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Clipper card

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Title: Clipper card  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area, Caltrain, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, San Francisco Municipal Railway, Bay Area Rapid Transit
Collection: Contactless Smart Cards, Fare Collection Systems in the United States, Public Transportation in Alameda County, California, Public Transportation in Contra Costa County, California, Public Transportation in Marin County, California, Public Transportation in San Francisco, California, Public Transportation in San Mateo County, California, Public Transportation in Santa Clara County, California, Public Transportation in Sonoma County, California, Transportation in Oakland, California
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Clipper card

Location San Francisco Bay Area
Launched 2010
Operator Cubic Transportation Systems
Manager Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Currency USD ($300 maximum load)
Stored-value Clipper Cash
Credit expiry None
Auto recharge Autoload
  • 13 transit agencies (see below)
  • Online
  • Add Value Machines
  • Walgreens stores
  • MUNI Ticket Vending Machines
  • Youth Clipper Card[1]
  • Senior Clipper Card[1]
  • RTC Clipper Card[1]
  • Limited Use Muni Ticket[2]
  • Limited Use Golden Gate Ferry ticket[3]

The Clipper card is a reloadable contactless smart card used for electronic transit fare payment in the San Francisco Bay Area. First introduced as TransLink in 2002 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) as a pilot program, it was rebranded in its current form on 16 June 2010.[4]


  • History 1
  • Usage 2
    • Adding money 2.1
    • Transit agencies 2.2
    • Differences between agencies 2.3
  • Technology 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


A special edition Clipper card, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.
An Add Value Machine for TransLink/Clipper cards, used to load electronic cash or transit passes.

In 1993, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and County Connection launched a pilot program named Translink (not to be confused with other agencies with that name) that allowed the use of a single fare card between the two systems.[5] The card, which used magnetic stripe technology, was envisioned to one day include all Bay Area transit agencies. However, due to technical problems, the program was abandoned two years later.[5]

Translink had a projected capital cost of $4 million when undertaken in 1993.[5] In its current form, first as TransLink and later as Clipper, implementation was expected to cost $30 million.[6] Cost estimates have since increased; the projected 25-year capital and operations costs are now estimated at $338 million.[6]

Scheduled implementation delays have added up to more than a decade. In 1998, MTC envisioned full availability of TransLink by 2001.[7] However, it was fully operational for only five transit agencies by 2009.[8] As of December 2011, Clipper was only accepted by eight of the Bay Area's transit agencies.[9]

Clipper was developed by Australian-based ERG Group and Motorola under the ERG-Motorola alliance in April 1999. However, upon the launch of Clipper, Cubic Transportation Systems has taken over administration of distribution, customer service, and financial settlement of the program.[10]

Full implementation of Clipper has been far slower than that of similar contactless smart cards, including the Oyster card and SmarTrip, chiefly due to bureaucratic difficulties.[11]

On June 16, 2010, MTC changed the TransLink name to Clipper, an homage to the clipper ships of the 19th century, which were the fastest route for traveling from the east coast to San Francisco.[12]

In October 2010, the MTC selected 路路通 (Pinyin: Lùlùtōng, "Go Everywhere Card")[13][14] as the official Chinese name for Clipper.

The former TransLink card


Adding money

Passengers can add money to their Clipper cards in person ("at participating retailers, participating transit agencies' ticket vending machines and ticket offices, Clipper Customer Service Centers, and Clipper Add Value Machines") at work, automatically, or online. While the money is added immediately in person, it will take 3–5 days before it registers on the Clipper card if added by telephone or online.[15][16]

Transit agencies

Clipper is functional for thirteen Bay Area transit agencies:[9]

A number of smaller regional transit agencies have not yet joined Clipper, including ACE, County Connection, Santa Rosa CityBus, Sonoma County Transit, Tri-Delta Transit, WestCAT, and WHEELS.

Differences between agencies

Single-fare payment
Agency Tag when entering Payment duration Tag when exiting Minimum card balance to enter Special rules
AC Transit yes 2 hours no $0.01
  • If traveling locally on a transbay bus, the passenger has to inform the driver of this before tagging their card so that the driver can set the reader to a local fare.
  • AC to BART to AC may be cheaper with paper transfers.
  • Once a passenger has reached $5.00 in fares in one day ($2.50 for discounted fares) a day pass is automatically loaded to the card allowing for unlimited rides the remainder of the day.
Bay Area Rapid Transit


