How To Ride The N-Judah Like A ProPhoto: Waldemar Zboralski
Saul Sugarman
Published on January 02, 2017

The N-Judah holds the title as SF Muni’s busiest train, shuttling more than 40,000 people to different destinations every weekday.

Efforts by policymakers to mitigate the crowds have ranged from adding a new shuttle between UCSF and Embarcadero, chucking out seats so more people can squish aboard, and adding an express bus for work-time commutes between Outer Sunset and the Financial District.

Even with these improvements, riding the N-Judah can be a crowded, challenging mess. We asked regular riders their best tips for making a trip enjoyable. Here’s what they had to say, along with some personal tips from Hoodline editors and writers:

Be choosy where you board

Says Jaiden Fox (Duboce Triangle): “People never use the front door before rush hour or right after it. So the front space of the N-Judah usually has some breathing room before the crazy happens.”

But mix it up, too. Train operators have to take your fare above ground — so while the front door works sometimes, at others you’ll hear drivers yell at people to back up or there will be a queue of riders waiting to pay. N-Judahs almost always travel in pairs, so try the second car if you’re having trouble.

Mind the signs

Not all N-Judahs run the span of the line; some of them are actually J-Church trains. They run along the N-Judah line, but turn at Duboce and Church without entering the Muni Metro tunnel. Operators of these trains normally make an announcement about this, and their cars’ signs also say “J-Church.” If there are two cars, the second one is typically vacant with locked doors.

Likewise, check for sign differences with the new shuttles between UCSF and Embarcadero.

Use the hallways

Sure, you stand greater odds snagging a seat if you hover right over someone sitting in it, but then you risk backpacks bumping into you and people telling you to move. The joining hallway in each Muni car is a safe spot for riders to lean against a wall and not be bothered.

Beware the switchback

When Muni trains aren’t meeting their schedules, which is often, operators might stop the train and turn it around. The agency caught blowback in 2012 for doing this, and since then, we’ve heard from a few sources that the practice has decreased. But it still happens.

“It drives me crazy when I board a train whose signs say Ocean Beach, only to have it stop at 19th Ave and hear over the speaker that everyone has to get off and wait for the next train,” said Jeff Johnson (Outer Sunset).

Fear not, though: switchbacks are only approved when another train is only five minutes away, so if it happens to you, another one should be along shortly.

Charge your phone on the train (if you dare)

Right before the middle of each car where a line of seats runs parallel to the wall, there is a power outlet underneath the bench. Beware, though: official word from the MTA is these outlets could damage your electronic device. (But we blew your mind a little just now, didn’t we?)

Know your alternatives

Here are some alternate bus routes to the N-Judah train:

Nx: In the mornings, this express bus picks up between Judah/48th and Judah/19th, dropping off at Bush and Montgomery. In the evenings, it picks up at Montgomery and Sutter and starts dropping off at Judah/19th back to Judah/48th. The trip can take at least as long as a train commute with the benefit of not stopping. But caution: standing can be a rocky ride at 30-40 minute stretches.

7/7r/7x: Depending which one you take, these buses will either drop you somewhere in the Haight or skip it entirely and zip you to the Financial District. The volume of buses and options makes this the favorite alternative of a couple people we spoke to.  

Did we miss a tip? Let us know in the comments!