Bay Area public transit
The nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area are connected by a network of local and regional transit systems. All systems listed in this guide, even those that are shuttles, are open to the general public. Excursion trains, such as the Niles Canyon Railway, are not listed here. In general the Bay Area is one of the better regions to tour the United States without a car, though there are times and places where service is awkward or rare.
Regional transit systems
AC Transit (Alameda and Contra Costa Counties)
A few routes extend beyond Alameda and Contra Costa Counties:
- Line U East Bay Express. Commuter shuttle service, with luxury coach seating, going from 1 Fremont BART to Stanford University in the morning and the opposite direction in the evening. $4.20; free with Stanford ID.
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)
An Amtrak-run commuter train running from the Central Valley towns of Stockton, Tracy, Livermore and Pleasanton to San Jose. It runs only a few times a day - as of 2017, there are 4 southbound trips (to San Jose) each morning, and 4 northbound trips in the afternoon/evening, so be sure to check the schedule ahead of time.
The train shares the Santa Clara station with Caltrain. It also stops at the Great America station at Lafayette and Tasman, near the Santa Clara Convention Center, Levi's Stadium, and California's Great America.
Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach
Amtrak has partnered with local transit agencies to offer luxury (with comfortable seats and Wi-Fi) daily bus service between San Jose and Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. As with any local bus, you can buy your ticket as you board. Clipper cards are not accepted.
- Highway 17 Express. Also listed as VTA route 970 and Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District route 17. Frequent daily service between downtown San Jose and Scotts Valley/Santa Cruz. $7; $3.50 senior/disabled. Request paper transfer for free or reduced-price transfers at destination.
BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
BART is really more a commuter train for the Bay Area than a subway for San Francisco proper, as there is only one line through San Francisco, but the trains branch out in the East Bay. The system is useful within San Francisco only for trips like getting from the Mission District to Downtown, but BART is most useful for traveling to and from SFO and going between San Francisco and places in the East Bay like Oakland and Berkeley. BART also has a shuttle to OAK. One problem with BART is that it does not run very late. With some exceptions, such as New Year's Eve, the last trains leave from San Francisco on their way to the East Bay at around 12:20 AM, though they are often late at that hour; the trains back from the East Bay leave Oakland later than that, as they originate some distance away (in Pittsburg/Bay Point in the northern Oakland hills; Dublin/Pleasanton southeast of Oakland; Richmond, 4 stops north of Downtown Berkeley; or San Jose, to the south). Trains can also arrive as infrequently as once every 30 minutes, even on Saturday afternoons. The system is generally well maintained, with comfortable, padded seating, room for bicycles, and relatively few delays except late at night. Fares are by distance, and if you use a paper ticket, you must put it through a machine on your way in and out of the system; otherwise tag your Clipper card both in and out. Should you end up needing to add more money to your card before leaving, there are highly visible "add fare" machines at each station.
Transferring from BART
If you plan to board an AC Transit bus at the BART station, be sure to visit the transfer machines before leaving the station. You will get a two-part paper transfer, the first part being good for an immediate $0.25 credit, and the second part for a credit on your return trip to BART, within 72 hours. If you are using a Clipper card, this is unnecessary; the card automatically deducts your transfer credit from the fare charged. VTA no longer accepts paper transfers but will give Clipper users a $0.50 fare credit for transfers from Milpitas or Berryessa BART. Eventually, transfers from BART to all other transit agencies will be handled via the Clipper card.
Multiple Bay Area transit agencies provide credits when transferring to or from BART using Clipper. The current information can be found on Clipper's BART page.
Caltrain is a commuter train system running along the Peninsula between San Francisco, San Jose and Gilroy. Ticket prices vary by the distance between stations, but usually run around $3-6 one way. Trains run about once every half hour, once an hour late evenings, every hour and a half on weekends, with several more trains running during commute hours. This train service is not particularly fast; however, in a move to improve speed, many trains during commute hours run express or semi-express service, so they do not stop at all stations. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at any of the stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Cyclists should use the designated car at the northern end of the train, and be aware that bike space is often limited during commute hours. Most trains don't stop at every station, so look at the schedules to check.
