a large group of people riding their bikes in san francisco

Eco-Friendly Transportation Options in San Francisco

September 25, 2023

We all do what we can to be a friend to our dear Mother Earth. We keep reusable grocery bags on hand, monitor water usage during droughts, and rock sneakers made from water bottles. But how often do we think about how our transportation can impact the environment in San Francisco? 

Sustainable living is more than a trend or fad in our city – it’s a permanent lifestyle. But even with that mindset ingrained in most locals, we still have a lot of room for improvement in getting our city even greener. 

You can take one look at our freeways at 5 pm to know that millions of people are relying on private transportation to get them from A to B – and while sometimes that is unavoidable, you have a lot of options in San Francisco that will get you out of your gas guzzler and into a more eco-friendly ride. 

So, what are those options? 

By land and sea, our trolleys, ferries, e-bikes and more will help you traverse steep hills, choppy waters and crowded streets. Here is a comprehensive list of eco-friendly transportation options in San Francisco that will help you get everywhere you need to go. 

downtown sf street with a cable car, green taxis, scooters, people walking, people taking mopeds, people cycling.

Why Consider Eco-Friendly Transportation?

Yeah, standard cars are pretty easy (if you already have one, that is). But if you don’t have a car or don’t want to lose your ever-important street parking spot, mixing in some eco-friendly transportation is a great way to easily decrease your personal carbon emissions. 

Top 5 Reasons to Use Eco-Friendly Transport

1. Supporting Eco-friendly Transportation Helps You Build the City You Want to See 

If everyone drives cars, all you will see for miles is… cars. But, if everyone starts to bike, bus, or trolley when possible, it can create a message loud enough to reach the ears of changemakers in the city. There is power in numbers – if we all support eco-friendly transportation, so will the city! If we don’t, the municipality may deem them not worth the money they cost.

a couple riding bikes in sf instead of driving cars

2. Improved Air Quality

We may not be able to agree on many things as a society, but you’ll rarely hear someone say, “Man, I wish our air was smoggier.” 

We are lucky to live in an area that does not have a reputation for terrible air quality, but there is always room for improvement. That improvement can come from decreasing the number of cars on roads and swapping more sustainable options. This can have a ripple effect of good: reduced air pollution from eco-friendly transportation can improve the collective’s respiratory health.

3. Less Traffic

When you start a commute, the last thing you want to see is a sea of cars in stop-and-go traffic. Public transit, carpooling, and biking can help reduce this annoying congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on the road. Fewer cars = shorter commute! Need we say more? On top of that, many forms of eco-friendly transportation (biking, trolleys, and ferries) can bypass traffic in the first place!

a dad and his baby biking on a path by the golden gate bridge

4. Save Some Cash

Over the long term, eco-friendly transportation options can be more cost-effective. Cars are expensive to buy, maintain, and use. But buses, bikes and trolleys are relatively affordable for most people and are largely consistent and dependable enough for daily commutes.

5. It’s More Fun! 

Let’s face it – sitting in a car will never be as fun and satisfying as breezing through the streets on an e-bike, moodily staring out a foggy window on a train, or people-watching on a bus. There is a sneaky beauty in eco-friendly transportation – you only need to experience it to believe it!

Top 9 Different Sustainable Modes of Transportation in San Francisco

  1. Bicycles and E-Bikes
  2. Electric Scooters
  3. Public Transit
  4. Walking
  5. Ferries
  6. Cable Cars
  7. Green Taxis
  8. Car-Free Zones
  9. Trains

1. Bicycles and E-Bikes

San Francisco has an extensive network of bike lanes and dedicated bike paths, making it one of the most bike-friendly cities around. When you see the hilly terrain here, it may not scream “bikeable” to you. But that’s when e-bikes come into play! San Francisco e-bikes make it easy to enjoy sustainable transportation without huffing and puffing your way up all the steep hills. This, paired with the unanimous opinion that e-bikes are a blast to ride, make them an incredibly popular form of transport in the city. 

If you aren’t ready to commit to an e-bike, test out the experience with our San Francisco e-bike rentals! From quality bikes to helpful route recommendations to guided tours around the city, we will make sure you have a fantastic time experiencing San Francisco by bike.

a large group on a bike tour riding e-bikes in sf

2. Electric Scooters

Check a corner – you just may find an electric scooter to take! Electric scooters are available for rent throughout the city. These compact and efficient vehicles are popular for short trips and can be easily left in designated areas around the city. While they aren’t necessarily dependable long-term transport (you can’t be sure that one will be right near you when you need it), they are fun, easy to use with an app, and fairly affordable. 

