You’ll be able to just swipe your debit or credit card to ride BART, Muni, and other Bay Area transit systems, eliminating the need for a Clipper Card, in a major upgrade scheduled for summer 2024.
I’m so old I remember when Clipper cards were called “TransLink cards,” and you had to go to a participating Walgreens to add fare, and sometimes the fare wouldn’t even show up on your card for two or three business days. The system has come a long way since! TransLink cards rebranded as Clipper cards in 2010, though the system was super buggy at first.
But the universal transit payment cards were finally, eventually compatible to be used on BART, Muni, and Caltrain, all of which used to have separate, distinct Fast Passes and paper transfers for Muni, paper cards for BART, and Caltrain stubs that conductors actually punched paper holes into.
Now the Clipper card system is taking another giant leap forward, though as is their habit, years after other cities’ large transit symptoms made the same change. The Chronicle reports that Clipper card readers will start accepting debit and credit cards directly at their turnstiles, eliminating the need for the extra blue Clipper card clogging up space in your wallet. (And many of you had likely tossed the cards a while back when you were able to load Clipper fares on your iPhone and watches.)
The new capability is scheduled to be added in “summer 2024,” per the Chronicle. Though as the Chron also points out, transit systems in New York and London have already had this capability for years.
"I often hear from people, ‘Oh, hey, I was just in name-your-European-country or New York City, and I didn’t need to get a (transit fare) card at all. It was fantastic,'" Metropolitan Transportation Commission director of electronic payments Carol Kuester told the Chronicle. "Well, that option is coming here, too."
The traditional blue Clipper card will still work. But you won't actually need it anymore. The readers at turnstiles will simply scan your debit or credit card, though it’s likely you'd need a “chip”-style credit or debit card for this function. But Clipper cards would probably not go extinct like Fast Passes, because we still need a cash payment option, as Bay Area lawmakers seem to hate eliminating cash payment options.
It’s a great change, but a skeptic could fairly claim that this “summer 2024” rollout is optimistic. After all, transit system upgrades often happen well behind schedule around these parts. But this one could feasibly happen on time. The technology already exists and is being used in other cities, so there’s no reinventing the wheel necessary here. And if we’re permanently tossing our Clipper cards in the trash next summer, we’ll give credit (or debit) where it’s due.
As a reminder, the debit and credit card capabilities will apply to all 24 Bay Area transit agencies that use Clipper, including BART, Muni, and Caltrain.
Image: Avery Evans via Unsplash