SF Muni is San Francisco's public transit system, used to move the masses from point to point daily for work or play at a reasonable cost, and it helps reduce traffic congestion by reducing the use of private vehicles on the streets.
A few lines, such as the Cable Car lines (California, Powell and Mason, Powell and Hyde) cost significantly more to ride than the rest of the fleet--this is due to the higher cost of running these lines and the lower efficiency of carrying relatively low payloads, plus each car requires one gripman for the full-time operation of the car and the conductor making sure each passenger pays the fare, as well as applying additional braking power at the rear of the car when needed. The brake pads are made of pine wood and need to be replaced after 72 hours of use. That's why you'll notice the smell of burning wood when the brakes are applied. Unless you're sure you're going to ride the cable car both ways, just pay for a one-way fare. I bought a round-trip, only to waste my money, as I didn't really ride it all the way back. There are other Muni lines around, and it's good to just try the different lines and modes of transport for the experience.
There is the F surface trolley line, with different street cars purchased from around the world running along the surface streets of Fisherman's Wharf and Market Street, and turning around in the Castro.
The other street car lines that now run underground along Market Street for better efficiency are J, K, L, M, N, T, though sometimes there are breakdowns in the underground that can cause significant delays, and you can't leave.
The bulk of the fleet lines are diesel, propane, and emission free electricity, running on electric overhead wires that use the city''s own electricity (the lowest fuel cost for the city).
Fares can vary: The best is a monthly pass if you use Muni just about every weekday, but infrequent users may purchase a single packet of tokens at the Market Street and Powell Street SF Muni kiosk or at the Montgomery, Powell St, Civic Center BART/Muni station. There are also one-, three-, and seven-day passes for purchase. Of course, the single-use, cash fare is always accepted.
Immediately after paying your fare if not using a pass, always ask for a transfer as long as this is still in use, allowing you to change lines twice. If the system works properly, the driver tears off the top portion of the ticket after the second use, and on the third use, you surrender the transfer. The common practice is the driver just sees your valid transfer and doesn't bother tearing or collecting the transfer, so you may keep using it till expiration. Sometimes the driver will give much more than 90 minutes -- don't complain, be thankful. If you pay after 9:30pm, you should get a transfer good all night since the time expiration increment after 10:30pm is late night. It should give you at least 90 minutes of use from the time of issue. If not, ask the driver for a transfer that gives you at least 90 minutes of use. If the driver refuses, do not argue. Write down the driver's number, bus number, line, and time of incident. You'll need to write to complain and ask for a refund in the event you have to pay again because you may have been shorted the time. This transfer system may be discontinued or modified in the future -- they tried to eliminate it before.
If arriving by BART, get yourself a MUNI transfer before leaving the BART fare gates for a MUNI fare cash discount. The transfer comes in two parts: one for leaving BART to MUNI, the other is for MUNI to BART.
Check the system's timetable for the running times and frequency of service. There are some major lines that run 24 hours a day, but most will stop by midnight, if not earlier.
Keep your wits about you and be aware of the fellow passengers around you. One time, when I was riding on Muni, one passenger was picking on another, but the driver ignored it and didn't do anything, not wanting to take responsibility. The bullying escalated to a knife and chain fight and all the passengers, including the driver, quickly left the bus. By the time I realized what was going on, the fight had moved in front of me, blocking the aisle for our escape and the knife was within six inches of me as the two struggled. Fortunately the incident ended without anyone getting hurt. But it could have been much worse.
As a tourist/visitor, try to avoid using the system during rush hour when the system's use is very heavy (rush hour is during the early morning and from about 3:30pm till 6pm.
If you're inclined to help with acquisition and restoral of old street trolleys, please
give your financial support to Market Street Railway.
Telephone 511 or (415) 673-MUNI (6864), weekdays 6am to 8pm, weekends and holidays 8am to 6pm; or 511.org for travel needs throughout the bay area.