Author: Matt Schutz
Flying on Norwegian to a conference, I arrived into San Francisco via Oakland Airport. Having flown into the main San Francisco (SFO) airport before and taken the BART which works fairly well, I was curious what the connection would be like at the other end of the line. All in all I was impressed by the new link to the BART system and getting downtown.
A new BART shuttle link has been built to connect the airport with the nearby Coliseum station so the airport now has a rail link right up to the terminal.
There was no sign specifically for the BART when I walked out from the baggage area but I followed the sign past directing to Ground Transport past a lot of construction work. Above the narrow exit door was a sign for BART; you need to know in advance that this means the local metro system. Coming from Europe I would have expected a symbol of a train to direct me to rail based public transport, and I suspect that would also make sense for domestic travellers as well. Would someone coming to San Francisco for the first time know that BART was the “subway”?
Immediately outside the terminal, it’s obvious where the train is as the station is up in the air just to the right, you can’t miss it.
Though it might sound unnecessary, there were two quite helpful boards in the station showing how the shuttle worked, the first one had a little picture of the shuttle route to the BART mainline station and the second one listed out the steps in the journey. Most importantly, the fact that passengers don’t need a ticket was shown prominently on another big sign. Even with these signs though, I saw a number of passengers looking for ticket machines on the platform. In fact, I was suspicious myself and even after reading the instructions had a sneaky look for a machine.
The actual shuttle platform is relatively well protected from the weather, though I had little need for any protection from the sunny day.
On board, there was plenty of space for the passengers using the train, it had obviously been designed well to accommodate passengers with luggage.
Changing to the BART
The layout of the system became more obvious as we approached the interchange Coliseum station for the BART proper. The shuttle terminates at its own platform, from where passengers need to cross over a bridge to the main station. This is where you’re supposed to buy a ticket, in fact you have to pass through ticket barriers to get to the rest of the BART system.
Buying a ticket was the most confusing and annoying part of the journey as the fare structure requires you to load up a travelcard with sufficient credit to reach your destination – charged as an individual end-to-end journey. To do this, you need to refer to the tiny matrix of fares for each station that is printed on the machine. Unfortunately, there’s no handy sign saying “put this much money on if you want to get to downtown San Francisco“. Furthermore, there was a very archaic way of adding dollars and cents to the card and I would have expected to be able to at least type in a value amount.
Once I had worked out how much to put on the travelcard, I headed down to the platform, I had to check the map of the system against what was displaying on the information screens for the train arrivals as I didn’t know if “SF Daly City” was the right destination. It would have been helpful if there was a sign that said “Downtown San Francisco this platform“. Once I figured out that “SF Daly City” was the right train, I was grateful that I only needed to wait 3 minutes as the trains ran only every 20 minutes!! Coliseum station isn’t that nice a station to wait on, so I was quite relieved.
Would I Use It Again?
Yes, the easy transport made Oakland Airport a viable option for a smooth transition to downtown. It is just as fast and significantly cheaper than taking an Uber. Without this public transport link I wouldn’t have recommended using Oakland Airport, especially when on business.
About the Author: Matt is the founder of Pracedo, a technology consulting firm focused on Salesforce.com solution. Originally from Minnesota, where there was no public transport growing up, and having now lived in London for 10 years spoilt for transport options, Matt is grateful to see more airport rail links appearing in the USA.
Follow Matt on Twitter.