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Computer ‘glitch’ makes it impossible to buy BART, Muni passes at Walgreens

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A woman pays the Muni fare with a Clipper card. (Kevin N. Hume/2018 S.F. Examiner)

If you’re looking to purchase BART or Muni passes at Walgreens this Thursday — don’t.

A computer mishap has knocked out Walgreens Clipper card purchases, according to transit officials, right before the beginning of the month when monthly Muni passes are purchased most often.

Walgreens is a major partner of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Cubic, which manages the Clipper program. Commuters can load up money on Clipper cards there for single-use trips on Muni buses and BART trains, as well as monthly transit passes.

And though Clipper also allows people to add value online, recent stats show just under one-fifth of all fare value is added through retail outlets, which are mostly Walgreens.

In November 2018, for instance, $21.2 million in fare value was added online and by autoload, $22.7 million in fare value was added via Bay Area ticket machines and $7.7 million in fare value was added at retailers, according to the MTC. About $1.2 million in fare value was added at ticket offices.

The “temporary technical glitch” at Walgreens arose this week, said John Goodwin, an MTC spokesperson.

“At some point this week, Walgreens at the corporate level mistakenly deleted the Clipper vendor number in the corporate IT system,” Goodwin told the San Francisco Examiner.

Initially, this wasn’t a problem, because there was a “workaround,” he said.

But on Tuesday night Walgreens directed its staff in Bay Area stores to “no longer use that workaround” until it is reviewed and approved by its corporate technology team, Goodwin said.

Walgreens did not immediately return requests for comment.

“Walgreens is a really good partner to have and they’ve been absolutely fundamental to the growth of Clipper over the years,” Goodwin said. “It’s unfortunate and I recognize the inconvenience this causes to customers. There’s never a good time for this to happen.”

But, he promised, “this will get fixed.”

Importantly for San Francisco Muni riders, Walgreens is the most abundant retailer in the entire city for Clipper Card reloads. Ticket machines are limited, and mostly located downtown and in a few key train stations.

About 12,000 Clipper cards were sold at Walgreens in December, which is 88 percent of the total Bay Area Clipper cards sold that month, according to MTC. About $5.3 million in cash value was added to Clipper cards in Walgreens in December.

Only a handful of other retailers on the West Side of The City even reload Clipper cards. While fare value can be added to Clipper Cards online or by phone, the Clipper website warns “it may take up to 5 days for value added online or over the phone to be available.”

Long story short: If you live anywhere in San Francisco outside of the downtown core, which has abundant Clipper-machines, you’d best bring some cash for your Muni ride, or load up the Muni Mobile app on your phone.


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