Instructables
This is a beginner's guide to riding the MUNI light rail and BART train system in San Francisco. Public transportation systems vary a fair amount between cities, so new transplants to San Francisco may need a few pointers on successfully navigating MUNI and BART.

To do this Instructable, you will need:
-Money for a ticket

Riding the train is an item on Neighbors Project's Neighbors Checklist.

Step 1: Get directions and schedules

The Bay area has scores of transit systems. If you live in San Francisco, you're mostly like to either take the MUNI light rail or buses, which operate in San Francisco, or the BART trains, which go throughout the region (or the CalTrain, which I'm not covering in this Instructable).

Option1: In front of a computer or with your PDA
Use 511.org to plan your best route, including times. But keep in mind that that system only factors in allowing you to walk up to a mile. After you've ridden your recommended route a few times, you may notice that it's easier to walk further or bike to a different station to make the trip faster or more pleasant. Tip: bookmark the trip planner on your computer now.

Don't put much faith in the 511.org claims about when a train will arrive. Check MUNI's NextMUNI page before you even think about leaving your house or office. It gives you the updated predicted time for the arrival of many, though not all, routes. You can also sign up for pop up web and PDA alerts through myNextBus. BART has an estimated arrival tool too on its Web site.

You can get static schedule information about BART on your PDA too. And while you're at it, subscribe to BART's service advisory system so you can make other plans if your normal train gets stalled somewhere.

Option 2: On the street
If you're out and don't have time to check this stuff, or just are too lazy or drunk, just head to your stop and look for electronic signs telling you when your next train is. All of the underground stations in the downtown area have signs with information about when the next trains (separate for MUNI and BART). MUNI even has a map of where all the trains are. You can make bets with your friends about when the train will arrive, like the racing M&M's on the jumbotrons at ballgames. MUNI and BART also make constant announcements in the underground stations about when the next train will arrive.

If you're waiting at an outdoor MUNI stop that doesn't have a sign about arrivals, call 311 or 511 to ask for the schedule. I always do it because I can't stand not knowing. The other people waiting will probably hear you while you're calling, so they probably won't mind it if you happen to repeat the answer out loud so that they can hear.

By the way, the MUNI trains are either inbound or outbound. Inbound is towards Embarcadero (the downtown stop right by the ferry building). Outbound is going away from Embarcadero.

Resources
MUNI overview of its train routes.
Maps to get to the stadiums in the area.
Stations with secure bike parking.
 
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lspcrash3 years ago
This is BRILLIANT info for a recent transplant to the Bay Area like me. This is remarkably different from riding the metra or the L in Chicago, where you can go anywhere for one price. I guessed I'd have to put in my ticket on exit, but you confirmed it. Thanks.
jm35 years ago
Some updates: MUNI now costs $2, FastPass monthly cards are available at http://j.mp/buyfastpass from the 10th - 22nd of every month, and the TransLink smartcard (which is what you want) works on MUNI, BART, and CalTrain, and is available online here: http://www.translink.org.
rhino3-45 years ago
Thank you for taking the time to write share your experience. Public transportation is theft of public money. The fare does not cover the cost and the non-riding taxpayers foot the bill, just like "tax credits" for wind and solar thingies. It makes you feel like you've done something constructive when it just makes you 'feel good." If you want to ride the train or put solar windings on your house you should pay for it without my help.
McGreenish5 years ago
I'm not sure if you mentioned this anywhere in here, but I think it's important to know that you should not to put your BART card anywhere near your cell phone. DEMAGNETIZATION! It's happened to me more than once, and it can cause a huge hassle.
heysi7 years ago
Nice work. I'll use this info when I'm in Frisco in 2 weeks. "Stand right, walk left, stand right, walk left...I've got it"
Another piece of useful information: please don't call it Frisco - it drives the natives crazy. Not sure why, but it's something we're taught from birth. "San Francisco" and "The City" may be used by all. "EssEff" is OK, but may be difficult to pull off for non-locals. "Frisco" will make you a pariah.
Ah, 'tis true. However as a non-native I feel free to say it with impunity because frankly if you care that much about something that stupid you're a wiener, and I serve wieners with relish. Step up and eat it! Also heysi, be aware that on MUNI there is a button outside and a handle bar inside that magically control the opening of the doors. Can you figure out the secret?
drips drips6 years ago
um... you have a time machine, right?
drips6 years ago
Also, please don't: -trim your nails onto the floor or comb your hair then pull the hair off of your brush and throw it on the floor or be otherwise unhygenic and gross. -ride MUNI when your drunk and angry and in a talkative mood. -hesitate to ask someone to comply with the rules. yeah, you'll often get sh't for it (in SF), but you're right and they're wrong so, nyeh! :-P The NextMUNI widget is my pick for tracking the lovely N-Judah. Nice job on the Instructable. Usually I just shoulder check people who don't follow the etiquette but hopefully after this I won't have to(?). Now how can we get everyone in the city to read it?
cycleogical6 years ago
Wow! This is exactly what I wanted to make for a Carfree Tourism Website for "Sco" ( thats what we call SF in Bernal Heights) that I am working on it right now. Can I use this stuff? It is so basic but quite important for the novice.

