Free Rides! I mean, Spare the Air


Andrew ChowOn one of our recent Spare the Air days, I decided to take full advantage of the free rides — by taking a trip All Around the Bay. Some told me it couldn’t be done — but after a day spent riding (and waiting for) trains and buses, I proved them wrong…

10:40am: SJ to Mountain View

A 20-minute wait for the next light rail train. On board it’s standing-room only. Lots of families going to Great America, and lots of teenagers going to work there. They’re all dressed in dark-blue Great America shirts. One lady in particular keeps bugging them about rides, costs, which stop to get off at, etc. As soon as she leaves the train, the kids all start making fun of her behind her back. At the downtown Mountain View station, only a handful of riders join me in making the transfer to Caltrain. Again, about a 20-minute wait in the heat – made more bearable with a soda and a bottle of water that I buy from a hot dog stand. I also end up buying a giant hot dog, peanuts, and fudge cookies. I eat most of it before the train shows up.

Noon: Mountain View to SF

Again, I’m kind of surprised to see lots of families on this train. Two young men with checked-baggage tags on their luggage talk about transferring to BART, to catch their flight at SFO. Later, I watch as they get off the train at Millbrae – then miss the BART transfer and take the escalator upstairs.

1pm: 4th & King to the Financial District

On the N Judah streetcar I overhear a group of ladies fretting about how “We have to pay our fare up front!” – and a few seconds later, after someone tells them about Spare the Air day, “OH, it’s free all day?!” Water is dripping from the air conditioner overhead. It drips right onto some seats. And at every stop, someone sits down in those seats, only to have water drip on their heads. I wonder why no one on the train speaks up to warn them?

2:30pm: SF to Fremont

After lunch with a friend in the Financial District, I head back to the subway station. This time, no waiting for a BART train to Fremont — it shows up just as I step off the escalator. All the forward-facing seats are taken. I hate riding trains backwards. Nearly an hour later outside the Fremont BART station, I’m confused: Which bus do I take to get back to San Jose? I ask a girl, but she says she doesn’t know. Soon a VTA bus shows up – then promptly shuts down as the driver takes a break. Meantime a group of teenagers is loitering next to me, smoking what smells like pot. There’s also a group of elderly people, none speaking English, all standing next to their suitcases. It’s really hot; I wish I had another bottle of water.

3:45pm: Fremont to Milpitas

On board the VTA bus: Very cushy, comfortable seats. The pot smokers take over the back of the bus. I find an empty seat next to a sunny window, and fall asleep as the bus is idling…

4:30pm: Milpitas to SJ

I wake up as the bus pulls up to the Great Mall, and transfer to the light rail to take me back where I began my trip nearly six hours earlier. A successful — if exhausting — way to get around the Bay.

Andrew Chow
NBC11 Producer

Caltrain Sign
Caltrain Palo Alto
Caltrain San Francisco
BART East Bay
BART Fremont

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