A passenger walks past an add fare machine, which will soon take debit and credit cards, at 24th Street Mission BART station on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART add-fare machines inside fare zones will finally start accepting credit cards

BART add-fare machines inside fare zones may finally take credit and debit cards, BART General Manager Grace Crunican announced Thursday.

That’s a first for the agency, which opened for revenue service in 1972, the same decade ATM machines began to rise to prominence.

“This is a very big deal for us,” Crunican told the BART Board of Directors at their regular meeting Thursday.

When it comes BART problems, it isn’t necessarily up there with say, homelessness or late trains, but it is a frequent pain many riders know well: If a rider’s Clipper Card or BART ticket does not have enough money on it to exit the station, the machines inside the fare zones that allow you to add value to a Clipper Card only accept cash.

No cash? Then it’s either time to ask a station agent for permission to exit the station to reload your card and then re-enter and legally exit, or in the case of some riders, hop over a fare gate and not pay at all.

“It’s a tremendous benefit for our customers,” Crunican said of the new system, “and removes a headache for our station agents.”

Two of the machines accepting debit and credit cards were installed at San Francisco’s Embarcadero BART Station over the last few weeks, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said. Stations between 24th Street Mission BART and Montgomery BART will get them installed by April 15.

Be warned, however: only Clipper cards can be loaded by debit and credit card, Trost said. BART tickets with magnetic stripes, then, are a no-go.

BART’s announcement of the new machines on Twitter was met with both joy and a healthy dose of snark by riders.

“FINALLY THANK YOU” wrote Twitter user @MucciMarinucci.

“Yay 1992,” wrote Twitter user @CoachSeanH.

“Impressive! If it was 1985,” wrote Twitter user @CriticallyKevin.

When asked why it took BART until 2019 to install debit and credit card machines behind fare gates, Trost said “a few things come into play.”

There was a historical desire by BART to not create long lines at the machines. “High credit card transaction fees” also dissuaded BART from allowing credit and debit card use, since most riders would only be adding a few dollars or cents.

“It is typically a very low amount of money needed to exit the station,” Trost said.

A decision was also made in the early 1970s, at the birth of BART, to restrict the maximum change return of those machines to $4.95, which “forced the bills accepted to be restricted to $1 and $5 bills,” Trost said by email.

Recently, however, there’s been a culture shift at the agency, and at transit agencies as a whole, to shift customers toward cashless options like Clipper Cards to speed up the transit system.

So, “as part of our efforts to move towards 100% Clipper and because we know the current system is a huge headache to our riders, we decided to modify the Add Fare Machines and make them Clipper Add Value machines,” Trost said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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