Universal pass for 24 transit lines

It has long been evident that most Bay Area drivers will never lessen their usage of the increasingly crowded roads unless public transit becomes truly competitive with the convenience and costs of private vehicle travel. Unfortunately, the majority of ways to make a bus or rail commute as easy and cheap as driving to work would involve hugely expensive capital outlays far beyond the reach of hard-pressed contemporary transit funding.

One comparatively affordable-seeming method for making public transportation more inviting to riders would be to have a single universal pass that works on every transit system in the greater Bay Area, from Santa Rosa CityBus to Santa Clara VTA. This computerized pass would work like a bank debit card or a phone card, with cash value that could be easily be replenished.

Even with such virtues, however, such an apparently simple idea turns out to be far more difficult than one might expect. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has spent $150 million on its TransLink pass project since 1999, and is only now inching closer to success. In fact, BART first tried to create a multisystem transit pass in 1993, funded by a $4 million federal grant. But back then, the card-reading technology was not nearly as good as it is now.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission hopes it can get the region’s two biggest transit systems, BART and Muni, hooked up to TransLink in 2007. The full regional network would be online by 2010.

Next step in the painstaking development process is a limited trial run starting in September. The test will only involve a few hundred passengers on the East Bay’s AC Transit and Marin County’s Golden Gate Transit and Ferry, which both serve the downtown San Francisco commute.

Four years ago, there was a six-month test with 5,000 participants on six transit agencies, including BART and Caltrain.

Riders who use TransLink will not get any discount on fares, but they gain the convenience of not needing to get transfers between different train and bus lines, carry monthly passes for different systems or walk around with exact change. Transit surveys have consistently shown that passengers dislike the complexities of paying fares on multiple systems. And even commuters who use only one transit system say they would appreciate the convenience of going everywhere with single value-added card.

The TransLink project still has daunting technological issues to overcome, including the integration of varied fare-collection systems at different agencies, and accurate collection and distribution of revenues for different agencies. However, The Examiner agrees that something like TransLink is a good idea that should be put into service as soon as possible.

The greatest expense of creating TransLink, we hope, is already over, but anything the Bay Area can afford for making mass transit more inviting is truly a benefit for our local economy and quality of life.

General OpinionOpinion

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