Newbie’s Guide to Public Transit – Bay Area Edition

Photo of Sonya Luu
11 December 2015

Public transportation can be overwhelming for many. If you’re a newbie to public transit and you’re making a visit or new to the Bay Area, then check out this guide to getting around on public transit.

Whether your a San Francisco visitor or a new resident, this article will help you get around the city. If you’re a visitor, learning the public transport system is a great way for you to get out of the city limits. Want to visit Berkeley? Silicon Valley? Don’t have a car? Well, my friend these places are only a subway and train ride away! Travel like one of the locals and get the full Bay Area experience. If you’re a new resident, learning the public transport system is essential for moving around like a local.

San Francisco Caltrain Station | © Jun Seita /flickr

Public transportation has a different meaning for everyone. For some, it means a regular part of their daily routine. For others, it is a part of the glamorous city life as seen on TV, but never accessed in real life. If you’re the latter, public transportation can be overwhelming, but in the Bay Area, it can make life much easier. When trying something new and out of your comfort zone, two major factors usually come into play: the fear of getting lost, and timing.

There are three main public transit providers in the Bay Area. The first is the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). The VTA has stations conveniently located all over the South Bay Area. However, sometimes when connecting trains, you may find yourself walking a couple of miles to get to your final destination or another station. To pay for your ride, make sure you have exact cash on you as the buses do not take cards nor do they make change. Pay your two dollar bus fare when boarding the bus through a machine next to the driver. The machine can take both bills and coins.

Caltrain is another public transportation provider in the city. Caltrain’s route is categorized into four zones that goes from San Jose to Menlo Park, near the San Francisco Giant’s stadium. To buy your Caltrain ticket, use the user-friendly machines on the platform. First, use the map at the station to figure out what zone you’re traveling to. Select your zone on the machine and enter desired payment method. that you can find on the platform.

The Bart system (Bay Area Rapid Transit) combines the ideas of subway systems and commuter rails. You can use this system to get from San Francisco to cities in the East Bay. To purchase your bart ticket, use one of the ticket machines before entering the platform. First, find your desired destination on the posted chart. Use the chart to determine your fare. Insert cash or card into the machine. The machine automatically starts your fare at $20.00, so use the arrows to choose your desired fare. Press the button when complete to print your ticket. It is important to note that you may only use a credit card twice to purchase a Bart ticket.

BART Train | © zbowling/flickr

There are a plethora of apps that help newbies with public transportation in almost every city. One of the best apps for public transport is Moovit. This is a nifty app that guides you along your journey. You can schedule and plan your trips ahead of time and choose your starting point and destination. The Moovit mascot, a pinhead with a smiley face, moves with you as you move throughout your journey. This app is great for anyone that has a fear of getting lost. [Insert Moovit image attachment]

The CaltrainMe app makes understanding the Caltrain timetables extremely easy. The app also automatically calculates your fare depending on which zone you are traveling to. Maps of the Caltrain and Bart route saved on my phone. If you get lost, you can use this app to reroute yourself, and it will save you the headache of having to run to the nearest map to figure out where you are.[Insert CalTrain_Map attachment][Insert Bart_Map attachment]

I’m sure there are a ton of apps out there that do the same things. These are just the ones that I prefer and use on a regular basis. But if you have any recommendations for a great app I may have overlooked, please, feel free to leave your suggestion in a comment down below. I would love to hear what you guys like using to help you navigate public transit.

There are many benefits to using public transportation. First, you are leaving a smaller carbon footprint than you would if you were driving. You also avoid rush hour traffic. For that matter you avoid traffic at every other time of day as well. Public transport allows you to make the best use of your time – instead of driving, you can ready, study, or get some work done. So while it may be overwhelming, learning public transportation is worth it, no matter where you are living.

Have any other public transportation tips or recommend any apps? Please share in the comments section.

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