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the ballad of might-be-EZ Rider

By enelson
Wednesday, November 1st, 2006 at 1:52 pm in BART, Fare systems, tolls.

EZ Rider at the gate.JPGTerry in Hayward was wondering why I haven’t blogged about EZ Rider, BART‘s new smart card fare system it’s testing out on volunteers. I guess I was expecting a card to magically arrive (and perhaps one is materializing now), but Terry reminded me that I need to find how it’s really working.

When I arrived in the Bay Area, it took me not quite 10 minutes to sign up for FasTrak to pay the tolls that I blessedly avoid most days. It was truly “EZ” and now I carry around the transponder in my backpack in case I have to carshare.

I know it’s just a pilot, but didn’t it occur to BART to offer online sign-up for EZ Rider? I mean, I can buy a car online, but not a BART pass?

Here’s what I discovered: After filling out a survey, I’m told, “Congratulations! You’re just a step away from your new EZ Rider Card! ” Then, I’m told to download a form which must be printed out, filled out by hand and mailed to BART.

The explanation is that BART needs to have a signature on file. Funny, but none of the other online subscriptions I’ve signed up for has made the same requirement. Why is BART stuck in the 1970s?

That’s just temporary, according to BART spokesman Linton Johnson, who told me that for the test-run period, there are a number of factors that made the paper route more desirable.

“We don’t have it set up for online signup,” he said, but probably will when the bulk of BART riders are offered a chance to sign up in a few months. “That technology is pretty much proven, people use it all the time,” so it shouldn’t be a problem setting it up for EZ Rider card accounts.

The other thing is that the trial run necessitated a signed agreement for the things such as privacy and BART’s use of information collected from trial users to improve their system. These formalities might not be required for all riders in the future.

Now I’ve got my application filled out, but have discovered that all I can sign up for is a waiting list. Seems that 250 people have already signed up (like Terry) and the trial sign-up is closed.

That would mean that the EZ Rider smart-card program is, as they say, in the mail.

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18 Responses to “the ballad of might-be-EZ Rider”

  1. Doug Faunt Says:

    So far, it works VERY well for me.

    I don’t recall where I heard about it before it started, but was on the lookout for the program, and signed up quickly.

    I also got a Fastrak account very early on, and thanks to TransLinkInsider have got a valid Translink card coming. And I have an Oystercard, which I have used a fair amount.

  2. Doug Faunt Says:

    BTW, applying for a bike, etc. locker at a BART station requires filling out a paper form and mailing it in, too. One can excuse that, since that procedure antedates the wide availability of the web.

  3. Mike Cunningham Says:

    I’m loving my EZ Rider card … it’s great to not have to constantly be checking my ticket to see if it’s got enough value on it or standing in line to buy a new ticket. The only problem so far is that if you also have a Translink card in your wallet, the EZ Rider reader gets confused.

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Here’s an e-mail from the aforementioned Terry:

    For the most part I LOVE the card. The first day was a cinch! It actually worked twice as fast as using a BART ticket. But as the days went on I had to tease the gate reader a couple of time to get it to take – both in and out of my trip from S.Hayward to MacArthur station.
    I also noticed that some gates were more senitive then others. Once when refused at a gate I waved it at another gate and it worked fine….I guess BART or who ever is working out the bugs…
    Sometimes it works FAST and sometimes I have to wave the card several times for it to take…but all in all it has worked just fine! At least I will not have to spend time and GAS to find/purchase a BART paper ticket!
    I would give it an 8 so far on a scale from 1 to 10. :-) Thanks,

    Terry in Hayward.

  5. NotSoFast Says:

    I got my EZ Card, but it didn’t work when I tried to use it! BART is sending me a new one.

  6. Leslie Stewart Says:

    So BART drags its feet forever on getting with the TransLink program, including ordering new faregates that don’t work with it and then complaining about retrofitting them, and now it’s introducing a competing program (which confuses the Translink ticket, according to Mike’s comment above)? What is wrong with this picture?

