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San Francisco Bay Area Planning Upgrades to Its Transit Payment System

The region's mass transit commission wants to spend $461 million to integrate the Clipper Card with private-sector mobility providers.

San Francisco will follow the lead of other major cities in a move to integrate mass transit with other forms of mobility offered in the region.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees mass transit across the nine-county Bay Area, is set to move forward with a $461 million overhaul of its Clipper card, the transit fare system that handles payment across 22 transit agencies. The MTC’s Operation’s Committee recommended approval of the contract with Cubic, a San Diego-based transit software development firm. The full board is set to vote on the contract at its Sept. 26, 2018 meeting.

The overhaul, which officials have dubbed “Clipper2” will be an account-based system that integrates other private-sector transportation options like bike-shares, car-shares or e-scooters. It’s an undertaking not unlike the remake of the soon-to-be-unveiled TAP card used in the Los Angeles metro region.

“The flexibility of the new Clipper system, and particularly the new system’s ability to integrate with other transportation providers — bike-share, paratransit, etc. — is one of its main advantages,” explained John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “The current Clipper system does not have this flexibility.”

The project is on schedule to begin this fall, with the rollout of a mobile payment app in 2020, further developments and redesign in 2021 and a complete customer transition to the new system in 2023. The project will involve updating or replacing equipment across more than 3,500 buses, hundreds of subway and rail stations and replacing some 600 ticketing machines spread across the Bay Area transit network.

“The initial focus of the Clipper2 program is to modernize the infrastructure and architecture of the system to enable real-time operations, account-based processing, the launch of mobile and improvements to Web and retail channels,” said David deKozan, vice president of business development at Cubic Transportation Systems. Cubic is also the developer of similar fare-payment systems in Chicago, New York, Boston, London and other major cities.


“The account-based architecture and the establishment of an API portal will allow evolution to include Mobility as a Service elements consistent with MTC direction as it evolves,” he added via email.

Mobility as a Service, also known as MaaS, is the common goal and philosophy taken on by transit operators across the country as they strive to maintain the relevancy of mass transit in an age of increasingly varied transportation options like Uber, Lyft, Jump, Via, Lime, Scoot and other providers that offer rides on bikes, cars and scooters. Rather than having riders navigate payment for these services individually, transit operators have been at work to bring them under one trip-planning — and even payment — umbrella.

Whether the new Clipper program will allow users to pay for an entire trip across a number of mobility providers with one swipe across a smartphone is still an open question, but could be considered, according to Goodwin.

“It all comes down to the flexibility of Clipper2,” he said. “If it turns out that the integration of transit-fare payment with payment for other mobility services is in fact a requirement-for-relevance, Clipper2 will be ready for that future.”

The existing Clipper system was launched in 2006.

"Clipper has been an enormous success for transit riders and transit agencies alike," noted Operations Committee Chair and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, in a statement. "This is a huge investment to ensure the Bay Area can not only keep a good thing going, but make a good thing even better."

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.