How to Ride Bart – Part 1
Catching a ride on a Bart train is a confusing and mysterious process, vaguely described on the Bart website but mostly left up to erstwhile riders to figure out. Eventually, even the dumbest person can figure it out by observing fellow passengers, but Bart sure doesn’t make it easy.
Since I am now a Bart-riding expert, I can make it easy for you. Here, for weary travellers, are clear and definitive instructions for how to ride Bart.
Step 1. Figure out which station to use.
Bart has 44 stations throughout the Bay Area. Pick the one closest to you. HINT: If you plan to live in the Bay, it is VITAL to be near a Bart station or other mass transit line. We have several here (BART, Muni, AC Transit, etc.).
You may be able to park your car at the Bart station closest to you. Some stations have free parking while others charge up to $2 a day. If not, you may be able to find free street parking near your Bart station (if you leave early in the day). Or you may just be screwed and have to struggle to find parking every day…depends on the station. Biking is a popular option.
This link will help you find your closest Bart station:
Here’s a map that shows the Bart lines and all the stations:
How to read this map.
The map above shows the route of each Bart “line.” The lines aren’t referred to by their color on the map, but rather by the name of their FINAL destination. For example, the Fremont line is the train that ends in Fremont.
The Daly City line (also confusingly called the San Francisco/Daly City line since it makes stops in San Francisco) ends in Daly City. There are several Daly City lines that all end in Daly city.
NOTE: A confusing point is that the line you take TO your destination will have a different name than the line you take coming FROM your destination. For example:
- In the morning I take the Daly City/San Francisco line from my station in San Leandro to my office in San Francisco.
- But in the evening, I take the Fremont line from San Francisco, returning to my station in San Leandro.
Don’t worry: Even if you get on the wrong train, you can exit and get on the right one. Don’t panic! It’ll just take you a little longer to get where you’re going. After you’ve done it a few times, you won’t forget which train you should get on!
Step 2. What is your destination and what time are you travelling?
In the beginning I was always going to an awesome website, http://511.org/, to figure out my schedule. You enter your starting and final destination, and it plans the whole trip and tells you what it will cost. Then you can make a neat printout of the details and off you go! You should bookmark it! It works for all Bay area transit systems.
Bart trains run on a fairly regularly schedule, so if you miss one, the next one will show up within about 20 minutes. There are three exceptions to this rule:
- Weekends – Some Bart lines do not operate on weekends, or have limited operation.
- After rush hour – Some Bart lines do not operate after peak rush hours. This time differs for various lines but consider that your normal train may not run after 7 pm.
- Overnight – All Bart trains stop runnning after 11 pm, so don’t miss that last train.
#Step 3. Buy your ticket.
How much will it cost?, you ask.
Well, the cost of your ride will depend on the length of it. Bart basically looks at your ticket on the way in to the station and on the way out of the station, and calculates the cost. How much will it be? It will always be more than you expected, but less than the cost of driving and parking–and probably faster, which is why so many of us ride Bart despite the often unpleasant experience (described in this blog). My daily commute, is $4.60 each way, for a total of $9.20 a day.
There are two types of Bart tickets:
- One time ride – If this is a one time ride and you don’t plan to ride Bart regularly, you can purchase a ticket at the station. See instructions for buying a ticket at the station below.
- Clipper – If you plan to ride more than once or twice a month, you should definitely purchase a Clipper card. See instructions below.
How to Buy and Use a Ticket at the Station
TBD. I’ve never done this, but it requires using an automated machine that no one can ever figure out without asking the station attendant, that unusually harried person who is safely trapped behind bullet-proof glass walls in the center of the station. Helpful, right.
How to Buy and Use a Clipper Card
A Clipper card is a blue plastic card that looks and acts like a credit card. You can use it to ride any of the many Bay Area mass transit options, which is a huge bonus.
