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April 1, 2009


Filed under: airports,BART — Chris @ 12:48 am

This is not really travel related…but it is transportation related. And I’m sure most BAT readers jump on BART or MUNI from time to time to get to or from the airport,  so here goes.

Last week I took MUNI home from my One-on-One class at the Apple store downtown. (Makin’ movies on my Mac! But I digress…)

I got stuck in the Powell Street station with the wrong sized bills and finding change to purchase my fare turned into a frustrating farce.

So I wrote a letter to SF Chronicle columnist CW Nevius, and he posted part of it!

So here’s the email I wrote (copying Mayor Newsom, SFMTA head Nathaniel Ford and my pal Angela Jackson at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.) At the bottom is the link to Nevius’ column—and excellent reader commentary.

Hello there and thanks for your great work about what’s not working in SF! I read it every day in the paper delivered to my house (yes, I read the real paper!)

Here’s my observation and recent experience:

I am a travel writer living in SF and have experienced and enjoyed many of the world’s best municipal railways on my frequent journeys.

What kind of world-class city for visitors (or residents) is San Francisco if its most central Muni Railway/BART station cannot change a $5 bill?

This has happened to me more than once over the last year at the Powell St station (ground zero for tourists). I can’t imagine what it might be like for our many visitors who may not have a firm command of our language or our currency.

So here we go….

I walk into the Muni station with a $5 bill, a $10 bill and a $20 bill expecting to buy a $1.50 Muni fare.

I soon discover that none of the machines can accept a $5 bill.

So I walk over and ask the booth agent on duty how to buy my $1.50 fare.

He tells me that there are no machines that change $5 bills, but there are machines that will change my $10 or $20.

So I go back to that machine, insert my $20, and get back…. you guessed it…four $5 bills.

So I go back to the agent and ask again.

This time he informs me again that there are no machines that change $5 anywhere in the station. He tells me that I need to go into the adjacent Westfield Shopping Center and buy something in order to get the proper change for Muni.

You’ve got to be kidding me!

San Francisco can do better than this!

Can someone please install or modify the current change machines to accommodate a $5 bill?

This would be a smart way to spend some of the $67 million SFMTA is getting as part of the stimulus package.

Thanks for your consideration of this issue!

Chris McGinnis, Editor, THE BAT,
Noe Valley

And VOILA! My rant shows up in the paper!



  1. As I read your story about your experience with MUNI/BART and the change problem, I too experienced a similar situation. I was at the BART station on 24th in the Mission and needed to buy a $4.00 ticket. All I had on me was a $20. I was hoping they would just apply the difference to my ticket to use for future BART rides. But no…I got $16 in the $1 coins! Just what I needed to carry around…a bunch of change.

    Comment by Ali Mc — April 1, 2009 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

  2. Chris –
    I appreciate your concerns and understand your frustration regarding the unavailability of BART or Muni machines to change a $5 bill at some of our downtown locations. As you are aware, the SFMTA plans to utilize part of the Federal Stimulus funding to purchase and install new machines at these stations. This project is a priority for our agency and we will be working hard to ensure there are no delays in the project timeline and that we can provide relief to our customers as soon as possible.

    Please feel free to check back in for updates over the coming months.


    Diana Hammons, Senior Manager

    Revenue Collection and Sales

    San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

    1 South Van Ness Avenue, Lower Level

    San Francisco, CA 94103

    Comment by Chris — April 1, 2009 @ 4:46 pm | Reply

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