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San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans)
Samtrans logo.png
SamTrans collage.jpg
Parent San Mateo County Transit District
Founded 1 July 1976
Headquarters 1250 San Carlos Ave.
San Carlos CA
Locale San Francisco Peninsula
Service area San Mateo County
Service type bus service, express bus, paratransit
Routes 49
Fleet 296
Daily ridership 50,000 (2012)
Operator SamTrans (most fixed-route), MV Transportation (fixed-route and shuttles),[1][2] First Transit (paratransit)[3]

SamTrans (stylized as samTrans; officially the San Mateo County Transit District) is a public transport agency in and around San Mateo, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It provides bus service throughout San Mateo County and into portions of San Francisco and Palo Alto. SamTrans also operates commuter shuttles to BART stations and community shuttles. Service is largely concentrated on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and, in the central county, I-280, leaving coast-side service south of Pacifica spotty and intermittent.[4]

SamTrans is constituted as a special district under California state law. It is governed by a board of nine appointed members; two county Supervisors, one “transportation expert” appointed by the county Board of Supervisors, three city councilpersons appointed by the cities in the county to represent the county's judicial districts, and three citizens appointed by the other six board members (including one from the coastside).

The district was established in 1976 and consolidated eleven different municipal bus systems serving the county. One year later, SamTrans began operation of mainline bus service to San Francisco. Shuttle service began in 2000.[5]

In addition to fixed route bus and paratransit operations, the district participates in the administration of the San Jose-San Francisco commuter rail line Caltrain. SamTrans also provides administrative support for the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, a separate board charged with administering the half-cent (0.5 percent) sales tax levy that funds highway and transit improvement projects.


SamTrans was formed in 1976 with the consolidation of 11 different city bus systems throughout San Mateo County[6], operating 48 fixed bus routes and the Redi-Wheels paratransit service today with an annual budget of $177 million[7]. In August 2013 the agency consolidated two routes along El Camino Real into the single all-day 15-minute frequency ECR route[8], briefly stemming a long-term decline in bus ridership that began in the early 1990s. Ridership on SamTrans buses is now under 40,000 passengers per weekday and continues declining, further threatening the agency's budget.

SamTrans is predicting a $28 million budget deficit by 2024[9] if it maintains existing levels of service and revenue sources, driven largely by growing employee pension obligations. In November 2017 the agency announced that it would place another half-cent (0.5 percent) sales tax, dubbed "Get Us Moving", on the county's November 2018 ballot. Officially SamTrans has not developed a spending plan for the estimated $80 million in annual revenues, but according to the San Mateo County Daily Journal, "A very preliminary proposal suggested half of the money go toward SamTrans and Caltrain, both facing financial difficulty. The remaining revenue could be allocated in a manner similar to the current countywide transportation tax that supports projects covering highways, local roads, grade separations, bikes, pedestrians and other transit-related expenditures."[10]

Bus service[edit]

The Gillig Phantom - SamTrans' former fleet workhorse.
Note the highback seats, uncommon on local buses in the United States.
The newest type of bus operated by SamTrans, the Gillig BRT. It's replacing the Gillig Phantom series on all its routes.

Currently, SamTrans serves the cities of Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, and South San Francisco. Most routes provide connecting service to BART, Caltrain, or both. There is also regular scheduled service to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco.

Unlike most large transit operators in the Bay Area, SamTrans outsources to private contractors the operation of a number of its routes. The current contract operator for Peninsula mainline, Coastside and paratransit services is MV Transportation.

SamTrans previously operated special service for a couple of Bay Area events such as San Francisco 49ers home football games and the quirky Bay To Breakers footrace in San Francisco.

Route designations[edit]

Since SamTrans reorganized its bus routes in August 1999, it adopted a new route designation system to identify service types, geographical coverage, and connections to rail services.

Express bus routes are designated by a letter and X. In December 2009, six express routes (DX, FX, MX, NX, PX, and RX)[11] were eliminated due to budget constraints; a seventh, route CX, is now Route 118; route KX is the only remaining express route.

Local routes have either two or three digits or a special designation (e.g., ECR). For three digit routes, the first digit identifies a rail connection:

  • 1 – Connection to BART stations only (primarily routes in Daly City, Colma, South San Francisco and San Bruno)
  • 2 – Connection to Caltrain stations only (primarily routes south of Millbrae)
  • 3 – Connection to both BART and Caltrain stations (three routes have this designation: ECR provides service between Palo Alto and Daly City, 397 provides overnight service between San Francisco and Palo Alto as a part of the All Nighter network, and 399 provides overnight service between Daly City and San Francisco International Airport as a part of the All Nighter network.)

All two digit routes are community service routes. Most of these routes do not connect with rail and operate on school days.

