TransLink gets second trial in fall

A long-anticipated TransLink program — expected to allow Bay Area transit riders to use one pass for all 20-plus of the region’s public transportation systems by 2010 — is scheduled to get its second trial run next month.

Just two public transportation agencies — AC Transit and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District — will be participating in the September test of the computerized fare system.

Four years ago, TransLink was given its first trial run, through a six-month pilot program involving nearly 5,000 participants who were able to use the universal pass on select routes for six different transit agencies: AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit, Muni and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

The ride isn’t any cheaper,

but local transit officials are hoping the ease of use — particularly for those passengers whose travel would take them on different transit systems — will encourage more people to board public

transportation.

“You won’t have to have your AC Transit 31-day pass and a pocketful of change to ride Muni,” said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the agency coordinating the regional transit program.

To use TransLink, riders are provided with a plastic card embedded with a computer chip that is loaded with a dollar value, a number of specific rides, or a monthly pass for a specific agency.

When waved in front of a TransLink card reader within transit vehicles and stations, the fare is deducted from the card’s balance. More value can be added through machines at transit stations and ticket offices, by going online, or through automatic transfer.

This year’s test is optimistically being called a “prelaunch” by regional transit officials, since the TransLink system will only be tested with several hundred passengers for a few months on all routes for the East Bay’s AC Transit, and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s transit and ferry

systems.

If the test goes without major glitches, then the two agencies, along with the MTC, would make the cards available to the general public and start marketing the

program.

The biggest test of the program would then be in 2007, when Muni and BART, the Bay Area’s two biggest transportation agencies, are scheduled to be hooked up to the TransLink system.

The region’s other systems would be added in subsequent years, with an expected 2010 goal for the full rollout.

Muni and BART riders interviewed by The Examiner said the TransLink idea was a good one for several reasons. Some liked the idea of a seamless fare system; others said they usually only rode one system but liked the idea of being able to add value to a permanent card.

BART rider Joshua Dean, who has a daily commute to his downtown San Francisco job from San Leandro, said he’d definitely use a value-added card.

Dean said he comes into The City almost weekly for a Giants game but would rather walk to the game from the Embacadero BART station than scrounge up the six quarters necessary to jump on Muni’s J line.

“I’d love to ride Muni, but I’d rather not even bother with the hassle,” he said.

Universal pass idea has stop-and-go history

The promise of a universal transit pass system is not new, having first been launched as a BART project back in 1993, funded with a $4 million federal grant.

The agency subsequently abandoned the effort after repeated struggles with the card-reading technology and add-fare machines, according to reports.

In 1999, the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission picked up the project, hoping to have it on track by 2003, and has since spent $150 million on its development, according to agency spokesman John Goodwin.

Problems with customizing the all-in-one computerized system so it works with each separate transit agency’s fare-collection program has been a challenge that has resulted in millions of dollars of costly delays, he said.

“Part of the problem is we’re trying to integrate six of the Bay Area’s largest transit operators and hopefully roll it out to two dozen altogether,” Goodwin said. “They all have their individual fare-collection systems.”

Some details still need to be worked out, according to BART spokesman Jim Allison.

“There are a number of issues we’re still looking at with the technology, such as revenue collection, making sure all the money goes where it needs to go,” saidAllison, who said he couldn’t be more specific because talks with all of the TransLink transit partners were still under way.

Nonetheless, Allison said BART was still on board for an anticipated rollout date of 2007, with hopes that the program would increase ridership.

“Studies have shown that one of the problematic parts of mass transit is transfers — people would prefer not to have to transfer from one system to another,” Allison said.

Bay Area transit agencies projected to participate in the TransLink system by 2010:

» AC Transit

» American Canyon Transit

» Benicia Breeze

» Cloverdale Transit

» County Connection

» Fairfield-Suisun Transit

» Golden Gate Transit

» Healdsburg In-City Transit

» Muni

» Oakland Ferry

» Petaluma Transit

» Rio Vista Delta Breeze

» SamTrans

» Santa Clara VTA

» Santa Rosa CityBus

» Sonoma County Transit

» Tri Delta Transit

» Union City Transit

» Vacaville City Coach

» Vallejo Transit

» Napa County VINE

» WestCAT

» WHEELS

Source: Metropolitan Transportation Commission

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