Navigating the bus system in Santa Cruz can feel like a game of trial and error, but some mistakes aren’t worth the missed class or shift at your job downtown. 

For new slugs learning the ropes of an unfamiliar transit system or upperclassmen looking for a refresher on the Metro, City on a Hill Press has compiled a comprehensive guide to taking the bus as a student. 

A few bus etiquette reminders: when you board the bus, regardless of whether it’s a loop or Metro bus, be sure to refrain from taking phone calls, and wait for others to get off the bus before you board. On Metro buses specifically, always have your ID ready to show the driver as you board, and enter from the front entrance, never the back. If your bus is crowded, move to the end of the aisle to make room for others. And as always, don’t forget to thank your bus driver!

An illustrated map of the bus routes; be careful to note which bus stops are only available in a specific direction. Illustration by Lily Hooper.

Loop Buses

Loop buses, a catchall name for the campus shuttle system, are free to ride for everyone — no ID necessary. Buses come every five to twenty minutes, making the Loop the perfect option to get to a class on the other end of campus. If your destination is on campus, be sure to take a Loop bus rather than a Metro bus to free up space for commuting students.

There are three different shuttle routes within the Loop bus system — Loop, Upper Campus, and Night Core. While Loop buses circle the entire campus, traveling between the main and west campus entrances, the Upper Campus bus route begins and ends at the East and West Remote lots. Both routes begin running early on weekday mornings, but Upper Campus service ends at 3 p.m. while Loop service continues until 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday. Loop and Upper Campus buses do not run on weekends, but Night Core buses operate in the evenings until midnight seven days a week, ensuring safe on-campus transportation after dark.

Santa Cruz Metro

Santa Cruz County’s bus system, known as the Santa Cruz (SC) Metro, is free to ride for UCSC students with a valid university ID (and $2 per ride for those without). SC Metro operates more than 20 routes throughout the county, with five routes that take the campus loop beginning and ending at the Santa Cruz Metro Center in downtown Santa Cruz. Even-numbered buses (the 10, 18, and 20) travel counterclockwise, entering campus via the Main Gate, while odd-numbered buses (the 15 and 19) go clockwise, entering at the West Gate.

For the fall 2023 academic term, SC Metro has implemented several service changes, most notably by increasing 18 and 19 service to once every 15 minutes during peak times.

10 (UCSC via Main Gate – High)

If you need to get Downtown fast, the 10 is your friend — taking High Street rather than Bay or Mission Streets ensures that each trip takes only 15 to 25 minutes, making it the fastest bus route to Pacific Avenue. The 10 operates once per hour, seven days a week.

15 (UCSC via Main Gate – Laurel)

Like most Metro routes serving the UCSC campus, the 15 takes Bay Street, but then travels back Downtown via Mission and Laurel Streets, passing Santa Cruz High School. The 15 operates once every half hour, but only on weekdays during the academic year. A trip Downtown on the 15 takes about 25 minutes, making it another one of the speedier Metro routes.

18 (UCSC via Main Gate – Mission)

Take the 18 to explore Mission Street and the bustling Westside neighborhood — Safeway, TZONE, Copal, and Sabieng Thai Cuisine are just some of the establishments you’ll pass by on the 18. For the fall 2023 school term, the 18 comes once every 15 minutes between 8:35 a.m. and 7:50 p.m. on weekdays, and 1:25 p.m. to 7:25 p.m. on weekends. Outside these times, the 18 comes once every half hour on weekdays and weekends; it’s also the latest-running route, with the last 18 bus of the night departing Metro Center at 12:20 a.m. on weekdays.

19 (UCSC via Main Gate – Lower Bay)

Planning a trip to the Boardwalk? Taking the 19 is your best bet. Like the 15, the 19 takes Bay Street, but heads all the way down to Cowell Beach before making its way back Downtown. During the fall 2023 school term, the 19 departs Metro Center every 15 minutes from 8:20 a.m. to 8:05 p.m. on weekdays, and every 30 minutes on weekends between 12:05 p.m. to 9:05 p.m.

20 (UCSC via Main Gate – Delaware/Western)

The longest of the campus Metro routes, the 20 provides service to Natural Bridges State Beach, the Seymour Center, and the coastal biology campus (marine bio majors, take note) before returning Downtown via Delaware Avenue. A trip Downtown on the 20, which runs once every hour on weekdays and once every 80 minutes on weekends, takes 30 minutes or more, depending on traffic conditions.