The second digit of the three digit routes, as well as the first digit of the two digit routes, identifies the geographical coverage of the route:

1 – Coastside (Pacifica and Half Moon Bay)

2 – Daly City and Colma

3 – Brisbane and South San Francisco

4 – San Bruno, Millbrae, and Burlingame

5 – San Mateo and Foster City

6 – Belmont and San Carlos

7 – Redwood City

8 – Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and Palo Alto

9 – Multi-City service



Since 7-5-2016 in US dollars[12][13]

Fare category Single ride Day pass Monthly pass
Adult local $2.25 $5.50 $65.60
Adult (boarding from San Francisco on routes 292 and 397) $4 $96
Youth (6-17 years) $1.10 $2.75 $27
Youth (boarding from San Francisco on routes 292 and 397) $1.10
Youth express (route KX north of San Francisco Airport)
Senior / Disabled / Medicare cardholder $1.10 $2.75 $27
Senior / Disabled / Medicare cardholder (boarding from San Francisco on routes 292 and 397) $1.10
Senior / Disabled / Medicare cardholder express (route KX north of San Francisco Airport) $1.10
  • † Local fare applies on Route KX (for passengers traveling between San Francisco International Airport, and the rest of the San Mateo County).

SamTrans offers bus tokens for adult and youth local fares, US$16 and US$10 respectively, in packages of ten. Multiple tokens or combinations of tokens and cash are accepted for journeys requiring higher fares. Tokens are promoted as being easier to handle than cash, and also include discounts. For example, a package of tokens includes 2 free rides assuming the others are worth $2 each (adult) or $1.25 each (youth).

SamTrans does not provide transfers but offers a Day Pass which allows unlimited rides on local routes and a credit on higher-cost routes. The cost of the Day Pass is thrice the one-way fare on the local routes for adults, youth, and seniors/disabled/Medicare cardholders.

As of December 22, 2010, Clipper card fare machines became fully operational throughout the system, allowing riders to pay fares using Clipper card, a transit smart card that is also accepted by most other Bay Area transit agencies.

Clipper cards come in four varieties: adult, youth, senior and disabled (which includes Medicare cardholders). Adult Clipper cards may be obtained from a wide variety of vendors, but youth, senior and disabled Clipper cards must be obtained from SamTrans or another Bay Area transit agency. Each Clipper card contains some sort of stored value (e.g., monthly passes, "Clipper Cash" e-funds used for transit fares) and the history of recent trips using the card. Clipper cards generally confer an approximately 10% discount relative to cash fares.

With the exception of youth summer passes, all SamTrans monthly passes must be loaded onto a Clipper card. Youth, senior and disabled monthly passes may only be loaded onto a corresponding Clipper card obtained from SamTrans or another Bay Area transit agency.

To ride SamTrans with Clipper card, the card must be "tagged" (read) by the Clipper card reader installed at the front of the bus near the farebox. The reader checks for a SamTrans monthly pass and local-fare credits from other agencies, computes the remaining fare and (if there is one) collects it in Clipper Cash. Note that northbound passengers on route KX to San Francisco must "tag" their Clipper card twice: once when boarding within San Mateo County (which collects a local fare or equivalent) and once before exiting in San Francisco (which collects any remaining fare).

Caltrain monthly passes (with two or more zones) and VTA monthly passes (that have been tagged on VTA in the last two hours) are honored on SamTrans as a local-fare credit. To use a local-fare credit from a monthly pass loaded onto a Clipper card on higher-cost routes, the remaining fare must be collected in Clipper Cash.

New fareboxes were installed in June 2011. The fareboxes collect fares, issue new magnetic striped tickets (e.g., day passes, change cards) and process previously issued magnetic striped tickets (e.g., day passes, youth summer passes, change cards). When a patron does not have exact change, a change card is issued with a cash value that can be redeemed at a future farebox transaction for up to a year.

Up to 3 kids under 5 with fare-paying rider can board for free.


SamTrans currently has a fleet of 296 buses of various sizes for its fixed-route service. Fifty-five are articulated buses made by North American Bus Industries with the 10 m (35 ft) and 12 m (40 ft) buses with low flooring, are made by the Gillig Corporation. Each bus is equipped with GPS tracking providing both visual and voice next-stop announcements, and are accessible to passengers in wheelchairs and limited mobility. In addition, most of the fleet has highback seats, with the notable exception of the Gillig low-floor buses. This enables greater fleet flexibility in terms of local and express routes.

In 2009, SamTrans added 135 custom made Gillig low floor buses to their fleet, numbered 400-490,500-539 & 2900-2903, replacing 137 older Gillig Phantom buses in their fleet.[14]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]