Two years behind New York's transit system — a.k.a. right on schedule — Clipper cards are going mobile, enabling riders to stop fumbling with wallets at BART and Muni stations and pay using Apple Pay or Google Pay on their mobile phones.
Picture it: It's June 2010 in San Francisco. Twitter is just a thing that Ashton Kutcher and some journalists are on. Just over a year into his first term President Obama is still riding high on the passage of the Affordable Care Act. And the SFMTA announces that it's phasing out its beloved, colorful, 70s-era paper passes for monthly Muni pass holders. It was the beginning of a long a slow process, years behind New York's MTA, of shifting both BART and Muni fares over to the digital realm.
2010 was the year that the scannable plastic passes formerly known as Translink were rebranded as Clipper cards. By 2017, Muni was phasing out those equally nostalgic paper transfers in favor of uglier paper transfers with magnetized strips, and it would be a decade before BART actually phased out all paper ticket sales — they just completed this during the pandemic, under the auspices of "touchless sales," but the process began back in August 2019 and clearly it was slow-walked over many years.
Now, as Bay Area Clipper announced on Twitter today, we can look forward to the next technological advancement in local public transit fare-taking: mobile payments.
We’re going mobile! Clipper is coming to Apple Pay and Google Pay this spring. Stay tuned for more details! #clippercard— Bay Area Clipper (@BayAreaClipper) February 17, 2021
All we have by way of detail is that both Apple Pay and Google Pay wallets will be usable for this, and it's happening "this spring."
But, this means that we can finally stop carrying Clipper cards around — which is something that Muni riders were already able to do using the Muni Mobile app, but I digress.
In New York, the subway system has had mobile payments since May 2019 when they introduced the OMNY system, which also allows tap-to-pay using credit cards with chips as well — and Chicago and Portland actually beat them to the punch with mobile payment systems.
Just before the pandemic began, The Verge ran a piece about how privacy concerns were already being raised about how the OMNY system could be retaining and tracking rider data, but there hasn't been much on that since.
Surely the Bay Area's privacy activists will produce similar concerns, and the first tweet replies on Bay Area Clipper's announcement about mobile payments were "i assume we will also be able to keep physical cards and still buy paper tickets for our unhoused and senior neighbors without phones?" and "Any chance we could extend this into a low-fee optionally anonymous debit card for small transactions?"
Anyway, yay mobile payments!