Introduction: How to Ride the MUNI Bus (San Francisco)

This a beginner's guide to taking the MUNI bus in San Francisco.

Everyone thinks of cable cars when you say "San Francisco", but the reality is, your best bet for getting around the peninsula is probably the mighty bus.

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

Taking public transportation is an item on Neighbors Project's Neighbors Checklist.

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Step 1: Get Directions and Schedules

1. Find your stop.

Step outside your building and look around. SF MUNI says there's a 90% chance there's a stop within two blocks of where you are standing. If you can't find one just by looking around, check out a map online at or call 311 and a friendly operator will help you out.

2. Figure out where you want to go.

You can go about this in a few ways. You can get old fashioned and look at a map and figure out which brightly colored lines go to where you want to go; you can go to and use their handy Trip Planner program and let the robots do it for you; or you can call 311 and have a real, live person get paid to figure it out for you.

Make sure to check bus times before you go hastily throwing on mismatched clothes and running out the door. You might spend half an hour waiting on the corner with your uncombed hair blowing in the mighty San Francisco breeze. Bookmark on your computer, or if you haven't paid those pesky internet bills call 311 and they'll tell you just how fast you have to run to catch that ride. If you're already out and about, plenty or stops have electronic screens that show you when the next buses are arriving. Though keep in mind that the NextMUNI displays don't always conform to the laws of time; three minutes may sometimes mean five, and "arriving" may even sometimes mean "this vehicle doesn't actually exist".

Step 2: Get to Your Stop and Wait

Get there early! Bus drivers want to keep moving (if only because all the passengers do, and no driver wants to listen to complaining riders all day) and so they WILL NOT STOP FOR YOU no matter how frantically you are waving and running after them.

At night especially, make sure you are standing where the driver can see you. Buses only stop when passengers have requested to get off or when people are waiting at a designated stop. It's a real shame to have one blow by you because you were lurking in the shadows.

Step 3: Board and Pay

First, for the love of life, let people get off before you try to get on. Technically, no one should be disembarking via the front door, but plenty of people do it anyway and you are only going to hold up things if you start pushing them back in.

Pay upon boarding. Now there are a number of ways to go about doing this:

1. Pay $1.50 in cold, hard, EXACT CASH. Put your exact change in the machine at the front of the bus, right next to driver and take the proof of payment/transfer he or she gives you.

2. Show the driver your TRANSFER STUB, if in fact you have one from a connecting ride on the BART or a MUNI train or cable car.

3. Flash your PASS. This is the easiest and most economically sensible option for a frequent bus rider. There are monthly passes, weekly passes and day passes (called Passports), all of which you can find out more about at These can save you a lot of money (hooray for unlimited rides!) and time you might have otherwise spent digging around in your pockets for quarters. There are also Lifeline Passes for those under a certain income bracket, as well as Senior and Youth Passes for those at each end of the spectrum.

A few other things:

If you are riding with a bike, go ahead and put your bike on the rack on the front nose of the bus then get on. Check out this handy video from another city for a demonstration. Strollers are welcomed aboard, however if it is possible to fold it up and conserve space, do so. Note: double-wides don't really fit on the bus

If you are riding with an animal you will have to follow all MUNI rules regarding your fuzzy companion. Leashed service animals ride for free (with proper identification), leashed and muzzled non-service animals can get on during non rush hour times (5-9 am and 3-7 pm during weekdays qualify as rush hour), and all other pets must hang out in small closed containers for the ride. All non-service animals pay a fare equal to their owner.

Step 4: Find a Place to Sit or Stand

Move back, move back, move back! Unless you are elderly or disabled and therefore rightful owners of those front seats, move on back. Sometimes you can go all the way into what seems like another bus (keep an eye out for those double ones).

Sit down if there are any seats available, though make sure to give priority to those who legally or neighborly deserve it-- like older people, disabled folks, pregnant ladies, kids, maybe nurses who look like they had a long day on their feet.

If you stand, hold on. Buses really do make those "sudden stops" they warn might be necessary. Try to avoid breathing right into someone else's face, or taking up an entire pole, or knocking people out with your bags who are sitting down (keep them in between your feet for a safe, space-saving spot). And seriously, it's worth repeating: HOLD ON. You can hurt people, including yourself, when you go flying about. It's also simply embarrassing.

Step 5: Ride

This should be the easy part. Take a look around at what goes by your windows, or at your fellow passengers. Of course you might want to avoid making eye contact with folks you are not dying to converse with. Like that guy with the bunny ears headband exploring explicit word combinations aloud. Generally speaking, a pair of headphones or an open book can signal that you're not interested in more than a brief "hello".

But don't shut yourself off completely! You might be pleasantly surprised when you overhear local restaurant and bar reviews, news updates, or book and music and movie recommendations from fellow passengers. Or the mysterious voices.

Something else you will most likely, and most unfortunately, experience is The Loud Cell Phone Talker. You know who I'm talking about. And if I'm talking about you then SHAME ON YOU. It's not that you can't talk on your phone at all--you just can't yell into it about how wasted you got at the club and how hilarious it was when you puked all over that girl's dress. No, no. Use your inside voice, mention that you're on the bus and therefore can't talk long, then get on with your ride.

And just so we're entirely clear: NEVER choose a new ring-tone while riding the bus. No one else is going to be happy that you like the Sonata that much better than the Cha-Cha you had before.

Step 6: Get Off

As mentioned before, buses won't slow down for a stop unless a) there are people waiting at it, or b) you request it.

If you're not sure where your stop is, look for electronic signs announcing the stops at the front of the bus. If you're on a bus that doesn't have a stop announcer, then position yourself near a window and read the street signs. You can also ask someone on the bus to tell you when you're approaching your stop; don't ask the driver unless the bus is fairly empty.

To request a stop while on the bus, pull the wire that goes along all of the windows. You should hear an electronic ding and the Stop Request ight at the front of the bus will light up. Make sure to pull the cord at least 50 feet before your stop or your diver might ask you, "Do I look like a Goddamned mind reader?" (He's really out there. Beware.)

Once the bus stops, get off through the doors in the back. (Remember how annoying it was when everyone was getting off through the front doors when you were trying to get on?) To open the doors, step down onto the stairs or push on the bar that say "Push to Open". If for some reason that sensor isn't working, you can always say loudly, "Back door!" and the driver will open them for you.

I'm sure the drivers appreciate a sincere "Thank you" too if you have it in you.