How many distinct organizations are operating mass transit in the San Francisco Bay Area? The answer depends on how you count them.
Everybody is familiar with the well-known players: BART, Muni, AC Transit, Caltrain, et cetera. But if asked how many players are in the region’s transit game, few riders could offer a specific definition of what defines a transit agency, much less identify them all.
Seamless Bay Area, a nonprofit founded in 2017 dedicated to uniting the region’s “fragmented and inconvenient” public transit, has given its best shot, releasing what it calls a “Definitive List of Bay Area Transit Agencies.”
The results: Seamless claims that no fewer than 151 distinct organizations run buses, trains, ferries, and other mass-transit vehicles in all nine counties.
If that number seems graphically shocking, note that Seamless employed its own, intentionally broad definition of terms to get to it.
Officially, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) recognizes 23 Bay Area transit operators. The complete list is as follows.
- AC Transit
- ACE-Altamont Commuter Express
- County Connection
- FAST-Fairfield Suisun Transit
- Golden Gate Transit & Ferry/Marin Transit
- Napa VINE
- Petaluma Transit
- Rio Vista Delta Breeze
- San Francisco Bay Ferry
- Santa Rosa CityBus
- Sonoma County Transit
- Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART)
- Tri Delta Transit
- Union City Transit
- Vacaville City Coach
- WHEELS-Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority
Seamless references four additional agencies that MTC does not. And while the MTC designations sound authoritative, it does leave off several popular and essential services.
For example, shuttles like the Emery Go Round and PresidiGo provide critical links for many commuters, but don’t fall under the MTC purview.
And folding those into the equation also means including some less widely known but very similar services. For example, not many people know about Stanford’s Marguerite shuttle, but Seamless says that it moves 6,000 people per day.
What about for-profit transit ventures? Many wouldn’t count such enterprises, as generally we think of public transit as, well, more public.
But if companies like the Blue & Gold fleet ferries provide crucial services, does this make them “unofficial transit agencies,” as Seamless would have it?
To reach the 151 figure, the group also included many of the Bay Area’s 100-plus individual municipalities in the listings, arguing that some cities and towns—among them, Menlo Park, Cupertino, and Walnut Creek—fill the function of transit “because they plan and administer shuttle service.”
But the would-be definitive list still draws the line at services like ride-hailing apps, rental bikes, and scooters, which are increasingly popular and useful transportation options but not really in the same spirit as a bus or ferry.
Check out Seamless Bay Area to see the complete list and the verbose explanation of how it came together.
What do readers think? What counts as mass transit in the Bay Area, and how should both riders and analysts define such basic but sometimes elusive terms?