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Temporary Transbay Terminal looking a bit less temporary with return of Clipper machines

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Riders head into the Temporary Transbay Terminal on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And ticket machines, as it turns out.

With a reopening date for the now-closed Salesforce Transbay Terminal looking increasingly far off, transportation officials are officially bringing Clipper card ticket machines back to the old Temporary Transbay Terminal early next month to better serve riders.

The move, achieved after much wrangling behind the scenes with Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which runs Clipper, marks an early political victory for Janice Li, who was just elected to the BART board earlier this month.

And it was prompted by the complaints of one vocal AC Transit rider, emails obtained by the Examiner reveal.

Clipper ticket machines were removed from the Temporary Transbay Terminal when the Salesforce Transit Center opened in August.

But the $2.2 billion terminal was abruptly closed again after a cracked steel beam was found in a ceiling on September 25, moving transbay bus service back to the temporary terminal.

SEE RELATED: $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center closes after crack found in steel beam

Ticket machines were not returned to the temporary terminal immediately, perhaps because transportation officials hoped the Salesforce Transit Center would reopen quickly. However expert testing of the cracked steel beams is still ongoing and a reopening date has yet to be announced.

Emails shared with the Examiner show transportation staff initially refused to re-install the ticket machines in October, arguing many transbay riders use a service that automatically loads their Clipper card fares online, and that re-installing the machines would be troublesome due to electrical issues.

Not every transbay rider uses online reloading, however. Data provided by the MTC to the Examiner shows that during the time the Salesforce Transit Center was open, there were about 9,900 sales transactions on just four Clipper vending machines.

The two machines in the Salesforce Transit Center’s Grand Hall were used for about 9,200 of these transactions, while the two in Shaw Alley accounted for the remaining 700. About 9,400 of the Salesforce Transit Center transactions were for cash value totaling about $338,000, according to MTC. Customers purchased roughly 300 Muni passes, 180 AC Transit passes and 10 Caltrain passes at the four machines.

One of those transbay riders is Danielle Thoe, an affordable housing developer who commutes from San Francisco to Alameda every morning. Like thousands of other AC Transit commuters, her daily trip across the Bay was shifted back to the Temporary Transbay Terminal when the Salesforce Transit Center closed. That’s when she noticed the lack of Clipper machines, which left her unable pay for her own fare one morning.

“As someone who takes Muni rail and BART infrequently, the (Temporary) Transbay Terminal is the only place I could easily re-load my Clipper card in person,” she told the Examiner. After reaching out to MTC for help, to no avail, Thoe turned to Li.

Li, who was still running for BART board at the time, pressured MTC to re-install the ticket machines. Li also reached out to Supervisor Jane Kim, who joined the call for the machines to be reinstated. Before MTC relayed its reversal, Li said the lack of ticket machines was another boundary to taking transit.

“This is unacceptable and unfortunately highlights the lack of accountability MTC has to the public,” Li wrote the San Francisco Examiner in an email, on Tuesday. “It’s absurd that already inconvenienced transit riders need to further carry the burden of the faulty steel beams at the Salesforce Transit Center. Aren’t two broken beams and longer commute times enough?”

Kim chimed in as well, adding, “No one should have to walk blocks away from a transit terminal just to get their ticket.”

After requests for comment by the Examiner, MTC officials said they would bring the ticket machines back by December 6.

The decision was praised by AC Transit, and a spokesperson said it would speed-up transbay bus boarding.

“In fact, our all-new double-decker coaches are outfitted with Clipper card readers and the first two bus lines, featuring double-decker coaches, launch on Monday,” said Robert Lyles, an AC Transit spokesperson. “So MTC’s update is not only timely but ultimately beneficial in helping meet our riders’ demand for greater seating capacity on Transbay lines and a reduction in the number of cars traveling the Bay Bridge.”

Though Li, who will be sworn in in early December, also celebrated the victory, she wasn’t exactly thrilled on how it was achieved.

“To have to go to media and bring elected officials into this just to get a couple machines back is ridiculous,” she said.

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