If transferring between Caltrain and BART, the cheapest option is to transfer in Millbrae (the southernmost BART station on the Peninsula). Get off in Millbrae and follow the signs to make your connection. Transferring between northbound Caltrain and BART can be done as a cross-platform transfer, although you may need to hunt for the open gate; between southbound Caltrain and BART you need to ascend to the second level (which is quite high up) and then descend to the desired platform, so do allow more time. Even if using Clipper, you do need to tag in/out of BART and Caltrain separately, as their fare structures are separate.
Golden Gate Transit
Golden Gate Transit is the backbone of transportation between San Francisco and the North Bay, with buses up and down SF, Marin, and Sonoma counties, a couple of lines to the East Bay, and ferries between the city and Marin (see #Ferries). It's easy to make connections to the other transit systems that serve these areas.
Modesto Area Express (MAX)
MAX runs service primarily geared for commuters who live in Modesto and work in the Bay Area. Limited reverse-commute service is available on some lines; call for details. Reservations are recommended, as preference is given to monthly-pass holders. Individual fares are cash only; exact change is required.
- Modesto BART Express, ☏ . M–F, except holidays. Two AM and two PM buses between Modesto and the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. No bike racks (unlike other MAX buses). $14 one-way; $16 same-day round trip.
- Modesto ACE Express, ☏ . M–F, except holidays. Service between Modesto and the Manteca/Lathrop ACE station. $3 one-way.
In its heyday the system of ferries all around the Bay Area was extensive. Nowadays bridges and BART mean that ferries have been reduced to a handful of key lines, but they are still an important form of transportation for some commuters and local daytrippers, a backup option for when bridges are incapacitated by earthquakes and other emergencies, and lovely way to enjoy the great weather and views of the bay.
Golden Gate Ferry goes from San Francisco to Larkspur, Sausalito, and Tiburon in Marin County. The ferry to Sausalito in particular is a popular way to reach the little waterfront town for fine dining and views of the city. The ferry to Larkspur allows connections to other parts of Marin, and from Tiburon it's possible to take another ferry to Angel Island for hiking.
Not public transit in the strictest sense of the term, but the various airporters (scheduled airport shuttles) offer airport connections that are more convenient than the regular buses and more affordable than a taxi, especially for the North Bay. In general, plan to pay in cash or by online reservation. Clipper cards are not accepted.
The Bay Area has three main airports: San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA), Oakland International Airport (OAK IATA), and San Jose International Airport (SJC IATA). There's also a small Sonoma County Airport (STS IATA) near Santa Rosa.
- Airport Express. Every hour or two, early morning to late evening. Goes from SFO and Sonoma County Airport to several destinations in Sonoma County (Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa), as well as from OAK to Marin and Sonoma Counties (San Rafael, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County Airport). $38 to Sonoma County, $30 to Marin County; $2 discount for seniors, military, and students under 21 with ID; children 12 and under free.
- Evans Airport Shuttle. Seven days a week, about every two hours morning to evening. OAK and SFO to Vallejo and Napa. $40 per person; children 12 and under to Napa is only $30.
- Marin Airporter. Every 30 minutes, 5AM to midnight, but transport to the airport may be less frequent depending on where you get on. SFO to Marin County. Stops in Sausalito, Mill Valley (Manzanita and Seminary Drive), Larkspur Landing, San Rafael (Anderson Drive and the Transit Center), and Novato). $23, paid when you get off the bus.
- Monterey Airbus. SFO and SJC to Prunedale, Marina, and Monterey—all in Monterey County, south of the Bay Area.
- Santa Cruz Airport Flyer. SFO and SJC to Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, and Aptos—all in Santa Cruz County, south of the Bay Area.
Local transit systems
Bear Transit (UC Berkeley)
An outgrowth of the Humphrey Go-Bart shuttle launched in the 1970s, Bear Transit offers daytime weekday (M-F) service around the UC Berkeley campus and beyond, including BART stations, the 2 UC Botanical Gardens, 3 Lawrence Hall of Science, downtown Berkeley, and points in El Cerrito and Richmond. General public: $1–$1.50. Info at 511.org web site but not on their phone line.
County Connection (Contra Costa County)
Emery Go-Round (Emeryville)
- Emery Go-Round, ☏ , [email protected]. Shuttle service for residents, workers, and visitors to the city of Emeryville. Two standard routes and three commute routes run to and from Oakland's MacArthur BART station. Free.
