Let’s Cut the Bars Between Muni and BART

Both agencies now give incentives to use Clipper, but what about removing the physical barriers to integrated transit?

How often have you climbed up from the BART platform and missed your Muni transfer because of the awkward connection? Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
How often have you climbed up from the BART platform and missed your Muni transfer because of the awkward connection? Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

If you commute by BART and Muni, you’ve no doubt been in the frustrating situation shown in the lead image. You get off your BART train at Civic Center or one of the other downtown stations, run up the stairs, tag out of BART, run across the mezzanine, tag into Muni, run back downstairs, and miss your train by seconds. At off-peak times, this can easily add twenty minutes to your trip. And thanks to the cage bars around the stairs, sometimes you actually get to see the train you’re going to miss as you rush through this Habitrail for humans.

“That scenario has happened to me too many times to count!” said Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, who said she wants to see the obstacles between the two systems removed.

In addition to its January 1 fare increase of 2.7 percent, BART is now adding a $.50 surcharge on paper tickets, in an effort to encourage all riders to use Clipper. “We have two Clipper vending machines at many stations and at least one in all stations,” explained BART spokesman James Allison. “We have sold 45,000 Clipper cards since their installation last autumn.”

Muni also adds a surcharge for using cash and offers discounts for transfers from other agencies when using a Clipper card. The idea in both cases is to simplify and speed boarding and payment, with the ultimate goal of getting everyone using Clipper or a fare app and eliminating cash fares and clunky paper tickets.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)’s “Transit Connectivity Report,” done in 2005, found that 51 percent of BART riders transfer to and from bus or light rail at Civic Center Station alone. Once the two agencies are using 100 percent electronic fare collection, there will no longer be any need for two sets of fare gates. Streetsblog has inquiries out to BART and Muni, and will update this post accordingly, but so far it seems that there are no plans for removing the barriers between the two systems.

Photo: Matthew Roth
If Clipper means “all your transit in one card,” then at some point BART and Muni need to remove the physical barriers between the systems too.  Photo: Matthew Roth

“The commission was set up and seeks to do as much integration as we possibly can … but our legislative powers are somewhat limited on this subject,” said Randy Rentschler, Director of Legislation and Public Affairs for the MTC, which administers and manages updates to the Clipper system. “We require [BART and Muni] to have passes that are interchangeable, and we finally got Clipper, but the issue about the configurations of the stations and the frustration you just articulated is not something we have directly engaged in–but maybe we should.”

So how might it work if one could freely transfer between Muni and BART inside the stations? Streetsblog ran through some scenarios with Arielle Fleisher, Transportation Policy Associate for SPUR, and a specialist in fare integration issues. Even if Muni and BART still insisted on totally segregating their revenue streams, there’s no obvious reason the Clipper system couldn’t handle merging the fare gates/barriers at the downtown stations. If, for example, someone tapped onto Muni at West Portal, and tapped out at West Oakland, the Clipper computers would just treat it as one Muni fare and one BART fare from downtown San Francisco to West Oakland.

In the opposite direction, transferring riders would have to tap out of BART using the Clipper machines on Muni trains, which would simultaneously deduct the Muni fare, just as it does now (or a Clipper reader could be installed where the BART stairs reach the Muni platform). Fleischer hopes the agencies would take things even further and truly integrate the fare structure with a unified, distance-based zone system across both agencies, as exists in London and many other cities. “We’ve been advocating to do a fare integration and coordination study so we can have a bigger conversation about opportunities for the future,” she said.

Fleischer and Hyden both agreed that the current situation, with the two transit agencies using cages and separate banks of fare gates to keep customers segregated, is maddening–it’s also incredibly confusing for visitors who aren’t used to San Francisco’s arcane systems.

“We need to remove the barriers to entry if we want to make transit a top choice for regional travel,” said Hyden. “The gates between BART and Muni are the most obvious and literal form of a barrier making it difficult and confusing to transfer between the two.”

At least when doing the reverse--transferring from Muni to BART, you don't have to actually see the train as you miss it. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
At least when doing the reverse–transferring from Muni to BART–you don’t actually see the train you’re about to miss. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
  • Sorry, the physical barriers between downtown platforms is hardly the reason why using transit isn’t a “top choice” for Bay Area residents. Have you heard of Uber or Lyft? Have you listened to BART riders who complain year after year of filthy stations/trains, safety concerns, frequent delays/breakdowns, fare increases (to support bloated pensions) and infrequent evening/weekend service? Have you been at a Muni station waiting 40 minutes during rush hour for a train only to have that train “go out of service” or turn back along its route? No, probably not.

  • Andy Chow

    Have we forgotten that it is a voter mandate:

    Regional Measure 2 – 2004

    BART/Muni Connection at Embarcadero: $3 million
    • Funds a project to allow BART and Muni Metro patrons to move directly between BART and Muni platform levels by removing existing barriers and installing new faregates. The project will reduce transfer time and distance, and improve safety by reducing queuing at faregates, escalators and stairways.

    May be in 2004 there were technical barriers that had yet to resolve (like Clipper), but what excuse they have now?

  • david vartanoff

    voter mandate? that funding was reprogrammed. More than likely the money was used to cover yet another BART cost overrun.

  • jonobate

    You appear to be addressing this rant to Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders. Pretty sure she’s experienced all of these things, given that her job is to advocate for better transit in San Francisco.

