BART: Demagnetized ticket numbers rising

A flashing “See Agent” message at the BART gates is the last thing an already rushed commuter wants to see at 8 a.m, because it probably means a longer delay is in store to replace or exchange a demagnetized, now unusable ticket.

But as more and more people carry cell phones and rely on portable media players like iPods to keep themselves entertained on the train, it’s a scene that appears to be becoming more common. BART officials say it’s imperative that riders keep their vulnerable tickets away from these devices.

Portable media devices and cell phones of all kinds will demagnetize a ticket at close contact, meaning they will distort or remove the information — including the remaining available fare — encoded on the ticket’s magnetic strip.

Despite what BART described as a relatively small percentage of returned tickets, commuters on Internet forums like bartrage.com, have expressed frustration with the seemingly frail tickets.

“I usually just buy a new ticket and go on with my life,” one BART rider, identified only as BARTAngel, wrote on the online forum in April. “But this ticket had over $8 on it. More money than I wanted to donate to BART.”

A BART engineering study completed Oct. 11 found that the way riders handle and store tickets is the main cause of demagnetization, be it from a magnetic purse clasp, cell phone or other electronic device, BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

“BART sells approximately 2.7 million tickets a month so it’s no surprise thousands of tickets are turned in as demagnetized,” Allison said.

If a ticket becomes demagnetized, BART will make refunds or exchanges, Allison said. The process, however, may be more hassle than some riders are willing to go through. Tickets purchased with credit cards must be mailed back to the BART offices in Oakland. Tickets purchased with debit cards or cash may also be mailed back or exchanged at certain stations during specified hours of the day.

Several years ago, BART had tickets that were weaker and even more susceptible to small magnets, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. The agency ushered in a new, tougher series of tickets, but as more people tote portable electronic equipment, the number of demagnetized tickets has increased roughly back to where it was before, he said. BART officials do not consider the problem to be serious, however, and are not considering any changes to ticketing technology as a result of it at this time, he said.

Skyline College physics professor Paul Goodman said that it’s easy to manipulate the information magnetically encoded on the small ticket — evidenced in the ease with which ticket gates add or subtract the remaining fare. But that ease in recoding the information also contributes to its vulnerability to everyday items, Goodman said.

tramroop@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017 (Bay City News file photo)
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 update at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Gavin Newsom under COVID: The governor dishes on his pandemic life

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters It was strange, after 15 months of watching… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Most Read