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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TransLink (um... Clipper?) Major Deadlines That Will Affect Your Commute

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Partnership Transit Coordination Committee will be meeting next week Monday to talk about their "Transit Coordination Implementation Plan" and has been working on this plan for a while now. Bay Area transit agencies have been talking about the TransLink (a.k.a. Clipper) program and how the transit agencies will work with the transition to the RFID fare card program.

The document I am referring to was released by the MTC on their agendas website which talks about a variety of topics, and about 14 pages are specific to TransLink. Click here to view the PDF document.

I've taken the time to sift through the fourteen pages to give you helpful "insider" information that may be important to you and/or may affect your commute in the next several months. Key dates are in bold, but be aware that certain dates are not in bold because the MTC agreed to delay for a couple of months for various reasons.
  1. It looks like the "Clipper" brand transition is going to happen in mid-2010.
  2. AC Transit and TransLink are working to transition the adult 10-ride and 31-day local ticket users to Translink in early 2010. AC Transit feels there will be "significant problems and disadvantages in starting a transition" and the enforcement of the media transition should be later. However, MTC discussed this issue with AC Transit, and there will be no changes to this plan. Be aware: TransLink is the only media allowed for 31-day Transbay passes and the 10-ride Transbay ticket has been eliminated (the cost of 10 rides in cash or e-cash is the same).
  3. While BART and MTC talks about the transition of "BART Plus," the multi agency pass with BART fare, a brief one sentence states "SFMTA intends to withdraw at the end of the end of 2010." So for all your BART Plus fans, Muni is planning to not allow you to ride free anymore with that BART Plus ticket at the end of this year.
  4. If you use BART's green or red tickets (senior and youth discount tix), TransLink is intending to takeover that form of media in May 2011.
  5. If you use BART's high value discount tickets (for adults), May 2011 will be the last time it will be available in magnetic stripe form.
  6. BART will be "ending acceptance" of the EZ Rider program on October 1, 2010 for train rides only.
  7. BART stations issue discount transfers if you exit a San Francisco station and intend to ride Muni; every passenger saves 25 cents leaving the station on Muni, and 25 cents riding back to the station. For Daly City station, BART issues a free roundtrip transfer to ride Muni away from that station. It was originally set for BART to eliminate paper transfers and only allow TransLink use on March 30th or June 1st, but BART argued it will take time to inform the public and the transition from TransLink to Clipper will confuse the public. The MTC agreed with a proposal to delay transition until August 1, 2010.
  8. Caltrain argues the TransLink equipment is not "fully reliable." An example the agency provided is the handheld card readers issued to conductors. The MTC argues that this does not delay any transition dates, but will or has been addressed with appropriate people or committees.
  9. Caltrain will receive 32 automated value machines issued by MTC/TransLink. Caltrain will not modify their paper ticket machines to do TransLink transactions (this was the original plan).
  10. Samtrans argues their tokens are popular and unique. But in wake of their budget issues causing major cuts and fare hikes, TransLink is offering Samtrans a chance to save money by integrating tokens to the farecard.
  11. Samtrans will begin accepting TransLink two months after TransLink on that particular agency is declared "revenue ready."
  12. The Golden Gate Ferry issues transfers to ride Muni free to and from the terminal. SFMTA/Muni intends to eliminate that type of particular paper transfers and only allow TransLink e-transfers on March 30, 2010 (originally March 1st). From reading the briefing about this, Muni and Golden Gate have confirmed this deadline.
  13. SFMTA/Muni has proposed to end sales of the paper version of the youth and senior passes on February 1, 2011 and allow it to be TransLink only. Muni said they did not want to do this in November and December of 2010 because of the holidays.
  14. SFMTA/Muni intends to eliminate the monthly disabled sticker program on September 30, 2010, but the MTC and Muni are working to change the transition date to February 1, 2011 (the same time the youth and senior passes will transition).
  15. SFMTA/Muni "is willing to confirm a transition date for the Adult BART/Muni Monthly pass of June 30, 2010..." however due to the transition of TL to Clipper, the transition date is suggested to change to August 1, 2010.
TransLink BART Millbrae

Summary and Akit's opinions:

The fifteen points I've mentioned are all very big items that will have a dramatic impact on your public transit commute. The deadlines are not exactly set into stone, but these dates gives an idea of what the future will be for the TransLink program.

MTC and the TransLink program will be climbing a steep hill to meet these goals for the next two years and it also depends on the cooperation of all the affected transit agencies. Much of what I pointed out are transition of paper media (passes and transfers) to TransLink; this will be a big project the MTC, TL, and the transit agencies as they must advertise and inform the public well beforehand of this very serious transition.

Many of the dates I have mentioned was originally had their deadline goals set a few months earlier in mid-2010, but the direct result of the transition of the brand name from TransLink to Clipper changed the dates. Nobody in the public has seen what the new logo will look like, but from what I have read through the public documents on the MTC website, the new cards will only be contactless cards (no combination contact chip w/RFID antenna). Since the new cards cannot be placed into a TransLink automated card machine or at a vendor like Walgreens, this means purchasing or modifying equipment with a RFID sensor pad similar to the current fleet of TransLink card readers and BART faregates.

I find it very shocking that Muni wants to not accept the BART Plus pass at the end of 2010. With the loss of AC Transit on BART Plus, losing Muni will really hurt the BART Plus program because the next largest agencies who are participants are Samtrans and VTA.