FAST (Fairfield and Suisun Transit)
Marguerite Shuttle (Stanford)
Easily the best transit bargain in the Bay Area—free to everyone—Marguerite buses traverse the Stanford University campus, with most routes stopping at the 4 Medical Center, 5 Shopping Center, and 6 Palo Alto Transit Center (for connections to VTA, SamTrans, and Caltrain). Some lines extend farther beyond the campus, to: 7 Fremont BART (lines AE-F, EB); 8 Union City BART Station (line EB); 9 Menlo Park Caltrain station and 10 Bohannon Drive (line BOH); 11 Linear Accelerator (lines S, SLAC); 12 VA Palo Alto Health Care facility (lines R, RP, VA); 13 Palo Alto Tech Center, 0.3 miles from 14 Palo Alto Airport (line TECH); 15 Research Park (lines 1050A, RP). Check schedules carefully, as many lines run only during the day, M-F and/or the school year. For schedules and maps, click 511.org; unfortunately, Marguerite information is not on the 511 phone system.
Marin Transit provides bus service in Marin County. In addition to connecting the Marin County cities, it offers a seasonal shuttle to Muir Woods (buses 66 and 66F), and the West Marin stagecoach goes to Stinson Beach (bus 61) and Point Reyes (bus 68). The system's biggest hub is the San Rafael Transit Center in San Rafael, with smaller hubs in Novato, San Anselmo, and Marin City (near Sausalito). Connections to Golden Gate Transit buses to San Francisco, Richmond, and Sonoma County are available.
Marin Transit's service is sometimes late and not always convenient, but if you're visiting Marin without a car, it gets the job done.
Muni (San Francisco)
- See also: San_Francisco#By_public_transit
- San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni), ☏ . Offers light rail and bus service throughout San Francisco, including San Francisco's famous cable cars.
- Rail and buses. Single-ride fares valid for unlimited travel within 2 hours. Special 1/3/7-day Visitor Passports are available for unlimited travel on MUNI and cable car routes. Adults: $3.00 single ride, 50-cent discount for using a Clipper card or their mobile app. Youth (5-18), seniors (65+), and disabled riders: $1.50 single ride, 25-cent discount for Clipper or mobile app..
- Cable cars. Special 1/3/7-day Visitor Passports are available. $8.00 single-ride fare for all riders; Half-price for seniors/disabled/medicare between 9PM-7AM.
SamTrans (San Mateo County)
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)
- Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA), ☏ , [email protected]. Offers light rail and bus service throughout Santa Clara County. Single-ride fares valid for unlimited transfers within 2 hours when using Clipper or EZPass. If using a Clipper card, you will automatically stop being charged when you reach the daily rate through VTA's "Day Pass Accumulator" program. Adults: $2.50 single ride, $5.00 8-hour light rail pass, $7.50 day pass. Youth (5-18) get 50% off adult fares. Seniors (65+)/disabled get 60% off adult fares.
- Light rail. The Blue, Green, and Orange lines connect Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Milpitas, San Jose, and Campbell. These lines are faster than regular buses, but are still a bit slow through downtown San Jose. Buy your ticket on the platform before boarding train. You can freely transfer between light-rail lines but must complete your trip within 2 hours. Bikes are allowed on board and are hung vertically from hooks at the end of cars. If your bike is heavy or loaded with panniers, this can be difficult.
- Local, Frequent, and Rapid buses. Bus routes are "frequent" if they run every 15 minutes or better between 6:30AM-6:30PM. "Rapid" buses provide faster service than the corresponding regular buses because they skip many smaller stops; there are three Rapid routes, 522, 523, and 568 which correspond to regular routes 22, 23, and 68; as well as the 500. Adults: $2.50 single ride, $7.50 day pass. Youth (5-18) get 50% off adult fares. Seniors (65+)/disabled get 60% off adult fares..
- Express buses. These routes use freeways to travel longer routes. Generally geared towards commuters rather than tourists. Note that these have higher fares! Adults: $5.00 single ride, $15.00 day pass. There is no surcharge for youth (5-18), seniors (65+), and disabled riders, who pay the same fares as they would for local buses..
- Shuttles. Shuttle routes provide connections for riders of ACE to various Silicon Valley companies. Free.
SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Regional Transit)
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) is a rail line opened in 2017 that connects Marin County and Sonoma County, with stops at Sonoma County Airport, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Novato, San Rafael, and Larkspur. An extension is planned to Cloverdale. Fares depend on a zone system and must be paid by Clipper card or an "eTickets" app.