http://alternetrides.com/carfree/carfreetourism/sfcarfree/home.html

Maybe you are the kind of person who might want to help me with this? You got the skills I can tell from this.
neighborsproject (author)  cycleogical6 years ago
You can definitely use this. Sounds like a fun project. A friend of mine is behind a similar site in Chicago: http://www.carfreechicago.com/

Let's get together and talk about your project. I'd be interested in learning more. Message me through Instructables.
Can you come to our meeting tomorrow? Free lunch! Here is the agenda time & location: San Francisco Resource Team on Air Quality Wednesday January 16, 2008, 12:00-1:30pm Community Focus, 116 New Montgomery Street, Ste. 728, SF Lunch will be provided! 12:00 pm Welcome, Introductions, Announcements Stephanie Anderson & Team 12:15 pm Air District Update Jim Smith 12:20 pm Car Free Tourism ➢ Recap standing with SFO and SFCVB ➢ Report from Car Free site committee– Jim and Chris Weeks ➢ Transit to Trails Map update - Marilyn Stephanie Anderson Chris Weeks, Jim Frank Marilyn 12:40 pm New Project Planning – Discounts for Shoppers Using Transit Team 1:20 pm Review Action Steps Team 1:25 pm Next Meeting Date Team
halli6 years ago
Great set of instructions, but you should probably explain the whole "hit H to tell the BART ticket machine to give you quarters" thing.
rklahn6 years ago
Humbly, I must disagree with the "dont use 511.org's transit planner" advice. I find it very accurate within San Francisco, with the caveat that it relies upon the published schedule ("as documented") rather than the actual bus movement ("as implemented") On the other hand, I have found NextMUNI shocking inaccurate for the lines I regularly take (K/T, N, and the 10). In fact, I noticed this AM that the NextMUNI sign in the Embarcadero station got replaced by the older subway diagram system that was previously in place.
snoopi97 years ago
You should get a gold star, or a raise or something for this article. You covered just about every good and bad thing that people do on rapid transit. And then you gave the correct way to do it. Bravo. Wish we had more people take the time to produce instructive guides like this.
thread_soul7 years ago
entertaining instructable! Just like to emphasize what you wrote about the pull cord on muni:

You won't believe how many locals do this, but you DO NOT have to pull the cord for the train to stop at the next station while underground.

above ground = pull, below ground = don't pull.

(sorry, just my pet peeve... we can all use a few less riders climbing and scrambling over one another to pull the thing when it's just not necessary)
yonran7 years ago
I prefer calling 673-MUNI over 311 because it skips the Do you speak English? step, so you can talk to the operator faster.
jonbritton7 years ago
And please, for the love of Jah and all that is holy, have your goddamn BART ticket ready before stopping in the turnstile. At the top of the stairs, in a turnstile, or in front of the emergency/bike exit is not the time to stop and fish through your purse, checking 20 past tickets that each have $0.15 on them, looking for the one with $1.45.

