Clipper transit card gets $ 194 million overhaul

Clipper, once the awesome smart card that saved commuters from having to buy a ticket or pay a separate cash fare every time they took a different transit system – Muni, BART, Caltrain, AC Transit, the ferry, etc. stiff, heavy and almost obsolete.

So regional transit officials are preparing to overhaul the Bay Area Universal Transit Map at a cost of $ 194 million, plus an additional $ 266 million to operate and maintain the system for the next 10 years. .

The new Clipper system, they said on Friday, will allow passengers to use their cell phones to pay fares or add value to their cards. Gone are the days of waiting several days to put more money on online cards. And the changes will make it easier for transit agencies to offer discounts or special fares.

“What we hope they will notice is that the system works better for them,” said Randy Rentschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages the Clipper program. “It’s faster, it’s more convenient, it’s more functional, they can more easily add value or get cards for their whole family.

MTC is set to review plans to award a contract for the new card system to Cubic, the current sole bidder and operator, at an operations committee meeting on Friday. The entire committee is expected to vote on the contract at its September 26 meeting.

Cubic will begin work on the next generation Clipper in January if awarded the contract. The mobile app is expected to arrive in 2021, with all existing readers and other equipment being replaced in the same year.

Transportation officials have been working on a new Clipper card, unofficially dubbed C2, for at least four years. While the current system, launched in 2006, still works, it is rigid, inconvenient for customers, and has not kept pace with advancements in technology and the expectations of cyclists.

The existing system has been irritating to customers and transit operators. Riders often have to wait three days or more to add value to their cards and several hours for bus and tram rides to reflect in their balance. Adding new transit agencies to the Clipper system is difficult, and offering special fares or discounts is nearly impossible.

Much like someone deciding to replace an old laptop or smartphone, the commission decided it was time to invest in a new system, Rentschler said.

“We’ve been thinking about an upgrade for some time,” he said. “Ultimately you have to bite the bullet. We could have kept what we have going. But that would be less effective than modernizing the whole thing. So we decided it was time to do it.

On Friday night, some transit riders on BART or at the Clipper customer service center at Embarcadero station applauded the planned overhaul. Others shrugged their shoulders as unnecessary, or said they preferred to see the millions spent on cleaner stations and better safety.

“For me it’s pretty easy now,” said Steven Tsakoyias, 79, a jeweler who lives in Walnut Creek and works in San Francisco. “I’m a senior and I’m happy with what we have. “

But Ben Gould, a 26-year-old Berkeley resident and sustainability analyst for San Francisco International Airport, welcomes the upcoming changes, particularly to the cell phone app.

“It’s a great idea,” he says. “I always took out my phone anyway.”

Gould said he was in London last year, where the city’s underground system accepted not only his Oyster chip cards, but all “tap-and-go” payment cards, including cards. credit.

“It was really convenient,” he said.

Michael Cabanatuan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ctuan

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