(credit: Tony Avelar/Getty Images)

With nearly 1.8 million residents living in Santa Clara County, a consortium of reliable public transportation systems are an absolute necessity. Further compounding the issue is South Bay’s notorious commute, listed as one of the top 10 worst in the country. Although in most occasions, driving a car might get you to a destination faster, the utilization of public transportation can be far less stressful, easier on the pocketbook and better for the environment. The following are the major public transportation agencies serving the South Bay.

ACE (Altamont Commuter Express)
San Jose Diridon Station
65 Cahill St.
San Jose, CA 95110
(800) 411-7245

Serving the downtown San Jose Diridon train station, the Altamont Commuter Express is a train service managed by the San Joaquin Rail Commission, based in Stockton. There are four westbound morning departures from Stockton, with South Bay stops at Santa Clara’s Great America, Santa Clara and San Jose. On the return trip eastbound, there are also four departures beginning at the Diridon train station. A one-way ticket between Stockton and San Jose is $13, with discounts for round trips, children and senior-disabled. Tickets are available online, by mail, at ACE ticketing stations and cooperative outlets/vendors.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
Fremont Station
2000 BART Way
Fremont, CA 94536
(510) 441-2278

Serving a daily ridership of 400,000 passengers in over 44 stations, BART is the most important public transportation system in the Bay Area and the local economy relies heavily on its service. Popular destinations served by BART include San Francisco Airport (SFO), downtown San Francisco, Oakland City Center, Berkeley and the Oakland Coliseum. The closest station to the South Bay is in Fremont, 18 miles south of downtown San Jose. However, a new BART extension is currently in the works, with new stations to open at Warm Springs/South Fremont in 2015, Berryessa in 2016 and eventually to downtown San Jose. Basic fare is dependent upon point of origin and destination and can be determined by using BART’s fare calculator. Ticket vending machines are available in every BART station, providing cash, credit or debit card options. BART stations connect with other public transportation agencies, including AC Transit VTA and SamTrans.

San Jose Diridon Station
65 Cahill St.
San Jose, CA 95110
(800) 660-4287

With an average daily ridership of nearly 50,000, Caltrain is a commuter rail service with several South Bay stations, including Gilroy, downtown San Jose, Santa Clara and Palo Alto. The northernmost terminus is the 4th and King Station in San Francisco, just a few minutes walk from the San Francisco Giant’s home ballpark, AT&T Park. Like BART, Caltrain fares are contingent upon origin and destinations, but also include rates for traveling into one or more zones. Fare discounts are available for day passes, 8-ride tickets, monthly passes, zone upgrade tickets and for seniors and people living with disabilities. Caltrain and VTA Light Rail ridership is expected to increase significantly next year, as the Levi’s Stadium, new home of the San Francisco 49ers, opens next season.

San Benito County Transit
330 Tres Pinos Road, Suite C7
Hollister, CA 95023
(831) 636-4161

The smallest public transit agency in the South Bay, this system consists of three fixed bus routes, a Dial-A-Ride service and intercounty service between Hollister and Gilroy. The three fixed routes all serve the City of Hollister, including stops at City Hall, County Courthouse, Veteran’s Memorial Park, San Benito High School and a remote site of Gavilan College. Regular fare is $1 and discount fare is .75. Additional discounts are available when purchasing 10 tokens or monthly passes. Dial-A-Ride and intercounty service is $2.

Santa Cruz Metro Transit Bus (credit: Randy Yagi)

Santa Cruz Metro Transit
920 Pacific Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 425-8600

Serving much of Santa Cruz County, the system also known as Santa Cruz Metro or SCMTD currently operates more than 80 buses on 41 fixed routes. Regular fare on Metro buses is $2 and discount fare is $1. Additional savings are available by purchasing a day pass, 3-day pass, 7-day pass, 15-ride pass or a 31-day pass. Children under 46 inches tall ride free with a fare-paying passenger, with a limit of three children.

After the 1989 earthquake, Santa Cruz Metro and VTA began a partnership to provide a commuter bus service between Santa Cruz County and downtown San Jose. Now known as the Amtrak-Highway 17 Express, the route primarily serves downtown Santa Cruz, Cavallaro Transit Center in Scotts Valley and downtown San Jose, with major stops at the San Jose Diridon Station and San Jose State University at 5th and San Fernando. Fare for the Amtrak-Highway 17 Express is $5, discount fare is $2.50 and other discounts for day passes, 5-day passes and 31-day passes.

Valley Transportation Authority (credit: Randy Yagi)

3331 N. 1st St.
San Jose, CA 95134
(408) 321-2300

The Santa Clara Transportation Authority (VTA) serves much of Santa Clara County with a fixed route bus and light rail service. Combined average daily ridership is 137,000. The system serves all major universities in the county, including Stanford, Santa Clara and San Jose State, in addition to all community colleges. The San Jose International Airport, San Jose Diridon Train Station and the SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks, are also served by VTA, in addition to major shopping centers and a number of Silicon Valley companies, although major tech firms like Apple, Google and Yahoo provide their own private express bus services. Single ride fares are $2, $1.75 for youth ages 5-17 and $1 for seniors and people living with disabilities. Discounts are available for day passes, community buses, light rail passes, monthly passes and annual passes.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.