It may also be worth mentioning that the accessible entrances on BART spit your ticket out where you put them, rather than on top. I see many people baffled as to where their ticket went when using the doublewide turnstiles.
skrippy7 years ago
I like it! One other trait of BART that I don't see in many cities: respect the line that forms behind the black "the door stops here" areas on the floor. I like to think that we are more civil than other cities...but cut in the line and you might get a little incivility!
I hate the BART fare chart, though. It's a bit of a nightmare trying to figure out how much you need to pay.

I hated it so much I made a site to make it easier to understand.
bartfare.com
as i started to read the title, i thought this was a tutorial on MUni (mountain unicycling) ah well
(415) 673-MUNI now diverts to 311 and is useful when you're using a non-311-supported mobile phone, are for some reason not able to access 311 from, say, your work phone, or just feel like dialing more numbers.
r013391137 years ago
Muni stops are also marked by yellow paint on the ground or a pole:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tellumo/444723723/
http://flickr.com/photos/doubletee/444636486/

Gazing around until you find school bus yellow helps in finding a stop.
edrabbit7 years ago
Can we make this required reading for anyone visiting SF please? :)
zer0vector7 years ago
This would have been great 6 months ago. When we went to SF we bought the 7-day Passport, which turned out to be a great deal for tourists. It allows unlimited riding of all MUNI, buses, and cable cars within a 7 day period. We got a bit confused with some of the schedules and procedures for riding the various trains, but I think we did pretty well. I hope you do a bus Instructable soon, and don't forget to mention how many VERY interesting people you can meet on one!
neighborsproject (author)  zer0vector7 years ago
Congratulations on successfully navigating MUNI on your trip. As you note, the bus is a world unto its own, so I'm looking forward to doing a special Instructable on it. I've ridden public buses around the country and world, and I still think San Francisco's buses are the most entertaining.
Step one for riding Muni busses, avoid the 71 Haight/Noriega unless you really want to see the extremes of local color bumping up against tourists. My favorite exchange: Tourist bimbo: "Where do I get off for Haight-Ashbury?" Driver: "At the corner of Haight and Ashbury."
I forgot to add, for riders of the DC Metro system, the BART is extremely easy to figure out. The farecards, farecard machines, gates, and trains are almost identical.
MUNI stops at all of the overground stops downtown no matter what. I think you mean underground stops!
neighborsproject (author)  happychandler7 years ago
Oops. Thanks for the catch.
ere7 years ago
This is sort of covered by #4, but it's one of my pet peeves and I would love to see it emphasized: If you're in the MUNI underground, do not join the group of bozos who crowd around the area where the train doors will open even when the next train is not the one they want, thereby blocking the way of everyone getting on or off that train.
neighborsproject (author)  ere7 years ago
Totally agree. I'm curious: do you say something or take any other action to try to prevent or correct this behavior, like saying, "Let them out first"? Just curious.
For a long time I didn't - I'm kind of a conflict-adverse person - but lately I've started to either say something like "Can you please wait to one side" or at least glare at them and make annoyed gestures. It's either that or end up with high blood pressure.
neighborsproject (author)  ere7 years ago
Glad to hear that that's working for you. I always feel much less tense if I just say something, and it seems like most people actually listen. They looked so shocked to be called on their bad behavior. It's sort of priceless.
mattymatt7 years ago
Ack, no, don't use 511! The site's mainly designed for car users, and the transit planner is so bad it'll discourage you from even attempting to use the bus. Instead, just call 311. They know the routes better than 511's awful planner. Also, the bay area 511 is run by SAIC, a military contractor, which makes some folks a little uncomfortable.
neighborsproject (author)  mattymatt7 years ago
Thanks for the correction Matt. I've only used 311 and 511.org, but always second guess it. You are indeed the expert.
Heh, well, I'm a frequent victim at any rate.
mattymatt7 years ago
Another advantage to taking off your backpack: it's harder for pickpockets to access when it's on your lap or between your feet.
clothbot7 years ago
Great idea for an Instructable! Now that SFO is connected into the BART, a "getting from/to SFO" Instructable variant would be particularly useful for international travelers.
neighborsproject (author)  clothbot7 years ago
Duly noted. Thanks for the request.
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