    I guess that it’s clear that the whole cell phone/fast pass concept was a campaign ploy by Fang, but otherwise we’d have yet another system being layered on top — and I thought the point was to simplify how we move around the multiple systems, not complicate things.

    I used a swipe type card when I was in DC using Metro and liked it a lot, and it has taken far too long to get TransLink here, but BART is not being a team player — wonder how much that has had to do with the TransLink schedule slipping and slipping?

  7. Liz Says:

    BART always does things differently. Going with a different system then Translink is not a good thing. They should’ve helped it along instead of coming up with the new system.

    I still don’t get how they won the “Best Transit Award” a couple years ago when the trains are the nastiest of any system I’ve ridden in this country.

  8. Martie Way Says:

    I was thrilled to be one of the 250 to test out the new EZ Rider Card! I recently
    participated in a telephone survey for BART about different payment options. This was one of the options. I didn’t quite get the activation process right for the first day. (I did read the letter carefully, but apparently activation instructions were on the piece of paper the card
    was adfixed to.) My station agent was gracious enough to give me a free BART ride that morning! I also had a little trouble figuring out where to place the card on the reader.
    Once I got that figured out all has been smooth sailing! I especially like that the “reader”
    tells you the balance left on the card. When your balance falls below $10.00 it is automatically
    charged back up to $48. And you don’t have to use your credit card and run up interest
    fees, you can use your debit card to avoid this. Hooray for BART!

  9. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Liz, when you say BART trains are the nastiest you’ve ever been on, I’m curious to know what other systems you’ve been on. I assume you mean the condition of the trains, and I can certainly recount how I’ve avoided some foul-smelling carpet stains, etc., but on the other hand, this is not a unique trait of inner-city transit. The only transit systems I’ve found to be much cleaner were in places where transit doesn’t get used very much. In Germany, I did see some well-used and spotless trains, but then, I also encountered panhandlers there wearing laminated state beggars’ licenses.

  10. Liz Says:

    I have ridden on Chi-town’s (my hometown) El and the NY subways. Most of their cars were cleaner then BARTs, on the trains I rode on.

  11. Phillip Says:

    i found the ny subway to be quite filthy. as well as the el.

    on another note, i read that translink will later be incorporated into the system. from what i can tell it seems that bart is sick of waiting for translink to pick up its feet, so it started a pilot program that can be later transfered to the translink service. yay bart.

    http://bart.gov/tickets/types/ezfaq.asp
    “When Translink is made available on BART, we will transfer EZ Rider smartcard users to Translink. Translink will work on transit systems throughout the Bay”

    i assume this means future compliance

  12. Janmarie Says:

    It is a shame, that BART plays those kind of games. People have to work, and most of us, myself for instance drive all the way from the Central Valley, a two and a half hour drive. Pay $6.00 day to park, pay $5.00 round trip to ride BART to SF. I feel BART should give “true” commuters a BREAK. You can’t afford to live in the BAY AREA, as homes cost too much, not to mention the “CRIME” that is out of control in Oakland. So what are people supposed to do? BART has all these parking lots and there are never any spaces to park. Your car gets broken into (yet there are supposed to be BART POLICE). What do they do? Why would BART advertise a “trial” program and then make it a “tease” with a “waiting list”? BART OUGHT TO BE ASHAME OF THEMSELVES…..

  13. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Janmarie, you make a good point, but one that doesn’t get much traction in Oakland. As it’s been explained to me by some of the best minds in transit, it doesn’t pay to reward “true” commuters. That’s why I stopped taking BART, even though BART gets me right to the doorstep of the Tribune Tower. The bottom line is, BART will get people like you whether they give you a discount or not. Plus, discounts for regular riders, which in some cities come in the form of unlimited monthly passes, put more bodies onto the trains (you don’t pay any extra, so you ride more on weekends, etc.) but no more money into the farebox. In some other cities, voters wouldn’t stand for this. The thing you have to remember is that while BART directors are elected, they aren’t elected by Central Valley residents. One director who represents easternmost Contra Costa County has proposed a flat fare, which would benefit people who commute in from way out where you live. That probably won’t fly because it would mean a fare increse for short-distance riders, who have a constituency represented by a larger number of BART directors. Before I go on and on about this, I think I’m just going to do another post on this topic. One more thing, Janmarie: Can you take a commter train, like the Capitol Corridor or ACE? You might save a bunch of money doing that.

