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No car, no problem: Alternative methods of Bay Area transportation

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APRIL 21, 2023

Like most other college students, coming to Berkeley and moving away from home comes with a host of changes in their lifestyle. One of the changes that are especially noticeable in a car-oriented society is limitations in how students travel, whether that be day to day, going on road trips with friends or even a late-night cruise.

The lack of access to a personal motor vehicle can be difficult for the average student and even more so for those who have become dependent on a vehicle back home. However, alternative modes of transport include everything from biking, riding the bus or BART, walking and even short-term car rentals. But they each come with their own set of pros and cons.

For most students, coming to campus means walking between classes becomes a new normal. Walking around UC Berkeley’s beautiful campus is a quick and easy way to get between classes. However, it starts to get more difficult when the range of travel extends past campus. Even weekly trips to Trader Joe’s can become cumbersome when asked to carry multiple bags for an extended distance. Although it’s one of the only forms of transport that can be considered free, other than AC Transit, the experience begs for alternative solutions.

Naturally most students turn to the bus to transport themselves around Berkeley and even on some occasions to San Francisco. UC Berkeley’s free AC Transit pass makes it especially enticing for day to day travel. Need to go to your Northside class without breaking a sweat or a trip to the grocery store without hauling bags for blocks? 

The bus becomes the clear option. AC Transit has done a decent job ensuring the buses run consistently and giving several options to get around a good amount of the greater Oakland and Berkeley area. However, keep in mind that in San Francisco, the Muni system is the go-to as it operates most of the rides in that area. Additionally, from waiting for the bus itself to heavy traffic, riding the bus can take up a significant amount of time during the day, especially on longer trips.

Thus, BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transport, is the best option if you are looking to get around the greater Bay Area. Although not perfect, BART’s regular schedule means that — especially for getting to the airport — there will usually be another option when you inevitably miss a train because a class ran late. 

Furthermore, being a subway means that, in theory, it is consistently faster than driving or taking the bus. However, the advantages generally end there. In practice, BART can be inconsistent with its arrivals, suffers from rail maintenance and random scheduling issues, and can be unsafe if ridden at non-peak hours. 

Unfortunately, the last point is a reason many female-identifying students find it a necessity to pay higher prices in order to use a ride-hailing service when going to the airport. It is recommended if you are planning on taking BART coming back late — such as after a night out in the city — that you come back with a group.

Although all the previous methods work as meaningful solutions, sometimes the adventure is about the journey and not the final destination. Especially for automotive enthusiasts, nothing beats the feeling of going on a drive. A short-term rental, specifically through apps such as GigCar or ZipCar allow students to have full freedom to explore Berkeley, San Francisco and even the general Bay Area. Cars are usually easy to find around, with the apps usually mapping out where cars are available. 

Also, access to the car’s trunk means that trips to the grocery store and Costco become more accessible. However, all of this freedom and accessibility comes with a cost. These car rental services usually charge per hour or minute with pricing adding up quickly if you lose track of time. In such a case, it becomes increasingly important to consider the price of the car itself, especially if you are planning on leaving it parked during an activity. 

Additionally, with certain applications, the vehicle can only be parked back where it was originally rented from, which means it is beneficial to consider dropping off heavy items at home if going on a Costco run.

Not having a personal vehicle in the Bay Area and specifically in Berkeley doesn’t need to be a frustrating and costly experience. Although many will find the alternatives limiting, many times they end up saving more time and money than would have been possible with a car. In addition, not looking for parking and getting some physical exercise means that it’s less frustrating than owning and maintaining a vehicle.

Contact Megnath Dey at 


APRIL 25, 2023