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Transportation Trends In The Bay Area Today vs. Tomorrow: Are We There Yet?

San Francisco skyline

Bay Area traffic is legendary. Time spent in weekly traffic in the Bay Area shot up 80% between 2010 and 2016, according to the Metropolitan Traffic Commission.

But Bay Area residents are known for their ability to pioneer and quickly adopt game-changing technologies. Rising new construction starts and increasing density have brought the question of transportation to the forefront. Polaris Pacific Vice President of Research Miles Garber identified some ways transportation must evolve to address changing needs.

Where We Are Today


"Uber and Lyft have disrupted the traditional taxi mode, and have become integral to many people’s daily routines," Garber said. "But ride-sharing may be exacerbating congestion."

Bay Area residents have over 500,000 private cars registered, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Although the estimated number of local ride-share drivers is only around 45,000, which is less than 10% of privately owned cars, ride-sharing accounts for up to 20% of weekday traffic in San Francisco.

Both Uber Pool and Lyft Line serve to mitigate these effects by allowing multiple riders to share one vehicle, but this efficiency can come at the expense of riders’ time.


According to Garber, Lyft is addressing this concern with its latest rollout: Shuttle. For a flat rate, passengers can get on and off at specific points along a fixed route during the week’s heaviest commuting hours.

Bike, scooter and car-shares

The recent expansion of Ford GoBikes, a public bike-sharing system, throughout San Francisco, Oakland and parts of Silicon Valley has given commuters 7,000 new bikes to ride. The Scoot Network, which serves over 10,000 users with Vespa-style electric scooters, offers another quick, convenient and affordable mode of transportation. A 30-minute ride averages about $4.

"Car-share services like ZipCar, Maven and Getaround, a service that allows members of the community [to] rent out their personal vehicles hourly or daily, are also doing their part to alleviate Bay Area traffic," Garber said. "A single car-share vehicle will be used on average by 19 people daily."


German car rental company Car2Go has been a game-changer in Seattle and Vancouver, with its focus on one-way trips and ease of car return. The service is in talks with the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency to expand coverage to the Bay Area, where it is estimated that for every shared vehicle, seven to 11 cars can be taken off the road.

Tech buses and chariots

According to Garber, over 29% of Bay Area commuters cross county lines to get to work, and startups and tech giants alike have partnered with the SFMTA and other mass-transit organizations to optimize routes with private shuttles and 15-seater chariot buses. Most are equipped with WiFi, allowing passengers to work or play while on the road. Bumper-to-bumper traffic will no longer get in the way of productivity. 

Where Transportation Is Headed

Dockless bike-shares

"Next-generation solar-powered, dockless bike-sharing will be significantly more convenient," Garber said. 

Since users will not be constrained by permanent docking locations, they can drop off their bikes much closer to their destinations. After success in Asia, companies like Spin and Limebike are looking to bring their services to the Bay Area. Spin recently debuted 125 bikes in South San Francisco and plans to add more soon in San Francisco.


Private ferry services

According to Garber, private ferry services like Tideline, which offers trips from Berkeley to San Francisco for $8, present a promising new transportation option. Tideline provides WiFi and beverage services onboard. Coordinating arrival/departure schedules with shuttles at the shore, this new wave of water taxis could prove a sustainable solution for reducing traffic.

Caltrain goes electric

The electrification of Caltrain, the preferred mode of transportation for 65,000 commuters daily, is scheduled to begin in 2021.

"Switching from diesel fuel could improve air quality, reduce noise and reduce travel times by an estimated 16 minutes," Garber said.

Driverless shuttles

Olli, the avant-garde creation of Local Motors, is more than a self-driving shuttle. It is eco-friendly, open-source and customizable, allowing companies to maintain their own fleets. It uses sensors and smart technology to ensure the safety of passengers. As autonomous vehicles promise to revolutionize transit, the world will look to early adopters to see if the technology will take root.

TransitScreen George Washington University


TransitScreen, a service already active in 33 cities, provides an easy-to-read display screen with information about every transportation choice at a commuter’s disposal.

"From employee shuttle arrival times and bus schedules to train delays and more, TransitScreen is made for optimized and efficient commutes," Garber said. 

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