A San Francisco Transportation Adventure

Why is it so expensive?

Image: Florent Lamoureux

It sounded like the perfect weekend — spending November 25 and 26 in San Francisco. After paying $90 for a concert on November 25, getting a bed for $40 at a hostel, and paying $27 for a round-trip Megabus trip, I thought that my financial obligations were done. I looked forward to doing some Black Friday shopping, having dinner with a good friend, watching the lighting of the holiday tree at Union Square, and enjoying some of my favorite music.

Once I got to San Francisco, I decided to use Lyft instead of dragging my luggage on the 49-Van Ness MUNI bus. After a tip, the fare totaled $10.75. I dropped off my bags in the room and walked the two blocks to the nearest bus stop. It still amazed me that the $2.25 MUNI fare included a reusable transfer that was good for four hours. During my four hours, I explored shops on Mission Street, walked uphill to Valencia Street, enjoyed the view of the city from a nearby park and took the J-Train to upper Market Street. I met my friend for an early dinner. She offered to drive me to Union Square after I went back to the hostel to change clothes for the concert.

After a quick change, I was ready to go. But when my friend put the route into her GPS, there was massive traffic near Union Square. When I suggested that maybe it would be better to drop me off near the concert venue, my friend discovered even more bad news when she put that address in her phone — the concert was postponed until December 4. I decided to just go to Union Square and walk around for the rest of the evening. The GPS indicated that even though we were in a car over a mile away, it would be faster to walk there. My friend decided to try anyway.

After a few frustrating and infuriating minutes of dealing with holiday gridlock, she dropped me off about four blocks away. By then, the tree lighting ceremony was over, but the shopping frenzy was in full gear. I spent hours checking out crowded stores on Market Street. When I was ready to go back to the hostel, it was 10 PM. The hostel was in the middle of the Tenderloin — walking from the nearest bus stop alone at night with holiday packages wasn’t a good idea. Even though I wasn’t thrilled that the Lyft driver dropped me off in the middle of the street, I made it back safely for $12.06.

The next day, after shopping on Haight Street, I realized that I had bought too much stuff to carry easily on MUNI to the Caltrain station to catch the Sacramento bound Megabus. Getting to the Megabus stop via Lyft was an $11.63 breeze, but waiting in the pouring rain for a bus that was stuck in Bay Bridge traffic was no fun. And I was going to have to do this again in a week?

I thought about returning the ticket, but with rock stars dropping like flies in 2016, I was afraid that if I didn’t see them, I might not have another chance. Megabus didn’t have a bus leaving SF until 9 AM on Monday morning, so I would have to take Amtrak. Thankfully, I had enough reward points to get a free trip instead of having to spend $33. I made another hostel reservation.

On the morning of December 4, there was a marathon in downtown Sacramento and the local buses weren’t running. Since I didn’t want to walk a mile, I called Lyft. Who knew that 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning was prime time? It cost $12.68 to get to the Megabus stop, 50% more than the usual cost. As I got on the bus for my $11 ride to San Francisco, I thought about how a simple holiday weekend trip had turned into two weekends of travel. I had already spent $127.62 (including the regular cost of the free trip) in transportation and I still hadn’t seen the band. By the time I got to the show at 7:30 that night, I had spent another $27.21 on Lyft and $2.25 on MUNI. The show was great! Getting back to the hostel at 11 PM cost $9.75 including tip. The next morning, I took another Lyft at 6:30 AM to catch the 7 AM Amtrak shuttle for the fare of $16.21. When I got back to Sacramento, I realized that I had left my bus pass at home and I had to pay $2.75 on the local bus.

I thought that my transportation problems were over. A week before the first San Francisco trip, I made a reservation for a Las Vegas trip in January. I discovered that I had enough points to afford a $131 one-way ticket to Vegas for $5.80. I wished that I had made that discovery in October, when the fare was $49 each way. On December 8, I lost my $35 discounted monthly bus pass. It cost $110 to get a replacement, not counting the $7 I had to spend to get to the Regional Transit office, leaving me with $20 in spending money for the next week.

In three weeks’ time, I had spent $468.79 on buses, trains and planes. That’s more than I spend on food in a month. That’s more than half of my rent. While waiting for the MUNI bus on December 4, I went into the Mini Cooper showroom next to the stop. For only $16,000, I could have a gently used Mini. If only…

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