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What is what in San Francisco
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-09-03 21:26:31 | San Francisco, California, United States
Keywords: subway, transit, walk
When you arrive in San Francisco, you always wonder what are the transportation methods you'll use. Yes, they have a very good transit system, but with so many types of vehicles, you wonder if it's all the same price-wise or if your ticket or pass is good for this or that other vehicle. I'll explain it all to you now so you won't get confused between bart, metro, street cars and cable cars.

First, there are two different service companies deserving San Francisco. There's the MUNI (logo above) which is the MUNIcipal transit. Then there's the Bay Area Regional Transit (BART). Transportation titles aren't transferable from one system to the other. The BART is mostly used by locals to go in and out of San Francisco to work mostly, so I'll limit myself to the MUNI system, which is the most complicated one anyway. Technically, there's a 3rd system with limited stops, the Golden Gate Transit, but that's only a few buses going through the gate up to Marin County.


First, of course, you have the buses. The buses come in different sizes and varieties in San Francisco. You have the regular gas bus, the trolley buses (those with poles connected to electric wires above the street) and now you have hybrid electric buses (which are either an old gas one converted or one of those new designs shown here. All the varieties come in both regular and extended (articulated) versions.


Most tourists don't even know it exists in San Francisco! But it's there. It's underground in Downtown limits... and pops up at street level on the outskirts of the city. It can take you right from downtown to the Ocean beach in a bit more than 30 mins. Most people confuse this with the street cars... because all their line identifications are letters. Metro line are identified by letters J, K, L, M, N and T. Most tourists will use line N... that goes from the CalTrain station (next to the Giants stadium) to the beach, passing along downtown and Market street.

Street cars

This is one of the signature of San Francisco. These are the trains that do the line F, from Market street, to downtown and to Fisherman's Wharf. There are more than 15 of those historic street cars in service. Most come from other cities who abandoned this transportation method. You can see on each of those cars the city it comes from (could be Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Los Angeles, etc). They either kept the original city colours or were painted into the San Francisco colours of the era of the car. That's why they're all different. Inside each car, near the rear door, there's the information about the origin of the car and the information about the paint job if any.

Cable cars

That's the other transportation signature of the city. These are old cars pulled in the streets by an underground cable onto which the car grips to move around. When they want to stop, the gripman lets the cable go and applies the break. I had travelled a few times inside the car in the past, today I tried the back 'porch'... quite spectacular. I haven't ventured yet to use it from the side steps. Most tourists use the Powell-Hyde line to go from Market Street to Lombard Street and to the Wharf.  If you want a less crowded experience, try one of the other two lines. 

Although, the cable cars are part of the MUNI system, their pricing is much different. A single-rid of cable car costs $6 and you don't get a transfer. While the other MUNI vehicles charge only $2 and you get a transfer.

You can get 1-, 3- and 7-day passes at a good price... and that will allow you unlimited travel on all MUNI vehicles (including cable cars) for the chosen duration. Even if the 1-day pass is much more expensive than for most cities, two rides on the cable car (for example to get to and from the Lombard street) and one bus ride... and you're back in your money. The best deal is to get a 7-day pass if you're there for more than 3 days. You can then do what I call 'transit tours' and explore the city all over and really mix with the locals, by going outside the tourists areas.

San Francisco is very expanded and very hilly... not a very walkable city to go all around. Even the wharfs area is quite large... so even on flat ground, that's still a challenge to cover it by foot. But for short distances, it's a very wonderful city to walk in and the car drivers are very polite with pedestrians.

Related posts:
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Mexican city buses
Disappointing Seattle
Chicago L
East-West, Up and Down... that was my day


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