Go to your local Walgreen’s and ask for a Clipper Card. It costs $5.00 up front. Then go online and register your Clipper card at https://www.clippercard.com/. Now comes the cool part… you can link a credit card to your Clipper card and ensure that the Clipper card always has a money value on it. Mine is set up to add $40 whenever my balance goes below $10. Clipper calls this the “Autoload” option.
Hang on to your clipper card! It can be used by anyone and is as good as money at Bart! If you loose it, report this immediately at clippercard.com.
If you don’t have a credit card or don’t want to bother/risk linking a credit card to your clipper card, you can also go back to the Walgreen’s and add specific amounts to your Clipper card whenever needed.
For my purposes, as a regular rider who doesn’t want to risk not having enough value on the Clipper card for my daily commute, having the linked Clipper card is a huge convenience and time saver!
Now that you have your awesome Clipper card, here’s what you do with it:
- Go through the turnstile at the station and just touch your clipper card to this spot on the turnstile:
Hold it there until the turnstile beeps and the little orange gateway slides open.
- When you get off the train and leave the station, do the same thing. It’s called “tagging off.” Eerily, Bart can now track your every movement in the Bart system. Ever seen NCIS or Bones, or any other detective show? That’s how they do it…
- It’s VERY IMPORTANT that you tag off when exiting a Bart train or Caltrain. If you don’t, Bart doesn’t know how far you travelled and they will charge you the maximum fare, about $25. I learned this one the hard way…
In the station – which way do I go?
Again, Bart doesn’t make it easy. Every station has two places to get on the train. These places are called “platforms.” One platform is for trains coming, and the other is for trains leaving. The trick is figuring out which platform you need to be standing on. Are you coming or going?
Remember, your train line is named by the destination of the train. So, look for signs that indicate the destination of the train. These are usually tiny, innocuous, sometimes hand-written signs posted in less than obvious places. If you can’t figure it out, you can ask the station attendant, who probably gets asked this question about a thousand times a day.
For example, you’re in the station and you’re heading to Oakland on the Richmond line. The Richmond line ends in Richmond and passes through Oakland on the way. So, looking up, by the stairway I spot a small blue sign that says “Richmond.” The stairs lead to the platform I need to be standing on….
The good news is that after you figure out which platform to be on, you’ll never forget it.
If by chance you happen to get on the wrong platform, and hence the wrong train, just get off at the next stop and cross over to the other platform. We’ve all done that, believe me.
The inside of a Bart station is a bit dirty despite the meager efforts of Bart staff to clean. How could it be otherwise? It’s a public area that thousands of people pass through every hour of the day.
It’s also a bit scary, given the fact that not everyone passes through…. some folks just hang around, sleep on the floor, stand in the corner begging. There is no law against loitering in public places.
Bart stations have numerous openings, exits and entrances, stairways and escalators going up and down. Signs hang everywhere indicating surface streets above, but it’s crowded and busy and it will probably take a few trips for you to figure out how to navigate your Bart station. For the first few weeks, I just followed the crowd. It always led outside.
Here’s how I get to the platform to go to work:
I park my car, after driving through the parking deck for several minutes searching for a parking spot. I leave my car and walk through the parking deck to a set of stairs heading down. I walk down two flights of stairs to a causeway that leads to another flight of stairs heading up. I walk up the stairs and I’m in the station.
Once in the station, I use my clipper card to swipe through the turnstile. I turn left and walk up five flights of stairs – my morning stairmaster. There’s an escalator at the other end of the station and an elevator in the center of the station (almost always broken down), but I prefer the exercise. At the top, I’m on the platform where I wait for the train in a line with other folks. From car to platform is about a 8-10 minute walk. If I had to stop and buy a ticket, it would take about 5 minutes longer but since I use a Clipper card, I can just sail through the turnstile.
That’s it! Is it a hassle? You bet! But, it will get me to work in the cheapest, quickest way so, it’s worth it. Good luck on BART!