  14. Bob Says:

    I talked to a BART official who said that the delay of Translink on Bart was not technical, but about the spilt of fees going to Translink. I think it is disgraceful that riders have been denied this convenience while they squabble about money.Where is the MTC in all this? Where are the politicians?

    I have a Translink card, and used it regularly to take an AC Transit bus to BART, then transfer to Muni in the city. Always worked flawlessly. Lost a card once, and they froze my account and sent me a new card promptly, with the balance transferred.

    I also have an EZ Rider card, and it has also worked very well for me. It seems faster to me than the BART tickets. I’ll be so glad when the systems are integrated!

  15. Michael Krueger Says:

    I agree with Bob: The astounding delays and cost overruns in the TransLink program are downright shameful. I was flabbergasted when I learned that BART was proceeding with its own incompatible program instead of cutting the nickel-and-dime bickering and getting onto the TransLink bandwagon. The fact that the EZ Rider and TransLink cards interfere with each other is the final indignity. TransLink gives me the ability to pay without taking the card out of my wallet, and EZ Rider takes it away! Brilliant!

    Would the citizens of London, with its Oyster Card, or Hong Kong, with its Octopus Card, put up with this kind of nonsense? Only in the Bay Area . . . sigh.

  16. TransLinkInsider Says:

    Bob: There is no such “squabble” about the split of fees affecting the rollout of TransLink to BART customers. MTC and the transit agencies agreed on a split of fees several years ago. In general, the rollout of TransLink has been slower than expected, and this includes BART. As you may know, the TransLink deployment on AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit was completed recently. The technical work to integrate BART into the TransLink system is ongoing, and the forecasted completion date is now mid-2007. The integration will include acceptance of TransLink cards at BART faregates and add value capability at BART ticket vending machines.

    Please be patient, TransLink will once again be accepted in the BART system in the next year.

  17. Jennifer Kruidenier Says:

    I just received my card. It was activated today and I look forward to using it on Friday. For those who haven’t noticed, BART is enrolling another 1,000 users (as of 12/18/06).

  18. Clarence R. Fischer Says:

    Just saw the valuable comments (on 1/23/2007) … let me put in my 2-cents worth.

    Be it whatever program (i.e. – Translink / E-Z-Rider) … it seems that everything is still tied into an account at a financial institution where funds can be withdrawn (as well as by “white-collar criminals”). I want a system where not only can I “add fare” with government issued money and/or credit cards (which it seems BART has), but I also want a method, where I can combine the value of multiple low-value tickets automatically (i.e. – not having to “exchange” multiple tickets with a BART associate) onto additional value of a “smart-chip card”, so I only have to add in a hunderd or two a month up front, and be done with it. It seems that BART wants your financial account institution information … and who knows … perhaps with all of the hackers out their, the hackers would break into BART’s database, and another set of people would have to waste their time cancelling their accounts. Not only does BART not seek input from patrons as to what the patrons wish to see done to allow for how the patrons want to have such a system operate, but once again, it just makes me believe more an more, that BART has changed their slogan from “Pamper The Passenger” (that was their slogan in the early 1970′s when they first opened the system) to “Piss On The Patron”.

    In closing, I have offered various associates at BART to allow me to be “a test patron” where I could give them valuable feedback, but since I have had no takers, I guess that I will just continue to use BART as I always have, and the heck with their proposed new fare systems that will not work correctly (hello … now will BART offer me to be “a test patron”??).

    I’m a disabled rider. I cause BART to waste time (and others do as well), because we have to convert “Tiny Tickets” into larger value tickets, by dealing with BART associates to obtain higher value tickets.

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