45 comments

  • Matthias Lamers

    Golden Gate Transit rider from the North Bay here- On GGT, due to the fare zone system, you “tag on” when you board, debiting the fare to the farthest zone from the boarding point, then “tag off” when to exit to have the unused zone amount refunded. Translink works, but only on the front door transponder. This isn’t a problem on minor stops where the front doors only are opened but at major transit points, both sets of doors are open. For Translink users sitting in the back of the bus, they have to effectively “swim upstream” to tag off or risk paying for a Zone 1 to Zone 6 trip when they were only going from Zone 1 to Zone 3.

  • I’ve been solely on TransLink ever since December of last year (I was an early adopter). In that time I’ve gotten familiar with how to tag “correctly” – it’s not really a *tap* on the reader as it is a hold-steady. I added the autoload of the Fast Pass a couple months ago, and it has autoloaded from both Muni readers and BART readers. BART’s readers are a little slower than Muni’s and you have to hold it steady but I’ve never been charged incorrectly. I’ve used BART for trips from SF to both the Peninsula and to the East Bay and the readers have worked fine.

    • geoff

      I’ve got a question about it on Muni… How do the fare inspectors know you tagged it for your trip?

      • great question. anyone?

        • geoff

          Found the answer on their site:

          Should I ask for a transfer when I board a Muni vehicle? How can I prove that I paid?

          TransLink will automatically calculate the 90-minute transfer period on Muni, so you are not required to carry a paper transfer. You must tag your card each time you transfer and enter a vehicle so that the card reader can confirm the transfer period is still in effect. The card reader will beep and show a green light to indicate that your transfer is valid. Transit fare inspectors have handheld card readers and conduct random checks of TransLink customers to ensure that they have tagged their cards properly. The handheld card reader only confirms that you have proper payment; it does not affect your card balance.

        • Eric

          I’ve been inspected by Muni a few times. The reader simply says YES if you are good to go.

      • Sorry for the delay. Muni inspectors are supposed to carry handheld card readers that can read the cards and let them know if you have a valid fare. I’ve had several encounters with fare payment officers, however, where they take your card and tag it on the closest translink reader. For me, it has said “travel ok, free transfer” or “travel ok pass good til XX” and then they know I tagged previously. One time on the 22 Fillmore, I tagged on the front and the fare inspector on the bus tagged on the back. I told her there is a 10-minute passback rule in case she didn’t know, and she seemed surprised it didn’t beep positively but I explained that since I had already tagged onto the bus, I needed to wait 10 minutes to tag again to avoid letting multiple people board the bus with, say, one fast pass on a single TransLink card.

        • I just experienced having my card read by a fare inspector. They just pull out the device and simply use the little target on the back to make contact with the chip.

          It was quick, but I should have asked the guy what the screen said.

  • works great for me so far… a couple hiccups, but thats to be expected. Its nice not having to fumble with multiple cards since i communte from eastbay –> city and sometimes roll onto the caltrain to go to mtn view. A few times i’ve been without cash and it has saved by butt.

  • I think the program works mostly OK. I have to say “mostly” because there are a few bugs in the system and some of its programming.

    When working smoothly, Translink cards work fine and handles all the business of paying the fare, issuing transfers, and updating your card’s info in a quick couple of seconds.

    Some of the flaws includes a lag time of an extra second when tagging the card, vehicles where the reader is not turned-on, and lack of educating the public and transit employees.

    Some of these problems are not actually the transit agency’s or Translink’s faults, it’s actually more like the user’s errors, like tagging the card too quickly, expecting instant available funds when paying by phone or internet, and punching holes in the card to carry on a lanyard.

    I do find it rare to see problems with Translink after they have ran their program for years. As long as people treat their cards with respect and inform Translink of problems as soon as possible, the problems and issues will slowly go away. We really need a universal fare card now to make it easier to ride transit around the bay.

  • Brian

    I use it for a MUNI FastPass. It works well on buses, MUNI Metro and BART so far. I also loaded e-cash onto the same Translink card, and am impressed that when I got on BART at Embarcadero and got off at SFO that it knew to debit the e-cash account and not use the FastPass. It reminds me of Hong Kong’s Octopus card. I keep the card in my wallet and can hold it over the reader without taking it out, so that’s nice.

    The only annoying thing is that service on the Translink side is pretty bad. The website is not up to date (it still says MUNI is in trial mode with it). You can’t find your balance on the website (instead you need to request a balance statement online and then they send you a piece of paper a week later).

    Also, anything you do online takes 72 hours to update. So, I just realized I can’t add an October FastPass today and have it active by the day after tomorrow. For anything you want immediately effective, you have to go to a Walgreens. All of the Walgreen’s in the City I’ve tried can do it but when I tried to do it at a Walgreen’s in Dublin they had no idea what I was talking about (even though BART goes to Dublin).

