around for the AirTrain signs. The Red Line of AirTrain takes passengers between all airport terminals, to the BART station (that's the Bay Area Rapid Transit system that covers the entire region), and to the airport parking garages. The Blue Line does what the Red Line does, but also gets passengers to the rental car center. You can take either of the two to catch the BART at the Garage G stop, and then hop on the BART train that heads towards Pittsburg/Baypoint station.
BART covers the Bay Area (the "BA" in BART) and includes only a handful of stations in the most visited parts of San Francisco — Embarcadero, Powell Street Montgomery Street, Civic Center. You get into the city quickly, but you may need to use the Muni system to reach your final destination in San Francisco.
Costs associated with BART are connected to how far away the stations are; the further they are, the higher you'll pay for the service. At every station there are price charts that display the cost to and from that station. Purchase your ticket, slip the ticket and pass through the gate, and enter the boarding areas. Do not panic if you happen to run out of cash; you can always top up while inside the station.
You should remember that all services begin at 4 AM and close at midnight on weekdays. On Saturdays, BART services start at 6 AM, and at 8 AM on Sundays.
If you happen to arrive at the Oakland Airport across the bay, spot the BART signs. Using BART from Oakland is a fast, convenient, and affordable way get into San Francisco and other surrounding cities. The new automated movers head to Coliseum station from OAK where the train will take you to your intended destination. Trains depart every five minutes from 8 AM to 8 PM daily. The BART fares from Oakland to San Francisco and other East Bay cities are lower than what you would pay for shuttles or taxis to the same destination. If you are planning to visit relatives and friends, we suggest you take BART.
Lyft and Uber are car services run by locals in San Francisco. You've undoubtedly heard of Uber, but perhaps Lyft is new to you. To use these options, you need first to download the application, sign up, and set up a payment system.
Lyft gives you the choice of getting a private ride or sharing the service through their Lyft Line option. The ride-sharing option is useful if you have others with you since you get a discounted rate. On the other hand, Uber also offers a similar service referred to as Uber Pool. To use either Lyft or Uber, set a pick-up zone and your end destination. Within a few minutes, your ride will arrive to pick you up at the location you have requested. Make sure you communicate with the driver either by text or voice so you can always be sure you are getting in the right vehicle.
The problem with these services is that they increase the number of vehicles on the road and worsen traffic congestion, air pollution, etc. In fact, in a recent study, the City of San Francisco lays the blame for these ills directly at the feet of these ride-sharing services.
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