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September 14, 2010 > Clipper, a universal fare card

Clipper, a universal fare card

Submitted By Metropolitan Transportation Commission

In mid-June 2010, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and major Bay Area transit operators re-christened the region's all-in-one, reloadable transit fare card as Clipper, replacing the TransLink(r) moniker in use since 2002. The distinctive blue and white cards will be available free of charge for all customers through the rest of this summer. Clipper cards ordinarily cost $5, though this cost is waived when customers sign up for Autoload, a feature allowing passengers to add value to their cards automatically from a bank account or credit card.

MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. The Commission has coordinated development of a regional transit fare payment system since the original TransLink pilot program that debuted in 2002.

"We chose the Clipper name to evoke the Bay Area's maritime history and to honor the 'Clippers' that have transformed Bay Area transportation through the years," explained MTC Chair and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. "In the 19th century, the tremendous speed of the clipper ships revolutionized travel from the East Coast to San Francisco Bay during the Gold Rush era. In the 1930s, the China Clipper revolutionized air travel with the first commercial service across the Pacific, cutting the travel time from San Francisco to Manila by more than a month. Now it's the 21st century and this new Clipper card is revolutionizing Bay Area transit."

Clipper currently can be used to pay fares on San Francisco Muni, BART, AC Transit, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit & Ferry and Dumbarton Express. Together these operators carry more than 80 percent of all Bay Area transit passengers. SamTrans and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) are scheduled to begin accepting Clipper cards for fare payment throughout their route and station networks later this year bringing the number of participating systems to eight and share of riders served to 95 percent. Eventually, passengers will be able to use the Clipper card to pay fares on all Bay Area transit systems.

Muni, which carries the largest number of passengers in the region, is nearing completion of a year-long project to replace aging fare gates throughout its Muni Metro station network with new gates that will only accept Clipper cards. The roughly $29M initiative includes the installation of new ticket vending machines, through which customers can purchase new single-use Clipper cards.

"The new fare gates and ticket vending machines will provide a tremendous benefit to our customers," said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. "The new equipment will provide seamless transfers among transit systems in the Bay Area and generate increased use of Clipper on the Muni system. No need for exact change. No hassles. Customers simply load fare value or passes directly on the Clipper card - which can be accomplished automatically by taking advantage of the Autoload feature."

In addition to eliminating the need for exact change, Clipper card customers will no longer require paper passes, tickets or ride books. Several Bay Area transit agencies this year will begin phasing out various paper fare media and will transition customers to the Clipper card. To use Clipper, passengers simply "tag" their cards by placing them against the Clipper logo on the card reader as they board a bus or enter a transit station. The Clipper system automatically deducts the correct fare and applies any discounts, including transfers, for each trip.

Clipper cards for adults can be ordered online. Youth, senior and senior/disabled Clipper cards are unavailable online. These specially encoded cards automatically calculate the discounted cash or monthly pass fare. The minimum age for youths is five years and 65 years for seniors. The minimum age for youths varies by transit agency.

Each agency has its own discounts for eligible customers. Youth and senior Clipper cards automatically recognize them. AC Transit requires minors to have a youth card with a photo, issued by AC Transit.

Youths and seniors must apply for these cards in person. Visit for locations. The following ID is acceptable as proof of eligibility - birth certificate, driver's license issued by any state, identification card issued by any state, alien registration/permanent resident card, matricula consular/identification card, passport and SF City ID card.

Riders can order a free Clipper card, add electronic value accepted on all transit systems, or add a monthly pass for a specific agency online at, by phone (1-877-878-8883) or TDD/TTY (711 or 1-800-735-2929), at select transit agency ticket offices, or at more than 200 participating retail locations, including most Walgreens stores.

Besides the Autoload option, which automatically adds value when the cash balance drops below $10 or a pass expires, Clipper also offers card replacement and balance restoration for customers who register their cards which may end up lost or damaged. Registration is free and can be completed easily online, over the phone or by mail.

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