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Bay Area Transit Basics


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In this section:

List of Transit Providers | Locate a Transit Provider | Transit Area Service Maps | Bay Area Transit Basics | All Nighter Service

General Information

Big Region and a Growing Population

The San Francisco Bay Area encompasses the nine counties that touch San Francisco Bay: Alameda and Contra Costa in the East Bay; Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma in the North Bay; San Francisco and San Mateo on the Peninsula; and Santa Clara County - the region's most populous county - in the South Bay. Home to 101 municipalities, the Bay Area has a land mass of 7,179 square miles (bigger than several states) and is home to over 7 million people, making it the fifth most-populous metropolitan area in the country. By 2030 the region is estimated to have 8.7 million people. Whether it’s walking, bicycling, driving or riding public transit, the region’s transportation network is key to getting the growing population around the Bay Area.

A Diverse Transportation Network

511 consolidates the Bay Area’s diverse transportation network which includes approximately:
9,000 miles of bus routes
470 miles of rail transit
5 commuter ferry lines
5 public ports
3 major commercial airports
1,420 miles of highways
340 miles of carpool lanes
8 toll bridges
19,600 miles of local streets and roads
750 miles of bikeways in the regional bicycle system including the nine-country Bay Trail (and an additional 1,300 miles of new bikeways are proposed).

Regional Transit Providers

The Bay Area is home to some two-dozen primary public transit operators that offer bus, rail, ferry and shuttle services in the region. BART and Caltrain offer rail service along major corridors leading into San Francisco. Other major service includes Muni in San Francisco, AC Transit and County Connection in the East Bay, Golden Gate Transit in the North Bay, SamTrans on the Peninsula and Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in the South Bay. Rounding out the list are smaller operators sprinkled throughout the region. Together, the Bay Area's transit services carry an average weekday ridership of more than 1.1 million. For additional details about each transit provider, visit the List of Transit Providers page.

511 Transit Coverage Area

This website contains information on the major transit providers in the Bay Area. In addition to these providers, the website also contains information about shuttles serving rail stations, other shuttle systems, commercial bus carriers, and out-of-region transit. View our List of Transit Providers page for the list of agencies by mode. The trip planner includes route and schedule information for some agencies that reach outside the nine-county region, such as Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor, but not for all stops and services that go beyond the Bay Area. For more information, see the “Out-Of-Region Transit” section on the List of Transit Providers page.

Getting Around on Transit

Explore the Bay Area without the hassles of traffic, parking, and gas by taking transit. The transit network runs buses, streetcars, and light-rail vehicles in the denser cities, while ferries and commuter rails take passengers further out into the region. Depending on your starting point and destination, some trips can be made using different transit operators or combination of operators. Experienced Bay Area riders know that the best transit trips often combine various modes, like bus and train services. The 511 Transit website’s trip planner can help you find the best connections. The trip planner currently includes route and schedule information for all Bay Area transit operators with additional links to information for shuttle services and providers outside the region. Wherever you're going, 511 Transit is the place to start. Begin planning your trip on the trip planner by clicking here.

More information at your fingertips

To learn more about getting from place to place in the Bay Area, just remember 511--your Bay Area travel guide. In addition to public transit information, you’ll find information about traffic, carpooling, vanpooling and bicycling at http://www.511.org. On the Transit site, you’ll find useful links to transit agency information, accessibility information, and maps. In many stations, you’ll find Regional Transit Display Cases containing transit operator and route maps for the Bay Area. The “Getting There On Transit” brochures give you information you need to navigate the nine counties with directions to many of the region’s most popular destinations. Pick up a brochure at many transit hubs throughout the Bay Area, or request a copy from the MTC library. For more information about transportation planning and financing in the Bay Area, also visit the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) website. Additional information about the Bay Area's cities and counties is available at the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) website.

Regional Outreach

Want to get involved? Help make an impact on the region’s transportation network by participating in public hearings – for more information see: http://www.mtc.ca.gov/get_involved. Or read up on individual agency taskforces to keep on top of the latest transit issues. Most meeting schedules are posted on individual agency websites. Links to each agency website are available through the List of Transit Providers page . These meetings are your opportunity to hear firsthand about what's in the works for the region and to offer your perspective and suggestions for improvement.

Regional Highlights

Regional Connectivity

The public transportation network takes people in the region where they need to go with over 475 million trips logged by Bay Area transit riders each year. Public transit opens up job opportunities for millions by making it easier to get from home to work. It enables people to get to leisure destinations, from visiting the area’s spectacular natural surroundings to sporting events, shopping, the arts, and cultural activities. 511 consolidates the network of transit operators to provide you with information on accessing the region’s unparalleled resources.

