In my never-ending quest for new experiences I figured now was a good time to learn all the different public transit options in San Francisco. I’m here for 2 days taping a segment that’s going to air on TV at some point. I’ll let you know when so you can set your DVRs.
Without further ado, on to the things that I’ve learned.
BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
I picked this up at SFO this morning. While I was staring at a sign trying to figure out how to get to the BART from where I got off the plane this old man came through and asked me if I needed help. I think he was a volunteer there.
“Well, I’m trying to take the BART for the first time,” I said cheerfully, smiling like a tourist.
“Come this way,” he said pointing at the escalators that, duh, said BART above them.
He got onto this train and I’m looking around frantically, “I don’t have a ticket – don’t I need one?”
“No, this isn’t the BART,” he said. Hah, whoops. Okay, so the train takes you to the G terminal (international?) where the BART entrance is also located. He pointed me the right direction and then we parted company.
I sidled up to the BART ticket machine. Credit card, cash, okay – how much? I hit the button for credit card, put in my CC and was offered a half dozen options – add $1, subtract $1, print $20 card, or BART Plus. The $20 print seemed to be the path ‘o least resistance so that’s what I did. I seemed to remember my handy-dandy iBART Live application telling me that it would be $8.10 to go from SFO to Powell station. $20 would do the trick.
At this point I’m wearing my backpack and I’m hauling my rolling duffel behind me. The turnstile width was just wide enough for me so I tried to put my bag through in front of me. It fell down (away from me) so I kicked it through so I could get clear of the gate. The last thing I needed was for my bag to be through with me still on the other side.
A train showed up and the name on the signs matched what I was looking for. I waited at the door until one of the attendants came by and used a key down by the door that caused it to slide open. I sat down, planted my stuff on the opposite seat (which was in my lap by the time my stop arrived). The first few stops didn’t have any signs and I was getting really nervous. It turned out it was just the no-name stops (intersections, etc) that seemed to be missing them.
From here I walked up the 4 blocks north on Powell and one west on Post to the JW Marriott at Union Square. Fairly wiped out (it’s uphill from Market) I checked into my room on the 13th floor and dropped all my stuff. I went up to the lounge and drank a lot of water and planned my next moves.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation (MUNI)
David at expensify.com recommended Ike’s Place for the best sandwiches in San Francisco. I mapped out my trip: walk down to Market & Powell to the MUNI. Take the (J) line outbound (away from downtown) until you get to 16th and Church. Walk 2 blocks west to Ike’s.
I’m really glad I stopped at the concierge because it turns out you need to have change in order to catch it at the station. I made sure I had enough ones and started out. It costs 2 bucks to ride in each direction. I got quarters to feed the turnstile, walked down the stairs, and caught the (J) when it came through.
I’m still fuzzy on the whole stop thing, though. I can’t tell if we stopped at 16th and Church because it was a stop or because someone requested it. I think it was a stop because I was able to catch it there on the way back, but I’m not certain he would have stopped unless someone was standing there. The punchline is you have to really be aware of your surroundings. If you miss your stop, you’re either walking back or you have to catch one in the other direction which would be miserable.
Cable Car Powell-Mason
I didn’t expect to take this up from Market, but I figured I’d give it a try. I stopped at the Sketchers store, got some new shoes, and then walked across the street to the H&M to wait for it. This time I used Routesy app on my iPhone to figure out when the cable car would be at Powell & O’Farrell again. It dutifully reported 5 more minutes.
Behind me and to the right there were two older ladies. One of them was a seasoned cable car rider and was explaining to the other how the stops worked. Evidently the double X’s on the ground in front of us mean a mandatory stop for the cable car. Sure enough, in just a few minutes the cable car was there.
I also learned that not all of the little running board areas are created equal. The 3 on the left & right toward the front are fair game – two people per running board. The one toward the middle is the entrance to the interior of the car. After I was told to get out of the entrance and was shuffled into the center of the car we jerked forward and I’m pretty sure I squished the foot of the lady behind me. I apologized profusely but she seemed to be okay.
By the time I realized how far we’d gone we had overshot my hotel by 3 blocks. I pulled on the cord, shuffled passed the other folks on the train and got off. Then began the super steep walk back down to Post & Mason. I couldn’t imagine walking on these streets in the rain. They would be way too treacherous for me.
Good Old Fashioned Busses
No tour of public transportation would be complete without a trip on a good old fashioned numbered bus line from X to Y with stops in between. I decided to take a trip from the hotel to where the shoot will be tomorrow (more on this later). I googled, it told me that I could catch the 30 bus south toward Townsend & 4th which was a hop, skip, and a jump from where I needed to go.
I made sure I had enough cash ($2 per ride) and cut through Union Square to the bus stop. The bus wasn’t too crowded, but I wound up standing for most of the trip anyway. We headed south and then all of a sudden the bus driver decides it’ll be faster to dodge west a bit and then head south again. I looked at the route and this wasn’t it. I guess the bus driver is allowed to get creative with his route whenever traffic acts up?
I hoped I wouldn’t miss my stop and I surely didn’t. We got to Townsend & 4th right outside the Caltrain Station and I walked down to King and over to the building I wanted. So far so good. Now to get back.
I checked out the path back up and initially my iPhone wanted me to take a light rail train ALL the way around to Market & Powell. Uhh, no. I walked away from the light rail and tried again. This time it said I could catch the eastbound 45 bus that would take me within a couple blocks of the hotel. Bingo.
Unfortunately it was leaving in less than a minute. =) I looked right and, sure enough, there was the 45 bus. I got ready to cross the street in front of it and the light turned green for me. Sweet! I got across in just enough time to see it sail up behind me.
I got on the bus, paid my $2 fare and sat down. The next stop more folks got on. The next stop even more got on. I gave up my seat, I moved over, I squeezed in, and I got stepped on. By the time we got to Sutter & Stockton I couldn’t move. There was a woman behind me getting awfully friendly and my belly was mere inches from this older fellow who didn’t seem to notice. They stopped, I got off, and walked back toward my hotel.
On the way I saw a hot dog vendor. I’m a sucker for a hot dog, especially an all-beef one so I patronized his sidewalk establishment. A few onions and a whole lot of mustard later I was on my way with some grain-fed all natural hot dog goodness.
That concludes my tour of the San Francisco public transit system. So, BART good, light rail good, cable car still needs some work, and the bus is a last resort unless you can be reasonably sure it won’t be crowded. I don’t get claustrophobic, but I was double checking my pockets to make sure no one came up at my expense.