The Baffling Bay Area Public Transportation System

Screenshot (3)_editedThe San Francisco Bay Area has three major airports, and none of them is easy to get to by public transport from my home in San Jose.

I always knew this, but it only became astonishingly clear to me as I have been trying to solve the conundrum of getting from San Jose to San Francisco International Airport. I am planning a trip in April and have booked the flights, so it only remains to figure out how to get to and from the airport.

For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, imagine a long oval squished sideways. San Francisco Airport is at ten o’clock, Oakland Airport is one o’clock, and San Jose Airport is at six o’clock.
Caltrain Zone Map

The nearest train station is the CalTrain station in San Jose, but that train does not go to the airport. Between the nearest CalTrain station and the airport I would have to take two different rapid transit trains for one stop each. Who planned this? When I went online to figure out how long it would take to get to SFO from my home using this method, the estimate was three-and-a-half hours.

The nearest Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station is at Fremont, at four o’clock on my geographic dial. Getting there, however, requires a car which I do not currently have. There is no public transportation from here to there.  I could ask someone to give me a ride, but I would prefer not to ask anyone to do that because I would need to set off at about 4:15 AM. That’s asking too much. The alternative is to get a cab or ride-sharing car. That route would take me by car from San Jose to Fremont, thence by BART to the airport going anti-clockwise. This would take about two hours. It seems crazy that it is quicker to go two-thirds of the way around the oval than one third, but there it is.

The one-third solution, going clockwise, by taxi or ride-share car is the third option. A ride-share car from San Jose to SFO would cost $53-$117, depending on “surge” pricing at the time. A taxi would probably require me to take out a mortgage, so I’m not even considering that alternative. This trip would take about an hour because I would go before rush hour starts at about 5:45.

There are shuttle services using twelve-seat vans, but the online reviews of these services are not encouraging. The shuttles aren’t always punctual, and they only make economic sense if you are in a group of travellers. I will be doing this part of my journey alone, so that’s probably not an option for me. I also looked into a car-sharing plan, but that is not practical for my purposes either.

At the moment, I am leaning towards the ride-share option, either to Fremont or directly to the airport and will take advice on this. But really, folks, this frustrating situation is amazing when you think that this area is the hub of leading technologies and a home for thousands of creative minds. Most of those minds, though, are not in bodies that use public transportation. California is car country. All the facilities are designed to accommodate cars first and all other means of conveyance have been taken into consideration only secondarily and often inadequately.

For example, the San Jose’s light rail system (VTA) was cleverly designed to miss the airport by just far enough to require one to take a shuttle bus. It isn’t far, but it’s a real nuisance when travelling with luggage. One more stop on the light rail would have made life so much easier.

I have never used the Oakland Airport, but their website indicates that the BART station is directly across from the baggage claim area in Terminal 1. Now, that makes sense!  Well done, Oakland transportation planners. I send you a virtual pat on the back and a request that you please come to San Jose.

In the mean time, I’m going to start being so kind to my roommate that she feels indebted to me. Maybe I can make her feel so obligated that she will get up before dawn to take me to the airport.


Image sources: Google Maps and Caltrain website.


  1. I understand totally!! Did you mention… train i SJ to MILBRay Bart….to air port…..My friends do that…. of course you need to get to train station first….

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