    I think I’ll try the Autoload function in November (it being too late to try October — i.e., less than 72 hours before October starts), which should eliminate the need to keep going to Walgreen’s.

    • Not all Walgreens does this. The easiest way is to visit Translink’s website for a map, but they also have a window sticker near the door of the Walgreens that are authorized to do Translink.

      The automated machines also work fine, but I suggest cash payment as it is much quicker.

      Always remember: In-person fund/pass loading is always instantly available.

    • Brendon

      Technicall,y Muni IS still in trial mode.

    • I activated autoload on mine and have had it load successfully both on Muni and on BART (when I use the Fast Pass for travel w/in SF). So.. you only need to wait 3 days for the very first time you load the product. Otherwise, you can buy it at a machine at all the Muni stations and then activate autoload over the internet, which is what I did.

  • andrew

    It has worked great for me since 2002!

    Seriously I have had no problems at all since the recent Muni rollout began about 2 years ago. Haven’t tried it on BART.

  • I’m still waiting for my Translink card. But then again, they don’t have Translink for Muni for people under 18, do they?

    • They do have Youth cards for TransLink, but you need to go to where they sell them and verify your age with an ID. I think they do it at the South Van Ness MTA customer service center, I know for a fact they do it for AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit. Maybe try the Golden Gate Ferry terminal over at the Ferry Building.

  • Martin

    So can anybody say what will happen in the following situation:

    1. You get on the bus, tag with the Translink card to the reader.
    2. You are charged $2.00 for the fare and get 90 minute transfer.
    (Do stuff downtown.)
    3. Get on the bus with for the return trip at 89 minutes into your transfer. You tag your card.
    4. You are not charged for a new ticket, because the transfer hasn’t expired.
    5. At the next stop a fare inspector boards the bus and checks your card. It shows as not having paid fare (i.e. the transfer expired).

    Do you get ticketed for fare evasion?

    • That’s been a question that there’s been no official answer for. If you don’t have a stopwatch on hand to keep track every time you use it, it’s really difficult to tell if you still have a valid card or not.

      I’m betting the MTC, Translink, and SFMTA’s Judson True is keeping their eye on this board, any answers about this?

    • Erik

      I’m sure it’s the same as the paper transfers. You pay $2 for 90 minutes of riding. If you are still on a bus/train when the 90 minutes run out then you are supposed to pay another $2 for another 90 minutes. The only difference with Translink is that you don’t have any way of telling excactly when your 90 minutes runs out. I suppose if in doubt mid-trip then scan it again. If your 90 minutes are up then you will get another $2 worth of travel and will be safe from inspector beatdowns, if you are still within the 90 minutes then you won’t get charged anything.

      It would be nice if the card reader told you how much time as left on a transfer though.

      • Anyonymous

        The inspectors can also see the history of when you tagged your card (or at least one showed me my history the very first time I used the card). So they should be able to tell you tagged at 0 and 89 minutes, and just have you tag the card again right there. (I’ve also had an inspector do that with my card when their reader didn’t work.)

  • Mark

    I haven’t switched from the paper fastpass. But, I do use it for cash when I leave the City. It’s worked well for me except for once. I was coming home from SFO when the faregate told me to see the agent. She checked my card and the reader said that I had no acceptable funds (I knew for a fact that I had $20 left on it). She was also really snoody with me (not that that’s TransLink’s fault).

    Their service is quite slow. I requested a record of the card activity after the SFO incident (Labor Day) and received it in my email on 9/26. Though it was up do date through 9/26, I received it over two weeks from requesting it.

  • Translink has generally been good for me, but there have been a few incidents.

    1. The Translink website and customer service need to be improved. Once, the website timed out on me while I was purchasing my monthly Muni pass. I assumed the transaction hadn’t gone through, so I went back and tried again. They ended up charging me twice since they said I had purchased two Muni passes…I wouldn’t have done so if their website hadn’t timed out.

    2. Some Muni buses do not have the Translink transponders turned on; usually when this happens, the driver still lets me on. However, one bus driver recently told me that he and his colleagues have been instructed to require Translink card holders to pay the $2 fare when the transponder is not working. This seems odd to “punish” the Translink holders for the fact that the bus’s transponder isn’t working.

    Other than that, the card has worked fine for me. As the system improves, I’m sure these kinks will be worked out.

    • So, is asking for the additional fare when you have a fastpass on your translink card fair? Better yet, is it legal?

      My partner ran into a similar situation, and he paid the fare. I did too, but I wasn’t as passive – I told him the card had a fastpass and if he didn’t turn on his transponder that’s too fucking bad for him and sat in a seat. He grumbled and yelled for a while but I ignored him and it was fine.

    • Regarding #2: I’ve had that happen too, but Translink reimburses me whenever I’ve been instructed to pay cash. Just make sure to tell the Translink operator the vehicle number, date, time, and route; it may be helpful to tell them that you have a fare receipt/transfer on hand with you as proof.