  • Kieran

    One thing I’m not in favor of in this article-zone based fares..Think of Golden Gate Transit-If I took say, the 76 bus to Petaluma from downtown San Francisco roundtrip, it’s over 10$..That’s why I don’t go that deep in the North Bay that much by bus.

    I really don’t want Bart/Muni having zone based fares..That’ll needlessly complicate things.

    Though, far as getting rid of the barriers between Bart/Muni subway stations and having a completely electronic fare system in order to let the barriers come down to begin with to me is inevitable..It’ll probably happen within a decade or so but sooner or later with more and more humans moving to the Bay and using the downtown subway stations, the barriers will need to come down at some point..

    While they’re at it, both Bart and Muni hopefully(wishful thinking obviously) update their central control computer systems that control the trains in the tunnels to an actual 21st century technology instead of tech from the 70s. That way both subways will be running smoother, at the very least.

  • Jeff

    There is a reason why they are separated: they are separate legal entities with separate accounting plus there is no Bay Area-wide transit organization in existence to provide a unified accounting and fare system.

    In order to allow direct connection between MUNI and BART, you’d have to have harmonization and coordination between the fares plus a way of recording and transferring funds between transit organizations. That would also require harmonization of Clipper to a cash-system and the introduction of a uniform single-trip system (a plastic token system would be best).

    Basically transit in the Bay Area is as fragmented as Android OS versions. And so they can’t play nice even if they wanted to.

    Would this be good for fix this? Yes, absolutely – every transit agency from Sonoma to Monterey, SF to Sacramento should be either merged into one agency or subordinated to one agency. That’s the only way you can ever make Bay Area transit work like World Class transit in the rest of the world.

  • p_chazz

    To improve connectivity, there should be machines that sell Muni/BART passes at all BART stations in San Francisco, not just the downtown Muni/BART Stations. Also, I have seen some Clipper only, no ticket machines, but they only take credit cards, not debit cards. The addfare machines also need to be updated. They only take cash.

  • No, nobody on Streetsblog has ever heard of Uber or Lyft. Thanks for bringing them to our attention.

  • mx

    The credit/debit card thing has been weirding me out. Powell has a bunch of taped on signs that attempt to explain this, but people don’t see it, and even if you notice the sign, it’s not obvious where to go to find a machine that does take credit cards.

    Why, in 2018, can every machine not take both credit and debit cards? Has there been any explanation from BART for such a rider-hostile system?

  • mx

    More unification would be great, yes, but this could be improved without revamping the entire region’s transit bureaucracy: just have a fare gate between services. Go up/down stairs, tap your Clipper card, and move on. From BART to Muni, you’d get tagged off of BART and a Muni fare deducted (or appropriate pass applied), and from Muni to BART, you’d get tagged into BART. That solves the immediate problem without requiring everyone to wait decades in the hope of a unified fare system.

    The station begging for this is Millbrae, where the physical architecture already permits an easy transfer, but MTC hasn’t managed to fix this in over a decade. You have to tag off Caltrain and then tag into BART as two separate steps instead of the appropriate actions just happening as you cross the gates from one platform to another.

  • John Murphy

    for your argument, the 27 and the 76 should have the same fare. To make them the same, either the 76 would be in the range of $3 and really bleed money, or the fare would be $6 and the 27 would go kaput.

    It’s nonsense for a 10 mile trip to be the same as a 40 mile trip.

  • John Murphy

    were the machines not built with a pin pad?

  • Christopher Childs

    The Muni ticket machines are the least confusing to me. I avoid the BART ones. The lack of unification between Muni, BART, and Caltrain in fare purchase is so annoying, in addition to separate machines for payment types and also for fare top-ups if you have insufficient funds to exit a station.

    The easiest experience, on the other hand, is reloading at Walgreens, but tourists aren’t ever going to use that.

  • John French

    Integrating Caltrain and BART fares seems an even more obvious step than Muni and BART, since both are regional systems and they share a platform at Millbrae (and will soon have a transfer at San Jose). With integrated fares, improved frequency on caltrain (enabled by electrification), and schedule coordination to enable timed cross platform transfers at Millbrae and San Jose, Caltrain would effectively act as another line of BART, completing a regional network that circles the bay.

  • John French

    BART already has distance based fares, so I don’t really follow your argument.

    If you look outside the U.S. you can find examples of fare systems applied to multi-centric regions like the bay. Typically each city, or at least its central urban areas, gets a single zone.

    I imagine that under a regional fare zone plan, the city of SF would be a single zone with a fare equivalent to the Muni fare today (but also allowing free transfers to BART, Caltrain, etc. Within SF).

  • Wow, you couldn’t read between the lines enough to realize I was talking about the SFMTA, not Streetsblog readers. Says volumes…

  • david vartanoff

    No, actually both belong to clipper. There is already an agreement between BART and Muni for interagency transfer of funds based on Muni Fast Pass usage on BART.

  • Good point, nobody at the SFMTA has ever heard of Uber or Lyft either.

  • iSkyscraper

    When recently in Paris and London I greatly enjoyed the seamless and free transfers between Underground/Overground and the Metro/RER. Within the city limits, they should all be on one universal fare anyway, and you’re right that beyond that the computers can sort it out. North American cities have got to get past their legacy of city/metro/single fare vs suburban/RR/zoned fares and have better integration.

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