Part of the Bay Area News Group

one card to rule them all*

By enelson
Tuesday, February 6th, 2007 at 2:48 pm in AC Transit, BART, Buses, Caltrain, connectivity, Fare systems, ferries, rail, technology.

mt-translink.bmpThe new TransLink cards are here!

Much like Steve Martin’s refrain from “The Jerk,” this event is somewhat anticlimactic.

To quote Tommy, who announced this in a comment on my last TransLink entry,

Woohoo! My wife is a Cal student so it’s basically useless for her as she gets free AC Transit rides anyway. I probably won’t load mine up until BART, Muni, and Caltrain come online so I can do the Albany to Mountain View commute without having to fiddle with three different fare systems.

What? BART isn’t part of a universal fare system? Muni isn’t? I can forgive the omission of Caltrain, but it’s an unfortunate fact of TransLink that it doesn’t include the spine of the entire Bay Area’s public transit system.

No, this “pre-launch,” as it’s called, is only for AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit, so maybe, Tommy, it’ll be perfect for the Albany-to-Petaluma commute. In fact, I’d like to hear from Marin-to-Alameda County commuters. I know one, but I don’t think he has time to take the bus from San Anselmo to the Transbay Terminal and switch to an outbound AC Transit Bus.

Still, my mind is open, so lay it on me, Marin commuters. What does TransLink mean to you?

So why is BART, with electronic smart-card readers on its faregates, not part of this show?

The answer, from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s John Goodwin, is, “BART is a part of this.”

“Somebody had to go first, so AC and Golden Gate are going first.”

So I returned to my original question: Why isn’t BART a part of this?

Well, there’s the issue with BART faregates, which are built by a company that was competing with Motorola for the Translink contract with the MTC. Right now, they’re adjusting them to work with TransLink.

“The biggest bump along the road is not the BART faregates but the fact that there are two dozen different transit agencies and the software has to be written to accommodate all of those fare structures,” Goodwin explained.

The second bump is doing something that other universal fare systems, like the much-touted one in Hong Kong, don’t have. That’s allowing the TransLink card to absorb different agencies’ monthly and other multiple-ride passes, Goodwin said.

When will BART and Muni be joining? No one knows for sure at this point. But they, along with Caltrain, are next in line.

The reason AC Transit was in the first group is fairly easy: It serves a lot of people. Golden Gate was also a good fit, if not with AC Transit, but with TransLink. When TransLink had its first trial run in 2002, GG got a lot of riders to use the cards for its ferries in particular.

And by the way, Muni Metro trains also have left-over TransLink capability and so they will help provide some synergy for the couple thousand users who will get their cards this week.

And here’s some more good news: You, too, can join the fun. Just browse you way to or, sign up and the MTC will send you a card.

As long as you don’t mind them sucking money out of your bank account and reporting your movements to the CIA (just kidding — or am I?), you’re good to go.

*Thanks to Tommy for the headline. I really loved his parting remark, but I don’t want to do a Joe Biden.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

12 Responses to “one card to rule them all*”

  1. Michael Krueger Says:

    Thanks for mentioning the fact that there are still operational TransLink readers on the Muni Metro. I was part of the original pilot program, which also included limited support for BART that has since been dropped (ugh). My wife just received her TransLink card from AC Transit, and her informational packet said that it would not work on Muni, period. This puzzled me, because I have been using my card on the Muni Metro all along. From the time BART dropped out to the time AC Transit came on line, the Metro was just about the only place I could use the stupid card!

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    It was a surprise to me, too, Michael. If I had known this Saturday night, I wouldn’t have had to fuss with multiple BART farecard machines to get enough quarters to catch the N train. On the other hand, it’s kind of quaint putting coins in the faregate.

  3. Robert Raburn Says:

    Why do Bay Area transit agencies have such a difficult time working together to collect fares from passengers?

    I support transit fare integration using smart cards, but after 15 years of TransLink delays I’m not holding my breath. As a bicyclist I use many of the transit systems in the Bay Area, but rarely have the correct fare and I have many worthless demagnetized cards destroyed by moisture or crumpling. Also (now I’m really shooting for the moon!), the hundreds of BikeLink electronic bike lockers soon to be deployed at BART and other locations need to work with BART’s EZ Rider electronic fare system, and in turn, TransLink.

    Come-on, the technology exists to retrofit fare gates with card readers and we have the political motivation of melting icecaps to make taking transit easier than buying gas.

  4. Brian T Says:

    Finally got my TransLink card. I also have BART’s EZ Rider and BikeLink. So this is hi-
    tech? It’s like I’m juggling credit cards when I head out, instead of change. Can’t wait
    for that all-in-one card.

  5. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    I thought the Translink cards worked on Caltrain from the first pilot program. I have had no notice that they no longer do.

  6. Lou Lew Says:

    Has anyone’s TransLink card worked?
    I placed $2 value on the TransLink card in Oakland, and it didn’t work.

    The machine that takes your money works, and I even got a receipt.

  7. snitch Says:

    EZ Rider pilot program reaches participant goal

  8. Tim M Says:

    Got a translink card independently (just signed up on their website), been using it on AC Transit for a week or so. Don’t have to worry about having lots of singles or getting passes anymore – just like Fastrak for public transit.

    So far, pretty good – a couple minor hiccups. One, the reader was off (driver allowed me to ride free). Second, the driver had it set to local mode (was going transbay), and I didn’t notice until after I tagged it, so the fare deducted was wrong.

    I’m going to carry cash in case of emergency, but the plan is to always use it and send AC Transit a report every time it doesn’t work out. They’ll get things figured – personal opinion is that the current issue is driver education, not technical, at this point.

  9. Doug Faunt Says:

    When that happened to me, I paid the extra with cash, reported it, and asked what the proper procedure was when such a mistake was made. I was basically told that such mistakes shouldn’t be made. Useful, right?

    And what happens when someone accidently pays the Transbay fare for a local ride?

  10. Tim M Says:

    Ya, I expected the driver to make me pay cash when it occurred, fortunately she did not cause I didn’t really have the change.

    As for the transbay fare – it is probably up to you, same as if you accidentally put too much money in – they aren’t gonna give it back to you. There is possibly more recourse here cause there is a TransLink customer care center that (may) help. I’ll let you know about that – I (somewhat) intentionally tested the system yesterday by doing a transbay fare locally and then doing a transbay fare across the bridge. It looks like the system billed me twice (2 * $3.50), but the transaction history only shows one. So I’m asking TransLink customer service now, I’ll let you know what they say.

  11. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    Actually, they can credit your card, but I find that everything more or less balances out in the long run. You may get buses where you pay local fare for transbay rides. If you talk to customer, be sure you have your card number handy.

    The biggest problem is still renewing passes without using autoload. That does not work properly. I have not tested autoload to see if that handles passes properly yet.

  12. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    I should have said “If you talk to customer service, be sure to have your card number handy.”

Leave a Reply