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The TransLink card
An Add Value Machine for TransLink cards, used to load electronic cash or transit passes.

TransLink is a new transit fare payment system being implemented in the San Francisco Bay Area.[1] It utilizes a reloadable card with a dual interface, making it capable of both contact and contactless transactions. TransLink was introduced as a pilot program in 2002 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to reduce the number of fare systems and help integrate transit systems in the Bay Area. TransLink is being rolled out in phases; currently five transit agencies, AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit, and Muni accept the card on all routes except for Muni's San Francisco cable cars.


Progress and delays

In general, the rollout of TransLink has been much slower than that of similar Contactless smart cards cards including Oyster card and SmarTrip, chiefly due to bureaucratic difficulties.[2]

TransLink is fully functional for five transit agencies: [3]

  • AC Transit (including its subsidiary, Dumbarton Express) - Starting October 1, 2009, passengers will no longer be able to use paper 10-Ride and 31-Day transbay tickets for rides across the Bay. Passengers can only obtain an AC Transit transbay pass via TransLink, or they may pay their fares in cash. Transbay magnetic-strip tickets will no long be accepted throughout the AC Transit service area, including lines operating over the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges.[4]
  • Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District's public transportation services: Golden Gate Transit & Golden Gate Ferry
  • Muni (SFMTA - San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) - TransLink is accepted for payment throughout the Muni system except for cable cars. Customers can load both e-cash and a monthly Fast Pass onto their TransLink card. A TransLink card with a Fast Pass loaded is also good for free trips on BART within San Francisco.
  • BART - BART has begun a rollout of TransLink to its customers, which started on August 3, 2009 and will last for approximately five months. All TransLink cardholders are now able to use their cards on BART.[5]
  • Caltrain - Caltrain has also begun use of TransLink as of August 17, 2009 with a select group of customers. While the commuter rail agency encourages people to register to participate in surveys, TransLink welcomes all cardholders to use the rail system.[6]

The TransLink system's expansion will continue in 2010 to include the VTA network, part of which participated in the pilot program, and the SamTrans bus network, which did not participate in the pilot program at all.[3] Finally, WHEELS, Tri-Delta Transit, WestCAT, County Connection and other smaller transit agencies which did not participate in the pilot program are expected to install TransLink on their bus and ferry lines in 2011 or later.[3]

Important transit agencies that will not install TransLink capability include Amtrak and the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), both of which provide rail links between Fremont and San Jose. Some VTA bus lines serving this corridor, however, have been TransLink-equipped since the start of the pilot program.



Approximately 182,000 cards have been distributed throughout the region as of August 2009. The average number of weekday transactions in that month was 31,850. AC Transit riders accounted for about 44% of the riders using TransLink, Golden Gate Transit and Ferry accounted for 31%, Muni riders 21%, and BART and Caltrain together under 4% (both systems began accepting TransLink in August 2009).

Each transit agency has conducted surveys of its customers to determine customer satisfaction. Below are some highlights of the findings:

  • AC Transit: 89.9% of customers surveyed would recommend TransLink to a friend. (May 2008)
  • Golden Gate Transit: 85.5% of customers surveyed are satisfied or very satisfied. (October 2008)
  • Muni: 82.9% of customers surveyed are satisfied or very satisfied, and 92.1% would recommend TransLink to a friend. (Summer 2009)

Results for BART and Caltrain are not yet available.

Competing systems, EZ Rider

In 2006, BART launched a pilot program under the "EZ Rider" name using several different smart cards, with the stated intention of eventually transferring EZ Rider users to TransLink.[7] EZ Rider customers were the first to be invited to try out TransLink and provide feedback on their experience. Customers who want to pay for parking with a smart card must retain their EZ Rider card for this purpose until further notice.


TransLink cards have a dual interface: electrical contacts on the face of the card, and an antenna wire which runs in a ring around the edge of the card. The contact interface is based on ISO/IEC 7816, and the RFID interface is based on ISO/IEC 14443 at 13.56 MHz. The first generation of cards were ASK TanGO CT3000 ISO/IEC 14443 Type B cards, although as of January 2007 the manufacturer had discontinued this model due to supply problems with the microprocessor.


The project as initially undertaken in 1993 had a projected capital cost of just $4 million[8] and even in its current conception was expected to cost just $30 million.[9] Since then, however, costs have increased -- current forecasted 25-year capital and operations costs are estimated at $338 million.[9] In addition, schedule delays have added up to more than a decade. In 1998, TransLink was to be available on all transit agencies by 2001[10], but today (2009) is fully operational on five[1], and not expected to be available regionwide until 2010 or later. [11]


  1. ^ a b About Translink, retrieved on May 11, 2009.
  2. ^ Mara, Janis (June 11, 2009). "Bay Area universal transit card stalls". Contra Costa Times: p. 1. Retrieved June 22, 2009.  
  3. ^ AC Transit (June 15, 2009). "Transbay Passengers Are Making the Move to TransLink". Press release. Retrieved 2009-06-22.  
  4. ^ BART (August 3, 2009). "BART launches limited rollout of TransLink fare payments". Press release. Retrieved 2009-08-11.  
  5. ^ Rosenberg, Mike (August 4, 2009). "Caltrain to accept Translink cards in two weeks". San Mateo County Times. Retrieved August 11, 2009.  
  6. ^ BART EZ Rider Card Pilot Program
  7. ^ Fimrite, Peter (1995-11-05), "Coding Problems To Derail BART's Translink Program", San Francisco Chronicle,  
  8. ^ a b Metropolitan Transportation Commission Fund Management System, Metropolitan Transportation Commission,, retrieved 2008-06-19  
  9. ^ Bowman, Catherine (1998-01-15), "Multitransit Card Proposed", San Francisco Chronicle,  
  10. ^ Gordon, Rachael (2007-11-27), "TransLink backers consider letting people pay for parking with card", San Francisco Chronicle,  

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