Public transport options and commuting

There are a number of different public transport options to commute around the Bay Area and San Francisco using the Public Transport System. Here are the most popular forms of public transport options and instances where to use each one. If you plan to hire a car then visit my previous post located here.

Public transport options

In The Valley (Bay Area)

CalTrain
The CalTrain is a double-decker diesel-powered commuter train that runs on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Santa Clara Valley (Silicon Valley). Basically from San Francisco all the way down to San Jose. The fare varies on the zones you want to visit. A map is provided at each station showing you the zones. So a trip from Mountain View to San Francisco covers 6 zones (max zones) and will cost around $12. You can also get a day pass which is double that price – basically a return pass is a day pass but you can go up and down all day long.

About: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caltrain
Timetable: http://www.caltrain.com/schedules/weekdaytimetable.html
Smart phone timetable: http://m.icaltrain.com/

VTA (Valley Transportation Authority)
VTA operates both buses and light rail within the local Santa Clara county. The buses travel up and down El Camino Real and cost a few bucks pending on your destination. Make sure you have $1 in coin/notes since there is no change given by the black payment box inside the bus. There are stops on El Camino Real every few hundred meters so be prepared for frequent stops and longer journey times. The buses and light rail are high-tech with display & computerized voice giving you updates what street you are approaching so you should never miss your stop.

Website: http://www.vta.org/

Super Shuttle
This is the easiest and most cost-effective shuttle service to and from the airport from your home, office or hotel. It’s a huge blue van franchise with a capacity to carry 8-9 passengers. These things run like crazy at all sort of hours. Plus the bonus is that you will get to see a bit of the bay area as the van picks-up/drops people closest off first.

Books a service: http://www.supershuttle.com/
Other shuttle services: http://www.sftravel.com/shutl.html

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
No not Bart from the Simpsons but the rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area. The heavy-rail public transit system connects San Francisco with cities in the East Bay and suburbs in northern San Mateo County. BART operates five lines on 104 miles (167 km) of track with 43 stations in four counties. The fare is based on a formula that takes into account both the length and speed of the trip. The minimum fare is $1.75 is charged for trips under 6 miles (9.7 km) and maximum one-way fare including all possible surcharges is $10.90.

About: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_Area_Rapid_Transit
Timetable: http://www.bart.gov/schedules/bystation.aspx

In San Francisco

Muni (Municipal Railway)
The San Francisco Municipal Railway (SF Muni) is the public transit system for the city and county of San Francisco, California. Its network consists of 54 bus lines, 17 trolley bus lines, 7 light rail lines that operate above ground and in the City’s lone subway tube (called Muni Metro), 3 cable car lines, and a heritage streetcar line known as the F Market & Wharves. The Muni buses are probably the easiest ones to catch. They have routes all over the city and cost only $2 to ride. Don’t forget to have $1 coins or notes since there is no change given by the black payment box inside the bus.

About: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Municipal_Railway
Timetable: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mroutes/indxrout.htm
Smart phone timetable: http://www.nextmuni.com/

Cable Car
The San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last permanently operational manually operated cable car system, and is an icon of San Francisco, California. Cable cars operate on two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, and a third route along California Street. They are plenty of fun to hang out of one as it takes you up and down the steep hills of San Francisco. A bit pricey at $5 for a single ride but definitely worth the wait and the ride.

About: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_cable_car_system

What about cabs (taxi)?

Too expensive. This isn’t New York where a cab ride is super cheap. When you factor in tip on top of the fair & the traffic that will surely keep that meter ticking up it’s just not worth it. Of course if you have the cash to throw at a cab you can catch one anywhere in the bay area & San Francisco.

Where to use each form of public transport

Destination: SFO (airport) to Mountain View/Palo Alto
Transport: Bart & CalTrain or Super Shuttle
Duration: 1-2 hours.

Destination: Union Square (SF) to Fisherman’s Wharf (SF) – San Francisco has many steep hills that will test your patience and drain your energy levels. It’s ok to try to walk them once but the 2nd time just use the public transport.
Transport: Muni (anywhere from Market St) or Cable Car (from corner of Powell & Market St).
Duration: Around 30 mins.

Destination: Mountain View/Palo Alto to San Francisco
Transport: CalTrain
Duration: 40 min to 1 hr. If you catch the “baby bullet” which has limited stops you should get there in 40 min else budget in 1 hour.

Destination: Mountain View/Palo Alto to San Jose
Transport: VTA Rail or CalTrain
Duration: Up to 1 hr on VTA Rail but it’s a nice scenic & quiet ride. CalTrain will get your there in around 20 mins.

Destination: Mountain View to Palo Alto (Stanford University/Ave)
Transport: CalTrain
Duration: 10 mins.

Hope this information gives you an idea about the public transport options available to you to move up and down the valley. There is plenty to do and see here so enjoy your stay in the bay area!

If I have missed something, made a mistake or you want to know something more specific about other areas and how to get there please contact me using the contact form located here. I always respond within 24 hours.

Ernest

Transport infrastructure in the valley

They called me the VW Jetta pirate! Thanks to my buddies at Enterprise Rent-A-Car I would always get a great weekend hire deal and roll out in my choice of a car, a nice clean VW Jetta. I was set for the weekend to start exploring and settling in Silicon Valley.

My 1st Jetta hire from Enterprise car rental in Silicon Valley
My 1st Jetta hire from Enterprise car rental in Silicon Valley

Choose your weapon

The most common ways to travel up and down the valley:

a.       Enterprise Rent-A-Car – is the cheapest car rental service I found in the valley. They also have a huge range of cars to choose from. Hiring a car is straight forward and no you “do not” need an international drivers license. So do not waste your AUD50 in Australia getting that useless paper from NRMA. All you need is your Australian driverse license and your set to go within few minutes. Enterprise website even has online booking so you can take care of all the paperwork online and just drop in and pickup the car from your closest provider. Make sure you read my post on car rental hidden costs so your well prepared before renting a vehicle.

a.       VTA (Valley Transportation Authority) – has both buses and light rail operating within the local county. The buses travel up and down El Camino Real and cost a few bucks pending on the distance you want to travel. There are stops on El Camino Real every few hundred meters so be prepared for frequent stops and longer journey times. The buses and light rail are high tech with display & computerized voice giving you updates what street you are approaching. The buses also lower forward so you can attach your bike to the front – that’s a neat setup. While the light rail always carry a middle carriage for bike storage.

b.      ZipCar – wheels when you want them is a no obligation share a car service. You sign up on their site and whenever you want a car all you pay for is the per hour hire, nothing else and when your done just drop the car off at a predefined location. This service is more popular in big cities like San Francisco and San Jose where street parking is a nightmare hence the market for such a business.

c.      CalTrain – diesel driven locomotives pull cars of people up and down the valley. These trains stops at most major towns along the way and are very noisy (see my post of apartment hunting to get an idea how noisy). However they do move quickly and the “baby bullet” service is a few stops direct line from San Jose to San Francisco. I would be on these at least once a week when heading into San Francisco. A ride from Mountain View to San Francisco on one of these costs around $6 one way.

CalTrain
CalTrain

Finally, don’t catch any taxi’s. They are a rip-off. One trip from the SFO to Mountain View (20 miles / 32 km) once cost me USD100 + tip. That was my first and only time I would be catching a cab in the valley. However do take a taxi cab in New York since it’s super cheap there.

Happy traveling!

Ernest