Quitting car commuting, and taking BART to work


I started commuting by car back when I started at my current job in February 2021. At the time, it was the logical choice. The roads were still mostly empty due to the pandemic, so the 20-mile drive from Mountain View to the office in Burlingame could be done in easily under half an hour. It was fast and easy, with minimal COVID risk. Besides, the office isn’t within walking distance of any Caltrain or BART station. Even after we got vaccinated and more drivers returned to the road, and even after we moved to San Francisco, driving continued to be the easy choice.

However, over the course of 2022 into 2023, the commute became more of a slog. Soon, every evening, I could expect to sit for 20-30 minutes in a line of cars inching, bumper-to-bumper, the last couple of miles on 101 N into the city. I grew increasingly weary of this, until finally one day in April after another drag of a commute, I decided I was done.

It’s now the beginning of September, which means I’ve been taking transit to work for over three months. My commute is about 1 hour and 10 minutes each way. This includes walking from home to the 16th Street Mission BART station, taking BART to Millbrae, and transferring to a Commute.org shuttle for the last couple of miles to the office. It takes about 20-40 minutes longer than driving, but that’s time I can spend reading. I’ve already finished more books these past three months than I did in all of 2022!

It’s also refreshing to start the day with a short walk in the morning air.

In addition, freed from the need to keep a garage to park and charge the car, we were able to move to a new apartment which is smaller and has no garage but is sunnier and cheaper.

Enjoy some film photos from my commute:

Why didn’t I do this sooner?

I think the main reason I didn’t do this sooner was because I was unsure about the last-mile Commute.org shuttle. Back in 2021, I don’t think the shuttle was properly shown in Apple/Google Maps (or maybe I just didn’t see it), so I wasn’t sure of its existence or reliability, and this early impression stuck with me. It was only after I tried taking the shuttle a couple of times that I realized that it’s actually a very nice service. It operates at the same 15-minute frequency as BART, so I never have to think about the transfer.

There are also lots of horror stories about safety and cleanliness on BART which kept me away for a while. I’ve found that BART is actually generally fine during my commute hours, even if it still has some room for improvement. Most days are uneventful. Once every few weeks, there’ll be something that causes me to switch to a different train car, but it’s easy to do.

Looking ahead

I’m not really looking forward to BART’s planned service change, starting September 11th. I can understand the reasoning, and I think it’ll make the system better for all the people who ride it outside of commute hours. However, it only negatively impacts my commute: Trains every 20 minutes instead of every 15, an extra stop at SFO, and more crowded trains with fewer seats. Already in recent weeks the trains have been getting more busy, and I dread the day when I can’t find a seat on BART. As much as I dislike driving, having to stand for my BART commute may be annoying enough to make me go back to driving.

But for now, I’m enjoying the morning walk and the train ride, and I’ve got a big stack of library books that I’m steadily working through. Life is better when you don’t have to sit in traffic.