San Francisco, a 45-minute ride from the heart of Silicon Valley, has been growing like wildfire. Between 2010 and 2016 there has been an increase of 70,000 people and 150,000 new jobs in San Francisco alone. The city is known for its hills and lack of public transportation, but have no fear! Over the last 10 years, variations of ride sharing companies have taken over the city. These companies combine classic vehicles and created mobile apps to create convenient ways to travel around the city. Here is your go-to guide for getting around SF.
Traditional trains (Caltrain, Bart, Muni): These trains are reasonably priced and run on a reliable schedule, but have limited pickup locations
Ride sharing (Uber and Lyft): These companies act as middle men and connect you with a driver that comes straight to your location and takes you to your pre-chosen destination.
Electric scooter sharing (Skip and Scoot): These companies have an inventory of dock less electric scooters that you can find and rent through their mobile apps.
Vespa style scooter (Scoot): The scooters work just like the electric scooters, except you can go farther and a little faster.
Bike sharing: SF has both dock less (Limebike and JUMP) and docked bikes (Ford GoBike). Both types of companies offer mobile apps that show the gps locations of free bikes.
Unlike some of the other companies, Bart, Caltrain, and Muni are not new to the scene. Caltrain starts in SF and ends in Gilroy (about a 1.5 hr drive with no traffic). Think of a commuter Amtrak train: a relatively clean, double decker train. On peak hours, be prepared to get up close and friendly to the riders sitting down, because you might have to stand in the aisles. The population of the Bay Area has grown and resulted in 65,416 average weekly riders. We also have Bart, our more limited and louder version of the subway, which has 46 stations and will connect you from Millbrae (a town close to the airport) all the way to the East Bay (Berkley and Oakland). Finally, there’s Muni, which is similar to the Boston Green Line, including the low fare of $2.50 per trip. It’s above ground and moves alongside traffic. Each company has their own app for real time departures and trip planning. These are perfect if you are trying to avoid the hour+ traffic up and down the peninsula or trying to get across the bay and avoid the 880 (the East Bay’s version of LA’s 405). While these options won’t take you straight to your destination, they are consistent and you won’t be relying on the whim of a rideshare match.
As a college student, a questionable parallel parker, and a person who avoids driving SF’s hills like the plague, Uber and Lyft are some of my favorite ways to get around. They are extremely convenient and have a variety of pricing strategies (standard ride, 6+ person ride, car sharing, and black cars). Both companies are headquartered in SF, so it wouldn’t be far-fetched if you accidentally participate in one of their pilot programs. One of the downsides is surge pricing, which can cause your fare to jump. In one incident in Stockholm, surge prices were reported at 50x the base level! Additionally, the Bay Area’s traffic has increased and Uber and Lyft are the cause of 51% of it. So while the ride will take you to your destination, you won’t be able to avoid the traffic. Also keep an eye out, there are exciting things ahead for these companies. Both Uber and Lyft are also racing on a different track, as each company is filing for an IPO and are seeking valuations of $120b and $15b respectively (as of 2019).
Imagine your elementary school self, approaching school on a two wheeled ride in the color of your choice. The only difference between this memory and the current kick scooter-sharing fiascos are the battery-powered engines on the back. These scooters are dock less, so all you need to do is find a scooter, use the app, and pay a small fee. You’re free to ride wherever and leave the scooter anywhere you want. There are no limits. Scooters have been found in grocery stores, in the ocean, and many other locations. All joking aside, the electric scooter is currently one of the most controversial ways to get around. These companies are facing serious heat by many cities for being disruptive to the community, but SF has offered exclusive permits to Skip and Scoot. They go about 15 mph and are perfect to go a couple miles or distances that are just a little too far to walk.
In addition to electric scooters, you can also borrow an electric moped from Scoot. Each scooter has a gps that links to their mobile app. Riders must have a valid driver’s license and Scoot Networks provides insurance. They each come with a helmet that is stored in the container behind the seat. These mopeds are super fun way to explore the city. You can also travel farther with less effort on these mopeds than traditional electric scooters or bikes. Due to permits, they are currently only allowed to have 625 scooters, but can eventually increase to 2,500. Scoot was launched in 2012 and has logged 6,394,376 electric miles to date in SF alone.
Ford GoBikes are the city’s docked bikes. They have bike stations where you can unlock, pay, ride and return the bike. In contrast, Limebike and JUMP are dockless bike companies. Like scooters, dockless bikes can be unlocked whenever and wherever as long as you pay a small fee on the mobile app. Then when you are finished, they relock for the next user. JUMP, a competitor, was acquired by Uber for $200M in 2018.
Up on the horizon, and probably closer than you might think, are autonomous vehicles. Prototypes are extremely common in the Bay Area, where you can see Apple’s self-driving minivans, Uber’s self-driving trials, GM’s Cruise, Tesla’s prototypes, and Alphabet’s Waymo just to name a few. They were once an urban myth and prototypes were secret, but now companies are proudly posting their names and logos on the sides of self-driving prototypes. While you can’t ride in them yet, self-driving car sightings have become quite common in the Bay Area.
For your visit!
With the exception of the traditional trains, these companies are all venture backed and are constantly looking to evolve and innovate. So, when visiting San Francisco, consider downloading some apps and using the shared economy to get around.