Airports

The Bay Area is one of the few regions in the world with three major airports accessible by transit. The trip planner makes it easier to plan a trip on public transportation to and from San Francisco International Airport , Oakland International Airport and the Mineta San Jose International Airport. When using the trip planner, just enter SFO, OAK or SJC in the address entry box. The 511 phone system also provides information on traffic conditions, parking rates and ground and public transportation at all three major Bay Area airports, and at Sacramento International Airport.

Cable Cars

San Francisco is the first and only city in the world to have cable cars. In operation since 1873, the cable cars remain one of the largest attractions for the area and a worldwide symbol of San Francisco. For more information on the cable cars, visit the Cable Car Museum or view this unofficial web site for descriptive details and interactive features: http://www.sfcablecar.com.

Historic Streetcars

In addition to the world-famous cable cars, San Francisco features vintage streetcars along the city’s F-line. The historic fleet includes a collection of vintage cars from San Francisco and around the world. For more information on the historic streetcars, visit the San Francisco Railway Museum or San Francisco Muni’s web site.

New Technology

Many Bay Area transit operators feature technologically advanced vehicles aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions or providing Wi Fi high speed wireless connections as an additional feature for passengers. As you travel in the area, also keep an eye out for AC Transit’s zero-emission fuel cell buses, San Francisco Muni’s hybrids and clean air vehicles, and Valley Transportation Authority’s zero emission buses. As you travel across the Bay, you’ll see select AC Transit buses equipped with Wi Fi.

Planning Your Trip

Plan Your Trip

The interactive 511 trip planner allows you to generate step-by-step instructions for traveling from place to place on public transportation—including an itinerary based on your parameters with schedules, fares, time estimates, and location maps for more than 30 public transit providers in the Bay Area. Go to the menu on the left and select 511 Transit Trip Planner to get to the interactive trip planner, or use the trip planner entry form on the 511 Transit home page. The 511 Transit Trip Planner will suggest which route or routes to take, when and where to board, and where to transfer if necessary. Since there is often more than one way to get from the Start point to the End point, you have the option of requesting the fastest route, or the route with the fewest transfers or least amount of walking, and specifying the distance you are willing to walk between transit points, among other preference settings.

MY 511

Personalize 511, your way. Currently, MY 511 is only available for 511 Traffic features, with real time transit vehicle departure times beginning to phase in soon for a limited number of participating transit agencies. Over time, more personalization features will be added to MY 511 for the Transit website. MY 511 services require registration to set up these personalized services. Once registered, you will also be able to use shortcuts through the 511 phone service to get current transit departure times of interest to you, where available. Click here for more details about MY 511.

Real-Time Departures – Real Time Transit

Stop waiting and wondering. Using Real-Time Departures currently can get you free, up-to-the-minute departure time estimates for San Francisco Muni trains now covered by this service. Call 511 and say “Departure Times” or click on the Real-Time Departures menu on the left side of the 511 Transit page for more information.

Clipper – the new, all-in-one reloadable way to pay your transit fares in the Bay Area, is currently accepted on Muni, BART, AC Transit, VTA, SamTrans, Caltrain and Golden Gate Transit and Ferry, and will eventually be accepted on all forms of Bay Area public transit. A Clipper card can hold passes, discounted tickets, ride books and cash value. You can get a card or add value online at clippercard.com, over the phone by calling 877.878.8883, in person at dozens of retail locations including Walgreens, and at participating transit ticket offices. You can even set your Clipper card up for Autoload at clippercard.com, so that your card will automatically load cash or monthly passes when your balance is low, or your pass expires. To learn more about Clipper, click here.

Fares and Fare Payment

Fare schedules and payment procedures vary widely among Bay Area transit operators, which range from free local shuttle services like the Emery-Go-Round in Emeryville and the Menlo Park Midday Shuttle in Menlo Park to multi-county operators like BART, Caltrain and Golden Gate Transit that base fares on distance traveled. Fare information for every major Bay Area transit operator is available on the 511 Transit Agency Fare Finder. Many Bay Area transit operators offer transfers to connecting services, most with discounted fares. The 511 Transit Trip Planner helps passengers determine where to transfer, if necessary, and calculates the fare for each segment of a trip, including transfer discounts. Also, learn how ClipperSM will make paying for your fares and making transfers easier. Currently, most Bay Area buses require exact change to board. Tickets for BART trains must be purchased before proceeding through the fare gates. Some transit systems require you to carry proof of payment that can be shown to roving fare inspectors. In addition to single-trip cash fares, many Bay Area transit operators offer passes that allow unlimited travel within that system for a day, week or month. This information is provided in more detail on many of the transit agencies’ own websites.