The Larkspur station allows connections to Golden Gate Ferry.
SolTrans (Solano County)
Sonoma County Transit
Tri Delta Transit (eastern Contra Costa County)
Vacaville City Coach
VINE (Napa County)
WestCAT (western Contra Costa County)
Wheels (Alameda County: Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore)
Basic fare is $2. Transfers between Wheels buses or to ACE are generally free. A transfer from BART costs $1.
The Clipper card is a smart card for pre-paying transit fares. Benefits of using the card can include the convenience of not having to put money into fare boxes for individual rides, and cost savings when making multiple trips.
As of January 2016, the use of Clipper to pay for parking is being tested in 5 San Francisco garages.
Should I buy a Clipper card?
You may not need a card to use public transit in the Bay Area, since you can always deposit money into a fare box or ticket machine; however, on BART or SMART, this will require you to purchase a Clipper card as part of the fare purchase. The card costs $3, plus the money you pre-pay for rides, so it probably doesn't make sense if you plan to take only a few rides on public transit. On the other hand, some agencies (e.g. BART, Muni, Caltrain) charge less for tickets purchased with Clipper. Savings can be even greater when you take several rides on the same day. For instance, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency (VTA) no longer issues transfers or day passes, but the maximum daily amount that is charged to the card of an adult (age 19–64) for non-Express rides on the system is $7.50, the cost of 3 individual adult rides. Also, fare discounts for some inter-system transfers (e.g., between BART and a local bus) are given only to those using a Clipper card. An additional factor to weigh is the convenience of not having to deposit exact change into fare boxes, versus the inconvenience of buying and recharging the card.
Buying and reloading the card
Clipper cards for adults can be purchased for $3 at most Bay Area Walgreens and Whole Food stores and other retail locations. Youths (age 5 to 17 or 18, depending on the transit agency), seniors (65 or older), and the disabled are eligible for special cards that are good for discounted rides. You can get these from a Regional Transit Connection center (typically, the offices of the local transit agency) or by mail (allow 10 days for delivery). For details, go to the Clipper card website or call one of the customer service numbers listed in section For more information, below. Allow 10 days for delivery.
Once you have the card, you can add cash value to it at any of the retail locations, online, or at BART (cash only), VTA light-rail, or SF Muni ticket machines. Some Caltrain stations also have Clipper Add-Value machines. The first time you add value online, there will be a delay of a few days before it appears on your card.
Using the card
Clipper card readers are located on buses and at train stops. Hold the card next to the reader. It is not usually necessary to remove the card from your wallet. The reader display will indicate whether the payment was successful, and how much money is left on the card.
For some systems, like BART, Caltrain, and many buses, the fare varies by distance traveled. So you need to tap the card twice - upon beginning and ending your ride - so that you are charged the correct fare. (If you forget to "tap out" at the end of your Caltrain ride, you may be charged a higher fare.)
Sometimes when you transfer from one public-transit vehicle to another (e.g., from BART to a bus) the fare for the second ride is discounted. Procedures vary by transit agency. In some cases, the discount is applied automatically (if you used the card for both rides). In others, you can save money by requesting a paper transfer. Ask the vehicle operator or station agent which procedure applies.
For more information
Questions specifically about Clipper cards are addressed at the Clipper web site (www.clippercard.com), via e-mail ([email protected]), or on their customer-service phone lines (voice: +1-877-878-8883; fax: +1 925 686-8221; TDD/TTY: +1-800-735-2929). For more information about all of the Bay Area transit systems, go to 511.org, or call 511 from a phone from within the Bay Area.
Using 511 to get transit information
Each transit agency has its own web site and telephone lines, but links to all the systems and a look-up for stop ID numbers (see the next paragraph) are also available at the 511 SF Bay website at 511.org, or, except as noted below, by calling 511 from a phone within the Bay Area. 511 SF Bay covers not only public transit, but also other transportation modes, such as driving, bicycling, and ridesharing.
You can use the information on bus-stop signs to find out when the next bus will arrive. Call 511 and say "departure times". The system prompts you for the stop ID. Keying in the ID usually works better than saying it, as the voice recognition is unreliable. The system responds with a not very exact estimate of how many minutes you need to wait. If you are using County Connection, the stop number posted on their bus stop signs does not agree with the stop numbers in the 511 system, so use the 511 SF BAY website to do the look-up.