TransLink (San Francisco Bay Area)

TransLink (San Francisco Bay Area)

TransLink is a rechargeable dual-interface (contact/contactless) stored value smart card fare collection system being implemented in the San Francisco Bay Area. [ About Translink] , retrieved on January 26, 2007.] The fare system was introduced as a pilot program in 2002 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to reduce the number of fare systems and help integrate transit systems in the Bay Area. TransLink is still being rolled out, and currently only two transit agencies, AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit, officially accept the cards. [ Where To Use Translink] , retrieved on January 26, 2007.]


Expansion will continue in Summer 2008 to expand the coverage of TransLink to more transit systems in the Bay Area. Some TransLink pilot programs have been discontinued (e.g. the ability to use it as a monthly pass on all San Francisco Municipal Railway lines, and use in all BART stations) in preparation for the full rollout of TransLink. In general, the rollout of TransLink has been much slower than that of similar cardsFact|date=March 2007 including Oyster card and SmarTrip, chiefly due to bureaucratic in-fighting.

Two transit agencies currently accept TransLink on all routes:
* AC Transit (including its subsidiary, Dumbarton Express)
* Golden Gate Transit

Of the two transit agencies currently accepting TransLink, AC Transit riders account for about 45% of the riders using TransLink, Golden Gate Transit and Ferry accounts for a similar percentage, and a small number of cardholders ride the Muni Metro system. Use of TransLink on AC Transit has expanded dramatically since October 1, 2007, when AC Transit began offering TransLink cardholders discounted fares ($.25 off when paying with TransLink e-cash; $5 off when loading a local 31-day pass; and $10 off when loading a Transbay 31-day pass).

TransLink was expected to be rolled out in Summer 2008 on Caltrain and Muni, and Fall 2008 on BART, although these expansions have suffered delays. These three agencies had previously installed TransLink capability at major stations and lines during the pilot program. BART (at 9 stations) and Caltrain (also at 9 stations) later disabled their capability to limit customer confusion when AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit launched TransLink. The Muni Metro retained its capability. The system's expansion will continue in 2009 to include the VTA network, part of which participated in the pilot program, and the SamTrans bus network, which did not participate in the pilot program at all. Finally, WHEELS, Tri-Delta Transit, WestCAT, County Connection and other smaller transit agencies which did not participate in the pilot program are expected to install TransLink on their bus and ferry lines in 2009 or later.

As of September 2008, it was announced that a test TransLink implementation on Muni is to begin in Fall 2008. A select group of Muni users is being signed up for the final testing process. These users are to pay their Muni fares using TransLink and are to report problems and respond to surveys so that any final bugs can be worked out. Currently, at the Muni Bus Driver's discretion, riders can tag their TransLink card to pay their fares on some Muni buses equipped with the card readers.

Important transit agencies that will not install TransLink capability include Amtrak and the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), both of which provide rail links between Fremont and San Jose. Some VTA bus lines serving this corridor, however, have been TransLink-equipped since the start of the pilot program.

Competing Systems, EZ-Rider

In 2006 BART launched a pilot program under the "EZ-Rider" name using several different smart cards, with the stated intention of eventually transferring EZ-Rider users to TransLink. [ [ BART EZ Rider Card Pilot Program] ] It is unclear what exactly is the reasoning behind BART's launch of a potentially competing payment system in such close proximity to the full TransLink launch. A questioned BART Official commented that there is a fare dispute involving a monetary commission that Translink would retain from BART fares, but the actual reason is turf disputes among the transit agencies. This has prompted area residents to demand a Bay Area-wide transit agency that would absorb all the existing smaller agencies except for MUNI. BART also uses EZ-Rider cards to identify their own employees,Fact|date=April 2007 and for access control to BART facilities.

Technical Problems

During the first phase of the expansion (AC Transit and Golden Gate), AC Transit experienced technical difficulties on a large portion of its fleet, and delayed the mailing of the free TransLink cards that it had planned to give to its pre-launch testers [ [ Translink trial stalled by AC Transit farebox problems] , "the San Francisco Examiner", 16 January 2007. Retrieved on January 26, 2007.] until February 2007. [ [ Much-touted TransLink finally hits the transit scene] , "the Oakland Tribune", 12 February 2007. Retrieved on same.] Golden Gate Transit, which actually uses a more complex zone-based fare structure (though it does not use monthly passes), was not affected and it is unclear what effect this will have on the expansion to BART, Muni and Caltrain planned for this year.


TransLink cards have a dual interface: electrical contacts on the face of the card, and an antenna wire which runs in a ring around the edge of the card. The contact interface is based on ISO 7810, and the RFID interface is based on ISO 14443 at 13.56 MHz. The first generation of cards were ASK TanGO CT3000 ISO 14443B cardsFact|date=August 2007, although as of January 2007 the manufacturer had discontinued this model due to supply problems with the microprocessorFact|date=August 2007.


Translink has become something of a boondoggle of governance. The project as initially undertaken in 1993 had a projected capital cost of just $4 million [Citation
last = Fimrite
first = Peter
title = Coding Problems To Derail BART's Translink Program
journal = San Francisco Chronicle
date = 1995-11-05
url =
] and even in its current conception was expected to cost just $30 million.Citation | accessdate = 2008-06-19 | title = Metropolitan Transportation Commission Fund Management System | publisher = Metropolitan Transportation Commission | url =] Since then, however, costs have ballooned tenfold -- current total capital costs are estimated at $338 million. In addition, schedule delays have added up to more than a decade. In 1998, Translink was to be available on all transit agencies by 2001 [Citation
last = Bowman
first = Catherine
title = Multitransit Card Proposed
journal = San Francisco Chronicle
date = 1998-01-15
url =
] , but today (2008) is operational on just two, and not expected to be available regionwide until 2010. [Citation
last = Gordon
first = Rachael
title = TransLink backers consider letting people pay for parking with card
journal = San Francisco Chronicle
date = 2007-11-27
url =


External links

* [ TransLink Home Page]

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