Service Hours and Frequency

Service hours vary greatly among the various Bay Area transit operators. You can contact the transit agency directly to confirm hours of operation. Agency contact information can be found within the individual agency profile on the List of Transit Providers page . The All Nighter provides regional bus service from approximately 1 to 5 a.m. throughout Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, and serves most BART and Caltrain stations. Be sure to check the schedules for each of the agencies that you are interested in on the Schedules and Route Finder page , as some do not offer late night service or may shut down after the evening commute period. Some agencies do not operate on Saturdays and/or Sundays and holidays. Others offer service to recreational destinations (i.e. parks and beaches) on weekends and holidays only. Frequency of service also varies greatly by transit operator. The larger, denser cities offer more frequent service, while the outlying areas tend to be less frequent. The schedule summary pages by transit operator and by line will give you a sense of how often the service runs. Transit agencies' telephone customer service hours also vary considerably, with many customer information centers handling "live" calls only during normal Monday through Friday business hours. The 511 phone service can connect you directly to transit agencies' telephone customer service centers and will inform you of the centers' operating hours before completing the transfer.

Riding Transit

Accessible Transit for the Disabled and Elderly

Most public transit vehicles in the Bay Area are wheelchair accessible. Passengers are required to make seats near the entrance of transit vehicles available to the elderly and disabled. The 511 Transit Accessible and Senior Services page provides more information on accessibility. Call 511 to connect with your transit agency. For information about paratransit, either use the keypad or say "paratransit" at the main menu voice prompt. Or, contact a transit operator directly to confirm service accessibility. Agency contact information can be found on the List of Transit Providers page .

Helpful Hints for New Riders

Using public transportation to travel around the Bay Area can be easier, faster and more fun if you remember a few helpful hints:

Be Prepared

* Plan your trip ahead of time, using the 511 Transit webpage and the tripplanner.
* Parking may not always be available if you're planning to drive to a bus stop, train station or ferry terminal.
* Schedules are at best estimates and can be affected by traffic congestion and other delays.
* Make sure to arrive a few minutes early.
* Have the exact fare ready or give yourself time to buy a ticket.
* When necessary, get a transfer from the bus driver, train operator or ferry attendant when you board.

Ride Friendly

* Allow all passengers leaving the transit vehicle to exit before you board.
* Allow elderly and disabled riders to occupy seats near the door.
* Smoking is not allowed on any transit vehicle.
* Eating and drinking generally are allowed only on trains and ferries with food and beverage service.
* Use headphones if listening to a radio, CD player or other noisemaker.
* Try not to disturb other passengers when using a cellular phone.
* Make sure there's enough room for your bicycle before bringing it onboard a bus, train or ferry, and that the agency rules permit bicycles on board.

Ready to get going? Click here to Plan your trip now.

Ridesharing & Parking

511 Rideshare provides free services to commuters who want to share the ride to and from transit stops in carpools or vanpools. Their services include consultation on alternatives to driving alone, carpool and vanpool referrals, setting up and supporting vanpools, and information on carpool lanes and park & ride lots. Want to park you car while you ride transit?Go to the Park & Ride Lot map on the Rideshare page and find a park & ride lot near you.

Bikes on transit

Approximately 36,000 Bay Area residents use a bicycle as their primary means of getting to work every day. Nearly all buses in the Bay Area are equipped with bike racks, and bicycles are allowed on all Bay Area ferries, as well as most rail systems. There are a few exceptions, so it’s a good idea to confirm before you head out with your bike. Check out the Bikes on Transit section of the Bicycling page for more information. If your transit trip does not allow bicycles on board, many transit stations and park & ride lots also offer bike racks and lockers. More information on parking your bike at transit stations and park & ride lots.

Pets on transit

All Bay Area transit providers allow persons with disabilities to ride with their guide, signal or service animal. The service animal must be leashed or otherwise under the control of the owner at all time. Under certain restrictions some transit providers, such as San Francisco Muni, allow persons to board with an animal that is not a working dog for the disabled. A fare for the animal may be required and they may be allowed to ride only during certain hours. Dogs may need to be muzzled and kept on a short leash or in a closed container. Other animals may be required to be in a closed container. Please contact the individual transit operator before attempting to board with an animal that is not in the service of a disabled person. Agency contact information can be found on the List of Transit Providers page .

Safety Tips

* Review emergency information posted in transit stations and vehicles.
* To report an emergency during your trip or a suspicious package or behavior, tell the vehicle operator right away or call 9-1-1.
* Riding your bike at night? Wear light-colored or reflective clothing, and carry a reflector or flashlight so transit vehicle operators can see you.
* Never cross in front of a bus or vehicle unless it is stopped at a red light or stop sign. Always use the designated pedestrian crossings.