Transit Connection FAIL

It illustrates a theme throughout Bay Area transit: here's a first person account of what it was like trying to use the Larkspur ferry-train connection

The Larkspur ferry. Photo: Roger Rudick.
The Larkspur ferry. Photo: Roger Rudick.

Every now and again someone emails Streetsblog to express their personal frustration with the Bay Area’s irrational, uncoordinated transit systems which sometimes seem to exist for the sake of their operators, rather than the customers. Whether it’s the literal iron bars between BART and Muni, or the fact that a last-mile connection from BART on AC Transit requires a full bus fare, or it’s a missed BART to Caltrain connection at Millbrae, there’s no shortage of pointless hurdles to using transit in the Bay Area. The lack of schedule and fare coordination is so bad that an entire advocacy group, Seamless Bay Area, exists to try and fix it. Advocate Antony Trezos emailed Streetsblog to express his frustration at one such example: the ferry-to-rail connection at Larkspur. Streetsblog thought it would share Trezos’s account of his attempt to use transit on a recent trip from San Francisco to Santa Rosa.

For the President’s Day holiday weekend, I wanted to get out of San Francisco and explore another town. I decided to take a bike trip and explore Santa Rosa via the SMART train. Getting there was easy enough; I took the Golden Gate Transit 101 bus and connected to SMART at the San Rafael Transit Center. The bus stop and train station were in the same location, so the connection was painless. I had considered taking the ferry to Larkspur, but the first ferry on Saturdays isn’t until 12:20 pm, which was too late for the time I planned on leaving.

My journey back to San Francisco on Monday February 20, 2023 proved to be more challenging. My first problem arose when I tried to use SMARTs website on my mobile device. I checked to see what schedule SMART was running for the President’s Day holiday. When I looked at the “SMART Holiday Schedule 2023” page on my phone, I saw a list of holidays and assumed from the list that SMART would run on holiday service. I did not scroll all the way to the right to see the “Regular/Weekday” schedule next to the Presidents Day holiday. Many other people at the station had the same issue I did. We showed up for the 12:02 p.m. Number 5 holiday train at the Santa Rosa downtown station to catch the 1:35 p.m. connecting ferry from Larkspur to SF, only to realize later that SMART was running weekday service, and the next train wouldn’t depart Santa Rosa until 12:56 p.m., while the next ferry wouldn’t depart until 3:15 p.m. I decided to grab a bite to eat and a coffee while I waited. When the train did come, I enjoyed the view from the window and jovial demeanor of the conductor interacting with fellow riders all the way to Larkspur.

[caption id="attachment_381557" align="aligncenter" width="4032"]The SMART train parked at Larkspur. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick The SMART train parked at Larkspur. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick[/caption]

After arriving at Larkspur station, it was a 5 minute bike ride (or 15 minute walk) to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Then came my second problem. I had relied on the SMART website to tell me about the Golden Gate Ferry connection times. Little did I and many other riders know that SMART runs weekday service on President’s Day while the Golden Gate Ferry runs holiday service. The 3:15 p.m. ferry that we were relying on wasn’t going to depart Larkspur until 5:15, leaving us stuck at the Larkspur ferry terminal for three hours. I got on my mobile device to navigate how to get back to San Francisco from Larkspur and found the next best route (aside from biking back) was a Golden Gate Transit bus from the Lucky Drive bus stop on highway 101.

[caption id="attachment_420258" align="aligncenter" width="4032"]The Lucky Drive bus stop on the side of the 101 freeway. Talk about how NOT to build transit infrastructure! Photo: Antony Trezos The Lucky Drive bus stop on the side of the 101 freeway–poster child for how NOT to build transit infrastructure! Photo: Antony Trezos[/caption]

For me, it was an easy 10 minute, one-mile bike ride, but for the family of eight that included little kids and elderly folks who took SMART down to SF from Petaluma for a day trip and other commuters that day, it would be an impossible 25 minute walk.

[caption id="attachment_378411" align="aligncenter" width="4032"]The transfer between SMART and the ferry is less than ideal. The lack of coordination between the two agencies makes it unusable for many. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick The bridge/transfer between SMART and the ferry is long and less than ideal too, but it certainly beats the 101 bus stop in the previous photo! Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick[/caption]

The good news is that the SMART train is a pleasure to ride with or without a bicycle and it seems to maintain consistent schedules. However, the question remains: when will the Bay Area finally get an integrated transit system where one can travel and connect without having to check multiple transit sites to see which trains, boats, and buses are running and when? I’m trying to use mass transit for commuting and day trips, but the transit agencies are running different service schedules and they make it difficult to connect to the many different transit agencies in the Bay Area.

For now, I am waiting to hear back from SMART Customer Service and learning that if you are connecting from one to any of the other 27 bay area transit agencies, you need to check each separate transit agency site for schedules and updates.

Happy riding and commuting.


Streetsblog has had similar experiences trying to use the ferry/SMART connection.

What is your most hated connection in the Bay Area? Share your thoughts below.