yes N/A yes $1.85
  • Passengers enter and exit the train platform through a turnstile, at which point they can "tag on" or "tag off" their cards.
  • AC to BART to AC may be cheaper with paper transfers.
  • Muni to BART to Muni transfer results in charging extra Muni fare.
Caltrain yes 4 hours yes $1.25
  • There are no turnstiles. Passengers "must tag on & tag off for each trip [at] card readers ... located on platforms except at San Jose (before you head up ramps to platform) and San Francisco (on the concourse)."[16]
  • Caltrain uses a proof-of-payment system: each rider must buy a ticket prior to boarding the train that may or may not be checked during the trip. Passengers who board the train without a viable ticket are subject to fines of up to $250 plus court fees. Thus Clipper Cards must be "tagged on" prior to boarding the train or the passenger will be subject to the same fines.[16][18][19]
  • Passengers are charged the maximum one way fare when they tag on prior to boarding the train and the difference is reimbursed when they tag off after leaving the train. If passengers forget to tag off when they exit the train, they will be charged "the highest cash fare from [their] point of origin."[20]
Fairfield And Suisun Transit yes 1 hour no $6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled FAST does not accept Clipper for Short Hop Fares on SolanoExpress Route 30 and Route 40.
Golden Gate Transit yes yes yes $0.01 If the passenger does not tag off, the fare from the boarding point to San Francisco or Santa Rosa, whichever is greater, will be charged.
Golden Gate Ferry yes N/A yes $4.25 The passenger tags on or off at the ferry terminal, not on the ferry.
Marin Transit yes yes yes $0.01 Not accepted on Muir Woods shuttle routes (66/66F).
VINE Transit yes 1 hour no $6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled VINE accepts Clipper for payment on Route 29 to BART, but not for Route 29 to the Vallejo Ferry Terminal.
SamTrans yes N/A only on KX to SF ?
  • A passenger on the KX express bus to San Francisco must tag off upon disembarking in San Francisco.
  • SamTrans does not issue transfers. Fares are good only for the duration of the initial bus ride.
San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) yes 90 minutes no $2.25 adult; $1.00 discount [21]
  • The passenger needs to re-tag if the 90 minutes expires while they are riding.
  • Muni to BART to Muni transfer results in charging extra Muni fare.
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) yes 2 hours no $0.01
  • Single fare payment counts toward day pass.
  • VTA's light rail is a proof-of-payment system: passengers must have a valid ticket (purchased at ticket vending machines) or a valid pass before boarding light rail. Clipper card customers must tag at a Clipper card reader located near ticket vending machines. Passengers without a valid ticket or pass may be fined up to $250.[22]
  • The passenger needs to remember to not tag when transferring to light rail within two hours of the initial payment; tagging when transferring to light rail incurs an additional payment.
San Francisco Bay Ferry yes ? yes $1.50 adult; $0.75 senior/disabled The passenger tags on or off at the ferry terminal, not on the ferry.
SolTrans yes 1 hour no $6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled Local transfers do not exist within the SolTrans system, however transfers between other transit systems are valid 60 minutes after tagging.
Vacaville City Coach yes 1 hour no $6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled


Clipper utilizes a NXP Semiconductors MIFARE DESFire (MF3ICD40) integrated circuit to manufacture the card. The card operates on the 13.56 MHz range putting it into the Near Field Communication category (rather than RFID, as is commonly misconceived). Because the card uses NFC technology, any NFC enabled Android cellphone can read the serial number, travel history, and current balance on the card.[23][24] However, data cannot be written to the card without the proper encryption key, preventing unauthorized access to funds on the card. The former Translink cards, while still functional on the fare system readers, do not conform for MIFARE and are unreadable by 13.56 MHz readers.

Because Clipper operates in multiple geographical areas with sporadic or non-existent internet access, the fare collection and verification technology needs to operate without any networking. To accomplish this, the Clipper card memory keeps track of balance on the card, fares paid, and trip history. Unfortunately, this also means if funds are added to the Clipper account via the internet, funds will not show up on the clipper card until it has been scanned at an internet-enabled (or recently synchronized) device. Buses and other vehicles without internet access will have to return to a service station in order to synchronize with Clipper's servers. During synchronization, the payment collection device will upload to the server data about any fares collected, and will download information about new account balances. Riders who scan their card at a recently synchronized payment collection device will have their card updated to reflect their true account balance.

The waiting period between synchronizations may cause some cards to report lower funds than are actually on the corresponding Clipper account. In order to alleviate this problem, Clipper allows riders to go as low as −$11.25 on the card before funds need to be added, and/or the card needs to be scanned at an internet-enabled or recently synchronized device.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Senior, youth and disabled discounts". Clipper card website. Retrieved 19 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Limited Use Muni Tickets". San Francisco Municipal Railway website. Retrieved 19 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Clipper on Golden Gate - FAQ". Clipper website. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  4. ^ TransLink name changes to Clipper on June 16
  5. ^ a b "Metropolitan Transportation Commission Fund Management System". Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Retrieved 19 June 2008. 
  6. ^ Bowman, Catherine (15 January 1998). "Multitransit Card Proposed". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  7. ^ Gordon, Rachael (27 November 2007). "TransLink backers consider letting people pay for parking with card". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  8. ^ a b "Use Clipper". Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  9. ^ "Cubic Supports Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Launching ClipperSM Card for San Francisco Bay Area". Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Mara, Janis (11 June 2009). "Bay Area universal transit card stalls". Contra Costa Times. p. 1. Retrieved 22 June 2009. 
  11. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (10 February 2010). "Translink, step aside". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  12. ^ "ClipperSM Card Grows in Popularity and Reaches Out to Chinese Market". Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  13. ^ 李秀蘭 (8 October 2010). 公車儲值卡 中文名路路通. World Journal (in Chinese). Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Clipper card: Ways to add value
  15. ^ a b c Clipper
  16. ^ "Clipper Home". Clipper Card. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  17. ^ Caltrain: Ticket Vending Machine
  18. ^ How to Ride Step 3 - Pay
  19. ^ Questions about using Clipper® on Caltrain
  20. ^
  21. ^ [2] VTA. Last accessed on August 7, 2014.
  22. ^ Butler, Eric (7 February 2011). "FareBot: Read data from public transit cards with your NFC-equipped Android phone". Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  23. ^ "Clipper Cards Reveal Travelers' Whereabouts To Police, Lawyers, Apps". 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2015-06-06. 

External links

  • Official website
  • MTC TransLink Management Group Meeting Agendas and Materials
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