BART sounds very cooperative in ending EZ Rider, although many have said EZ Rider is very quick to use at the fare gates and TL is slower. It is possible with the new fare cards, a quicker response time is possible; this is due to the fact that TransLink uses ERG equipment, but with Cubic's purchase of ERG and the TransLink program, they may use more compatible replacement RFID cards (due to the Clipper transition) to make the BART gates work much more quickly.

Please make sure to read over the 15 points and look at the transition dates. Most of them are several months away, but be aware of transitions that will happen very soon like the Golden Gate Ferry/Muni boat-to-bus and bus-to-boat transfers transition is just a month away.

I feel that these goals and deadlines are going to make TransLink a powerhouse player in our Bay Area's complicated and confusing transit network. Wouldn't you enjoy the ease of riding multiple transit agencies without carrying multiple passes, not worrying if you have ample funds to ride BART, or remembering to stop at a liquor store to get a new monthly pass before they sell out?

If TransLink is going to be successful, they need to start getting more automated machines installed and getting more retail outlets to allow reloading of funds and passes. BART is a key player in allowing ALL their ticket machines to add TransLink funds, but there is no update on when it will be ready. TransLink must continue to promote the program on a full-time basis instead of the sporadic giveaways of the green cards at certain places and limited hours (e.g. TL representatives were giving out free cards at the Montgomery Muni station during a few hours of rush hour due to the closure of the Muni ticket sales window at that particular station).

If you are interested in getting a TransLink card, visit TransLink.org to find out how you can get a card. Although they will eventually transition to Clipper, why not spend a little money just to try it out? There's no harm in trying!


Hiren Joshi said...

I don't suppose there's any word about the availability of the High Value Discount tickets to people using Translink and a commuter program? I spent two months trying to get these tickets loaded up on to my Translink card, and in the end gave up and returned to having the magnetic stripe cards mailed out to me. If these tickets become Translink only, that effectively means that I cannot buy them using Wageworks.

Akit said...

Great question, but I don't have a good answer to give you.

The only way to get around this would be to get a pre-tax commuter debit card and link it directly to the TL account. The big risk is that you have to be on autoload, so if for some reason your debit card gets rejected for insufficient funds, your TL card gets blocked (denied access).

When BART does this transition, there should be a decent plan to resolve it.

Anonymous said...


Your issue seems to be more Wagework's issue than Translink/MTC. I had a similar situation with my previous transit benefits program with my monthly MUNI Fast Pass on Translink. When MUNI was revenue ready on Translink, I had to push my transit benefits program to get in line with Translink's current offerings. It got to the point where I had it escalated and they finally got their act together.

Anonymous said...

Note that if there is any kind of problem with the WageWorks debit card used to add the High Value BART Ticket, then not only does the HVT transaction get rejected at Akit mentioned, but it will cause the entire card to be locked up. Even if you have a Muni monthly pass, e-cash, or anything else on your Translink card of value that you've paid for, the denied BART transaction will cause the card to be worthless until you call Translink and then wait. In my case I waited 2 weeks for it to start working again, and meanwhile had to pay for Muni rides even though I had already purchased a monthly pass for that month. How come I can use a credit card or debit card virtually anywhere online and things get processed automatically and instantaneously, but with Translink any credit/debit transaction issue takes multiple phone calls and days/weeks of waiting?

Akit said...

Excellent point anonymous commenter; a much better description of the situation.

Here's the reason why TL can't do instant processing when using the phone or internet, and tips on how to get funding available IMMEDIATELY:

GYamato said...

I'm glad to find this site... I put 'translink sucks' in the search engine and...voila!
I just had my most recent nightmare with translink - there has been some jockeying around with evouchers vs echecks through my employer. Using the translink card once it's loaded has been great, but getting it loaded has been like breaking into Fort Knox. Maybe harder. I use AC Transit(transbay), BART, and MUNI almost daily and could not get the money for all three loaded in any one place. Every month I come away from the ordeal with sales agents and running from vendor to vendor, dripping sweat. BTW I'm noted for being 'really tranquil' even in chaos. But this.... Today I thought I'd start crying I was so tired by the end of it and the day was just starting.I talked with TL customer service and it IS sorting out. I also sent suggestions re training and communication to their on-line complaints dept. I'll send it hard copy as well.Very few of us (where I work) use it, so getting it to work right isn't a priority (for the company). I'll will read through your blog with great interest and pass the good new on. Bless you, man. Really!

Akit said...

Evouchers/checks? Are you able to ask your employer or benefits company for a debit card?

The reason why I'm asking is because if you get a debit card branded with Visa, Master, or Discover, you can use that card at the TransLink automated machines for instant funding or on their website with up to a 72 hour waiting period. Since you are in control of your funds, there's no worry about having your evoucher company and TransLink screwing it up.

Unknown said...

I'm so sad to find out that Bart Plus will no longer be accepted in Muni by the end 2010. This flash pass is very useful to me because I ride both Samtrans and Muni everyday. On some occasions, CoCo County connection, too, for family visit. What will I do by then? But two monthly passess? Hello! Help! What should be my game plan for this?

Akit said...

Nothing is official yet about Muni taking away the BART Plus (I wrote this blog entry in February, now it's November). They have to at least give some kind of advance notice.

Unknown said...

Okay, I hope so. Thank you for creating this website! (wish there's an edit button to correct my spellings.) :p