Whether you’re visiting San Francisco or moving in, public transportation is your friend. All of the options may be confusing at first, but with this handy guide, you’ll be a San Francisco public transportation pro in no time. With all of the affordable options to choose from, you can go just about anywhere you want.

San Francisco public transportation: An overview

Want to familiarize yourself with all of the different San Francisco public transportation options before learning the ins and outs? No problem. Like many big cities, San Francisco has busses and trains at the heart of its public transportation system.

BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, is your connection to the ‘burbs. This system of light rails and subways connects San Francisco and Oakland to suburbs in the surrounding counties. Muni Metro, on the other hand, will help you get around within San Francisco. This network of buses and light rails is set up like veins across the peninsula. If you need to get to a specific location pronto, ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber may be your best bet. San Francisco also has a vast web of bike lanes, making it easy (and free or super cheap) to get around town if you’re down for a little exercise.

Now let’s talk specifics!

BART – Your connection to the ‘burbs

san francisco public transportation - BART
Photo: Bay Area Rapid Transit

Want to see more of the Bay Area? BART can get you there.

What it is

BART operates rail cars, which means they look like trains. Some stations are elevated, while others go underground.

Cost

The fare depends on how far you’re traveling and can range between around $2 and $16. There are ~$5 and ~$6 surcharges for taking BART to San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport, but this still may be cheaper than hopping in a Lyft. You can calculate your specific fare here.

The easiest way to pay for your BART rides is with a Clipper Card. Think of it as a gift card for public transit — you preload the card and your fare is automatically deducted when you exit the fare gate.

Hours of operation

There are six BART lines, but only select lines run on Sunday. Workday rush hour is the busiest time for BART, with trains typically arriving at a station every 15 minutes or so. On nights and weekends, the frequency drops to every 20 minutes or so. Weekday hours are from 4 AM to midnight, Saturday trains operate 6 AM to midnight, and Sunday hours are 8 AM to midnight.

How to use it

  1. First, determine which line you need. Lines are named after their beginning and ending destinations, such as Millbrae – SFO or Warm Springs – Daly City. Along each line there are stops. The easiest way to find your line for the first time is to use BART’s trip planner, which lets you enter your start and end points. You can also enter your desired departure or arrival time.
  2. When you’ve found your line, station, and departure time, it’s time to get to your station. Each station has a vending machine to purchase tickets or Clipper Cards (which cost $3 but are reloadable). You can also purchase Clipper Cards in advance. Keep in mind that if you use a ticket, it’ll cost up to an additional 50 cents per trip.
  3. With your ticket (or Clipper Card) in hand, it’s time to enter the fare gate. If you have a ticket, insert it into the gate. Pulling your ticket out will raise the barriers so you can walk through. If you have a Clipper Card, all you have to do is tag your card on the reader to raise the barriers.
  4. Once you’re through the gate, your next task is finding your platform. Look at the overhead signs to find the platform for your line, and wait for the train to arrive.
  5. After arriving passengers leave the train, it’s your turn to enter.
  6. You don’t need to signal which station you want to get off at — simply exit when you’ve reached your destination.

Is it accessible?

Yes. If you have a disability, you can purchase a discounted BART Red Ticket card to ride for less. You can read about all of BART’s accessible services here.

Download the BART app

Muni Metro – Your ticket around town

san francisco public transportation - MUNI
Photo: SFMTA

From the Mission District to North Beach and everywhere in between, there’s plenty to see and do in San Francisco. Using Muni, the heart of public transportation in San Francisco, you can get to all that our city has to offer without a car.

What it is

Muni Metro has a little bit of everything. Most of the lines are made up of light rail cars, though there are also buses and even a few historic streetcars and cable cars. Fun fact: Muni is the cleanest transit system in any North American city (in terms of emissions … not cleanliness), contributing just 2% of San Francisco’s vehicle emissions.

Cost

Remember the Clipper Card that you can use to ride BART? It works for Muni, too! A single adult ride costs $2.50 with a Clipper Card or Muni Mobile, or $2.75 if you’re paying cash. A monthly Clipper Card will set you back $78 for Muni and cable cars, or $94 if you also want monthly access to BART (within SF). There are also one, three, and seven-day visitor passes.

Hours of operation

Muni Metro has more than 80 different routes that each have their own hours of operation and frequency. In general, Muni runs from around 5 AM to 1 AM, with later start times on the weekends. Some routes, such as E Embarcadero, arrive at a station every 20 minutes, while others, such as the 1 California line, arrive as often as every four minutes during rush hour.  

How to use it

  1. Just like BART, Muni has a trip planner tool that makes it easy for new riders to find their route. Unlike BART route names, Muni routes are identified with a number and a single name, typically representing the road or area it operates in. Make sure you know which stop you need to get on and off at.
  2. After finding your route and schedule, make your way to the Muni stop. These can be above ground at bus stops or platforms, or underground in subways. You can buy a ticket at a vending machine at each Muni station, pay cash at the front of the bus, or buy tickets using the MuniMobile app.
  3. When your Muni bus or rail car arrives, wait for passengers to get off before you get on board. If you’ve paid with a Clipper Card or MuniMobile, you can enter at any door. If you need to pay in cash, make sure you use the door at the very front.
  4. While public transportation is perfect for sitting back and enjoying the view, you need to keep an eye on where you’re at. Once you pass the stop just before you need to get off, pull the cord inside the car to signal a stop.

Is it accessible?

Yes. Single ride fares and Clipper Cards are half off for people with disabilities, making them $1.25 and $39 respectively.

Download the Muni app

Bike and moped sharing – go places on your own schedule

Don’t let the notorious San Francisco hills scare you away — biking is a great way to get around town. Whether you’re a beginner or expert biker, there are numerous routes that can give you an intimate tour of the city.

What it is

There are different bike and moped-sharing programs in San Francisco, some of which are in partnership with the city.

Cost

Bicycle sharing costs range from $2 for a single ride up to $15 for a monthly membership. You can even use your Clipper Card to use the Ford GoBikes. The city also provides permits to scooter sharing companies like Bird, which can cost as little as $1 plus $0.15 per minute to get started.

How to use it

The exact steps will vary depending on which bike, moped, or scooter sharing company you use. However, all of them can be used on your own timetable and aren’t limited to preset start and end points.

Is it accessible?

Unfortunately, no.

 

Between all of the buses, light rails, cable cars, and bike share programs, there’s no shortage of public transportation in San Francisco. Want to learn more about San Francisco? Check out our guide to 31 Free (Or Cheap) Things To Do In San Francisco.