3. Public Transit

There is public eco-friendly transportation in San Francisco and beyond! Even if you don’t live in the city, you can leverage great transit into the city. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) operates buses, trolleys, and the iconic cable cars. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system connects San Francisco with neighboring cities, offering a convenient way to travel within the region. Use BART to get into the city limits and SFMTA to get around the city! You are beholden to the schedule of these modes of transportation, but they are dependable enough that many people rely on them to get to work.

4. Walking

Just look down – your feet are a great form of transportation in San Francisco! Our scenic city is very walkable, as long as you have the right shoes. San Francisco is a pedestrian-friendly city with many neighborhoods offering shops, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. 

5. Ferries

All aboard! Ferries are not the most common form of eco-friendly transportation in major cities, but they are in San Francisco. The ferries around the bay offer the most direct and easy way to get from the city to the surrounding areas for a trip across the bay that is scenic and fun.

6. Cable Cars

Cable cars aren’t just a tourist attraction! They can also save our behinds when a steep hill is in our midst. These historic cable cars are a unique and fun way to scale intense inclines and look good doing it. Watch for this slow-moving, maroon, wood-trimmed novelty to experience it yourself. 

yellow and red cable car going down the street in san francsico

7. Green Taxis

A taxi, but make it eco-friendly! Some taxi companies in San Francisco operate hybrid or electric vehicles, providing a more sustainable alternative to traditional gasoline-powered taxis. You’ll be able to wave down or schedule a carbon-neutral ride. Keep an eye out for these green and white taxis around town. 

8. Car-Free Zones

Some city areas have been designated car-free zones, promoting walking and cycling while reducing vehicle traffic. This makes your bike commute, jog, or easy stroll feel even more safe and enjoyable. Here’s a map laying out the most car-free bike and walk trip you can make in the city.

9. Trains

Here is your ticket to the city without needing to drive. Caltrain, a commuter rail system, connects San Francisco with Peninsula and South Bay cities. People living in neighboring cities swear by this train service to make it to the town without slipping into madness by braving the traffic. 

three people holding a hand tie for steadiness on a bus

9 Tips To Use Public Transportation in San Francisco

  1. Make Your Game Plan: Before you start your journey, use GPS or transit apps to plan your route. We recommend checking the specific public transit apps to get the most accurate view of departures, arrivals and commute times. Public transit schedules vary by day and time, so check the schedule beforehand.
  2. Get a Clipper Card: Your ticket to getting around the city is the most important purchase you can make! The Clipper Card is a reusable smart card that allows you to pay for rides on various San Francisco Bay Area public transit systems, including Muni buses, BART, and more. It’s way easier than carrying cash and cheaper than paying for each ride.
  3. Arrive Early: Arrive at the bus stop or train station a few minutes before the scheduled departure time to ensure you get your ride. This will account for any wrong turns, getting lost or that ever-important iced coffee purchase.
  4. Know the Stops and Routes: Don’t nod off so much you miss your stop! Be aware of the stops before yours and note major landmarks that can help you stay oriented.
  5. Transfers: Save time and money by checking for transfer tickets. If your journey involves multiple transit lines, ask for a transfer ticket when you pay your fare. Transfers allow you to switch between different lines without paying an additional fare.
  6. Secure Your Belongings: Keep your belongings secure and be mindful of your surroundings to prevent theft. No matter what city you are in, it’s good practice to keep your bags on your lap and to stay aware of your surroundings.
  7. Utilize Bike Racks: Did you bike to your bus? No worries! They have a rack for that. Many buses in San Francisco are equipped with bike racks so that you can combine biking and public transit for a seamless journey.
  8. Stay Informed: Keep your finger on the pulse of San Francisco’s eco-friendly transportation! Follow local news for updates on service disruptions, construction, or other changes affecting your travel plans.
  9. Explore Transit Hubs: Stations like the Embarcadero, Powell Street, and Civic Center are major transit hubs where you can transfer between different lines and modes of transportation. These are great spots to aim for if you want a stop with lots of options for your next commute.

Even small choices add up to make a big difference – and choosing eco-friendly forms of transportation is a great small choice to start with! We are proud to offer a fantastic form of sustainable travel with our e-bike rentals. If you need help getting on the saddle of a bike for your trip around the city, reach out to our team! We will get you everything you need to take on SF by e-bike. 

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