Starting next summer, the Bay Area’s public transit card is set to undergo a transformative change as transit officials unveiled a plan offering greater flexibility and convenience for passengers to pay for fares.
Diana Hammons, the senior revenue manager for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency shared the upcoming changes at the SFMTA’s Board of Directors’ Sept. 5 meeting. Alongside Jason Weinstein, the program manager of the Clipper card program at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Hammons outlined the forthcoming changes to the Clipper card system related to Muni.
One of the significant changes coming to the system is the option for passengers to pay through an open payment system. Passengers will be able to tap credit card to pay for fares. According to Hammons, this feature will debut when the Clipper system transitions to its new platform next summer.
Initially, the open payment system will only be available for passengers paying for full adult fares but Hammons said a second phase of upgrades will allow passengers to register credit cards who qualify for discounted fares such as seniors and people with disabilities.
The current Clipper card system, which the MTC administers, is based on old technology and equipment from two decades ago, Hammons said:
“It’s like we’re operating with a cell phone that’s 20 years old.”
The old technology has impeded the SFMTA to add specific fare types to the current system, such as the Lifeline Pass (discounted Muni-only pass for passengers with limited income) and the Muni one-day-only pass, Hammons said:
“The current system limitations to be able to add new products, short-term fares takes a significant amount of time and a significant amount of money.”
Hammons added that other limitations of the current system do not allow the SFMTA to add special fares for events or promotions. The SFMTA currently has a special promotion $5 one-day pass for the California Cable Car line, for example. The special pass can only be purchased through Muni Mobile or by purchasing a ticket with the operator.
Despite the current limitations, Hammons said the next generation will address the current limitations of the system.
Hammons also spoke about the need to expand retail locations for passengers who want to reload using cash.
While the retail network was not great, the closure of Walgreens stores in the city exacerbated the problem, Hammons said.
The transit agency tried to reach out to more retailers but proved to be difficult as retailers had the bear the cost of having a required dedicated phone line. However, Hammons said the equipment is smaller and can work wirelessly, eliminating the barrier.
Additionally, Hammons added the contract with the MTC and Cubic Transportation Services, Inc., the company tasked to deliver the next generation of Clipper to the Bay Area, includes a 25 percent retail expansion throughout the Bay Area.
Transit agencies and the MTC also plan to establish a working group to identify possible retail locations by working with community organizations.
Director Stephanie Cajina said it would be beneficial for the SFMTA to work with family resource centers and engage with the transit agency’s Citizens Advisory Council, adding:
“I do think is a huge opportunity for us that we shouldn’t miss to try to advance our equity goals, especially as it pertains to attracting customers back.”
More information about the next generation of Clipper can be found on the MTC’s website.
Jerold serves as a reporter and San Francisco Bureau Chief for SFBay covering transportation, City Hall, and the Mayor's Office in San Francisco. His work on transportation has been recognized by the San Francisco Press Club. Born and raised in San Francisco, he graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism. Jerold previously wrote for the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization. When not reporting, you can find Jerold taking Muni to check out new places to eat in the city.