Published Monday, March 26, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Caltrain: Little-Used Link to SFO
Easy, inexpensive way to get there
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Suitcase by her side, Lauren Henley, a freshman on spring break from
the University of California at Santa Barbara, didn't have to wait
long for her ride to Redwood City to pick her up outside San
Francisco International Airport.
A few minutes after she sat down on the concrete bench outside the
North Terminal, the Caltrain SFO shuttle pulled up to the curb, and
Henley and 15 others climbed aboard. Seven minutes later, she arrived
at the Caltrain station in Millbrae, where she waited a few minutes
more for a brief train ride to her hometown.
"It's really convenient to use. I don't understand why more people
don't know about it," Henley said. "If you take Super Shuttle, it's
$15. This way, I spend $2."
The Caltrain shuttle, which offers free connections to San Francisco
International meeting every train in Millbrae, is among the Bay
Area's best-kept transit secrets -- along with other public transit
links to SFO.
Many Bay Area travelers wrongly believe they will have to wait until
fall 2002 -- when the first BART train is scheduled to pull into
SFO's International Terminal -- to take transit to the airport. But
transit operators already offer several inexpensive alternatives to
pricey cab rides, crowded shuttle trips and harried drives on Highway
"A lot of people say 'rapid transit' and think only of BART in the
East Bay and terminating in Daly City or Colma," said Ron Wilson, a
spokesman for the airport. "In fact, there is rapid transit all the
way through the East Bay and from San Francisco all the way south to
Hollister, if you consider Caltrain."
And if you consider bus service, five SamTrans buses, a shuttle from
Caltrain and buses to and from the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin
trains connect travelers, tourists and airport employees with the Bay
Area's busiest airport.
With a little planning and patience, a pocketful of change, a
transfer or two and some inevitable waiting, taking transit to San
Francisco International can pay off.
From downtown San Francisco, a BART-and-bus ride costs $3.35 per
person, and a trip aboard Caltrain and the SFO shuttle is $2. Compare
that to $30 to $40 for a cab ride, $10 to $15 for a shared ride
aboard a shuttle van or $11 to hop aboard the privately run Airporter
bus serving downtown hotels. The savings are even greater from the
East Bay, Peninsula and South Bay.
Travelers who drive to the airport have to contend not only with
traffic but finding -- and paying for -- parking, which costs between
$12 and $18 a day at private lots, $15 at SFO's long-term lot and $35
a day for a space within walking distance of the terminals.
"We'd make a lot more money by not promoting public transit," Wilson
said, "because we would get more people parking in the garage. But we
have a moral obligation to promote it."
But taking transit to the airport is not necessarily carefree. Thanks
to the Bay Area's myriad transit agencies, you may have to transfer
more than once. That means carefully coordinating schedules and
carrying a pocketful of change to pay separate fares.
"It's not easy to figure out at all," said Fred Piroumian, a North
Hollywood resident riding SamTrans bus BX to the airport after
visiting his son in the Bay Area. "The first time I came here, I had
to get oodles of information about transit out of SFO, and I had to
figure out what SamTrans was and Muni was."
You'll also have to struggle with your own luggage, so anyone with a
steamer trunk, five suitcases or young children who need to be
carried may have a little trouble getting to or from the airport.
And there are those little oddities of public transit. Because of a
legal settlement with a private bus operator, for example, SamTrans
prohibits passengers on its KX between SFO and San Francisco from
taking along luggage they can't hold on their laps.
Finding your way to the right bus stops and aboard the right train,
shuttle or bus isn't always easy. Signs are often nonexistent or not
At the Caltrain station in Millbrae, for instance, a sign points the
way to the SFO shuttle but doesn't mention that passengers have to
cross the parking lot and walk up a hill to catch their ride.
Signs at San Francisco International are also hard to find, and with
the opening of the international terminal, stops have been relocated
to the lower level.
"You have to be persistent because it's so badly signed," said Argot
Murelius, a visitor from New York. "Which is kind of sneaky, I think."
Wilson acknowledges that SFO's signs pointing the way to public
transit may not be adequate, and he promises that improvements are on
Heading to SFO on transit may also take more time than hopping into a
cab or shuttle or driving yourself. But with extended rush hours and
growing congestion midday and on weekends, sometimes taking transit
can be quicker.
Last Wednesday morning, for instance, it took a Chronicle reporter an
hour and 20 minutes to get from Oakland by bus to BART, ride to
Colma, transfer to a SamTrans BX bus and travel to the international
terminal. Driving -- and parking -- at the same time of day can take
that long or more.
There's no shortage of options for public transit. SamTrans runs two
express buses and three local buses to SFO from various locations in
San Francisco and San Mateo County. The express buses -- the BX from
Colma BART and KX from the Transbay Terminal -- are the quickest and
Two local buses -- line 292 from downtown San Francisco and line 193
from Stonestown and Daly City BART -- also run to San Francisco
International. And since January, SamTrans has been running a late-
night bus -- Line 97 -- between SFO and downtown San Francisco.
Caltrain's SFO shuttle meets every train at the Millbrae station. And
several Capitol Corridor trains from Sacramento and San Joaquin
trains from Bakersfield are served by connecting buses to SFO.
If all that is a little too confusing, just wait a year and a half
for BART's arrival at SFO. A train ride from downtown San Francisco
will take just 29 minutes, and will deposit passengers inside the
Source: SFO, Chronicle research
For more information on how to get to and from San Francisco
International Airport on public transit, call 817-1717 in any Bay
Area code or go to http://transitinfo.org
or www.flysfo.com. / E-mail
Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@...
Getting to SFO
From downtown San Francisco:
Taxi: $30 to $40
Door-to-door shuttle: $10 to $15
Airporter bus from hotels: $11
BART to Colma, Samtrans BX express: $3.35
Caltrain to Millbrae, SFO shuttle: $2
SamTrans KX express bus (luggage limits): $3
SamTrans bus 292: $2.20
Door-to-door shuttle: $19 to $25
BART to Colma, SamTrans BX express bus: $4.10
From Palo Alto:
Door-to-door shuttle: $26 to $30
Caltrain to Millbrae, SFO shuttle: $3.25