Introduction: How to Ride MUNI and BART

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 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 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.

MUNI overview of its train routes.
Maps to get to the stadiums in the area.
Stations with secure bike parking.

Step 2: Find Your Stop and Wait

The underground stations are all marked with reasonably large MUNI and BART signs. If you see stairs going down Market Street downtown, then you've found a station. MUNI and BART share the downtown stations, so use the signs in the station to find the right entrance.

The outdoor MUNI stops have a sign and, oftentimes, a raised area at the stop.

If you have to wait and need to kill time, listen to your iPod, read something or catch up on your calls. You can also read the N Judah Chronicles on your phone.

Step 3: Pay

MUNI has an antiquated payment system. If you're getting on at street level stops, you can either pay the driver at the very front of the train $1.50 (no change available) or get on anywhere on the train with a transfer or your prepaid pass. If you're getting on at one of the underground stations downtown, you can either flash your pass or transfer to the agent in the booth or pay $1.50 in change (no dollar bills) in the turnstile machine. There's a machine that will change your bills into dollar coins in some stations, but then you're destined to pay extra if you can't break that dollar coin into $.50. You can also use the BART fare machines to get quarters. If you want to get a pass, your options are limited. You/'re confined to monthly, weekly and other time limited cards. You can't just buy a pass that you can keep refilling as you need it. It's a last century, ridonculous system overall. By the way, the free MUNI transfer is good for 90 minutes. Ask your employer about signing up for the Commuter Check program. It's cheaper for you and also easier because someone else worries about it for you.

The BART system is more straightforward and easy to use. You can buy cards using cash or credit card at machines at the stations. You put your card into the machine as you go in the station. Keep it handy because you'll have to put it back in a machine on your way out. The card will tell you how much money you have left on it. The machine on the exit side will tell you if you don't have enough money on your card; use the machines in the station to replenish your card and try again.

Check the MUNI site for information about getting passes that work on both MUNI and BART, or MUNI and CalTrain, etc. There are options, but clearly the transit agencies don't play well together. MUNI and BART are supposed to start accepting the TransLink card, which works on some other regional transit systems, in Spring 2008. But don't hold your breath.

Step 4: Get On

Please please please let people off the train before you get on. Stand to the side of the door and wait until everyone who wants to get off is off before you get on. If you barge on when people are still trying to get off, it takes longer and pisses everyone off.

If you see other people trying to get on before the train unloads, you can either use your body to subtley block them or just say, "please wait for them to get off first." People will be so surprised to hear you speak up that they'll likely do what you say. Unless they're crazy or don't speak English, or you look sketchy.

Step 5: Choose a Seat or Standing Place

If there are seats, choose one that's on the inside of the aisle. Spare yourself the annoyingness of people climbing over you to get to that seat.

If it's standing room only, move as far into the car as possible. Keep an eye out at later stops to see if you need to move in further if there's a crush of new people. Otherwise they'll glare at you and tell you to "move in!" anyway. So it's best to stake out an area with reasonable space to begin with. There are poles at the top of the cars on both MUNI and BART that you can hold.

If it's not crowded but you feel like standing anyway, stand away from the doors that will open at the next stop. You'll just slow down the ride because people will have to negotiate around you to get on and off.

Where to put your bags
If you're sitting, put your bag on your lap or between your feet. If you're standing, put your bag between your feet on the floor or hug it to the front of your body. If it's at all crowded, do not wear your bag so that it protrudes from your side or back. You will end up wacking people and make it harder for people to get on and off if it's at all crowded.

How to stand
You can always tell if someone has never ridden public transit before because they fall over as soon as the train or bus starts moving. Don't embarrass yourself. Keep a slightly wide stance and brace yourself to move. You'll probably want to hold on to a pole. See the photos for some creative ways to avoid directly holding the pole if you're a germaphobe. It should be obvious that you should avoid touching other people at all costs. If it's super crowded, you may be forced into an armpit or back. Just try to angle yourself so that you avoid touching people in especially private areas, or breathing on someone's face.

Bikes, luggage and strollers
You can bring bikes onto BART during most times. Only folding bikes are allowed on within San Francisco (below Embarcadero) during rush hour. When you get on, seat or stand yourself in the openish area near the door, by the map or emergency directions information. Be prepared to move around a fair amount so that you don't get in people's way or sully their clothes. Same deal for people with lots of luggage or strollers, etc.

Special riders
And of course, offer your seat to elderly or pregnant people. They get the prime seats near the front no questions asked. Same goes for the disabled. Note the area reserved for them.

Step 6: Ride

This step really needs no instructions other than be considerate of the people around you. But just in case you're really new to riding the train, I've included some very elementary tips to not being glared at by angry fellow riders.

If you're riding during commuting hours, people are generally traveling alone, tired, pissed and want to have a quiet, hassle free ride. Loud conversations with other people on the train or on your phone are especially unwelcome. On the weekend, people are more likely to be traveling in groups so you're much more free to be social and make noise.

If you have a seat, then you can probably just chill out and sleep or read or surreptitiously stare at other people. If you think you might fall asleep, position yourself so that you don't slump onto your seat mate.

If you're standing you may be able to pull off reading a paper or book. Just be sure your paper doesn't wack people.

If you listen to music, keep the volume down so that other people aren't also listening. Refrain from singing or rapping out loud.

Please don't be that person who walks through the doors between cars.

And last but not least, be aware that you sound like a complete ass when you're talking on your phone nine times out of ten, and that everyone can hear you. If this doesn't bother you, fine. But be careful because you might end up being quoted on the Internet or at someone's dinner or brunch.

Step 7: Get Off

MUNI stops at all of the overground stops downtown no matter what. So you just need to get off. If people won't let you off, say "coming out" and they'll probably get out of your way. Most of the above ground MUNI stops are optional, so you're best off pulling the wire on the sides of the car before your stop to ensure that the driver stops. You have to press the bar on the side of the steps to get the door to open. Don't get off at the very front of the train, near the driver, unless you absolutely have to. It slows everyone down because people boarding have to wait for you to get off.

BART stops at all stations no matter what. The only thing to note is that the train accelerates and deaccelerates fast so it's unusually hard to stay upright and make your way to the door.

If you have a bike or luggage, position yourself so that you let the item-less people out first. If you need to get your bearing when you get off, be sure to step away from the door immediately so that you don't block other people getting off the train.

If you rode BART, you'll have to put your ticket back into a turnstile on the way out to complete the paying process.

Follow the exit signs to find your way out. Remember to stand right, walk left on the escalator! People with bikes can't use the escalator; you must walk or use the elevator.

Step 8: Give Feedback

If you've got a complaint or positive comment for MUNI, use this form or call 311. If you want all of the dirt about MUNI, reading the MUNI threads are about as helpful as it gets. And for a limited time only, you can give feedback on MUNI service in its long-anticipated Transit Effectiveness Survey.

Call BART to chat about their service at 415 989-2278 or use this web form.

Rescue MUNI - A transit riders' association for San Francisco
San Francisco Planning & Urban Research Association (SPUR)
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)
San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA)
San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA)

Step 9: Acknowledgements

This Instructable is dedicated to the #6 Jeffrey, Red Line T, Green Line C T, G, C, late night A, Q (Q!), F, B61, Red Line, Brown Line, #11 Lincoln, #77 Belmont, #50 Damen, 71A, Airport flyer, N-Judah and #22 Filmore. You know I love you. Holla.