      I may suggest the next time a reader is offline to ask the driver to turn-on the machine with their console. They just press the RED button and give it a minute for the reader to warm-up. The red light will hold steady on the reader for less than a minute, then it’s fully operational.

  • My brother commutes from the Peninsula to SF with it, and hasn’t had any problems. If a reader thing isn’t working, the driver just lets him on and gives him a paper transfer, but that has only happened maybe twice.

    It would be nice if one could load up more cash on it in more places, since that’s the fastest way to put more money on ’em.

  • What keeps people accountable with Translink? Let’s believe for a moment that human nature is inherently bad and people will cheat if given the opportunity. So, this morning I watched a guy tag his Translink card, and I wondered what incentive did he have to do that? Why didn’t he just wait until he *had* to do it, and possibly get away with not paying? I am a fastpass holder, and if I wanted to cheat it would be hard b/c of the fare inspectors. My incentive to buy a fastpass is that I dont want to get busted by them. There seems to be too much room for dishonesty with Translink. I don’t get it. I see a big loophole. Do we expect people to just be honest? I don’t think the honor system works well.

    • Erik

      I think you are confused. You can skip scanning your Translink card just like you can skip buying a transfer or a fastpass. I doesn’t matter which one you skipped if a fare inspector stops you.

  • Kiam

    My experience using Translink (autoload e-cash only) on MUNI, BART, and CalTrain is mostly good. MUNI does not always have the readers activated which frustrates me. BART readers are slow. Caltrain has readers at Milbrae that have been broken for over a month now. The Translink web site is something from the ’90s. Why is it so slow? Why do they have to send out by postal mail a transaction report? I should be able to view my transactions on the website at a minimum up to the last 24 hours. This last thing is what needs to be improved so people will feel confident about using the chipped card.

  • Haven’t personally used it, but I witnessed a lady on the 43 Masonic desperately trying to get the reader to tag her card for a couple minutes while the bus jostled around from Lombard up through the Presidio. It was almost as painful as watching the guy who pays his fare with a baggie full of loose change.

  • Brendon

    I’ve had mostly good experiences… but would just echo what’s been said:

    – Too slow to tag.
    – Sometimes tags as invalid or ins. funds, but then works on second tag.
    – Muni bus operators sometimes don’t turn the reader on… most will still let you on, but some (one driver I’ve had a few times in particular) will insist you pay $2 or wait for next bus, even if you have a FastPass on your card.
    – Frustrating not being able to see transactions/balance online, but rather have to request a report to be e-mailed to you… and for the ‘Line’ column, it doesn’t mention the bus/train line, just MBUS or something like that… but does list the stations if you tag on/off at BART/Muni Metro stations.
    – One of the only places to load up is at Walgreens, and only managers can do it (I can’t do it online or at an Add Value machine, cause I use paper Commuter Checks from work to load the FastPass… although I do use AutoLoad for the e-cash part, which works well). Would be nice if the kiosks in the Metro stations could have full TransLink card services.

    – Nice not having to carry change.
    – Love that I can now use it on all the transit agencies I use: BART, CalTrain, Muni (I don’t really use/need Golden Gate or AC Transit).
    – Works well 85% of the time.

    • I agree with this compiled list you provided. It takes some patience and practice, but once people get the hang of it, it works fine.

      As for the note that it’s too slow, I have to agree on this point. Translink states that with the really complicated fare structures, pass, and transfer policies, it’s a lot of data to crunch. I find the BART and Muni metro fare gate readers to be the slowest, bus readers and station readers are more responsive.

      With Translink’s technology bought out by Cubic Transportation Systems, they may decide to upgrade the system and install Cubic’s RFID technology instead.

  • I mainly use it on the buses and have been part of the program since last December. It’s really unfortunate how many of the readers are offline on the buses and I’m wondering if it’s the drivers not being told how and why they need to turn it on or legitimate problems. I’m absolutely ecstatic at nothing having to always carry a wad of ones with me when I go out. Fast Pass was never practical as I don’t ride enough in a month to make it worth it.

    Quite honestly, I’ve been riding Muni a great deal less now that the fare is $2 (thus making burritos from El Farolito a whopping $10 with the coming and going.) Instead of taking Bart or the 49 to the Mission from the Loin, I usually just walk it and sadly, it only takes maybe 10-15 minutes longer. Still have yet to try it on the Bart since it rolled out while I was out of town.

  • You guys might find this guest blog on N Judah Chronicles interesting, considering it’s about one person’s pretty terrible Translink experience: http://www.njudahchronicles.com/2009/08/guest_blogger_wednesday_one_users_experi.html

  • Marjorie

    So far no major problems for me and I’ve had one for three months now. I live and work in the City without a car so I use it there almost exclusively on Bart and Muni. I’ve only run into a couple of non-functioning readers. Translink’s website is lacking though. It’s poorly designed and there isn’t an easy way to see transactions on your card.

  • you guys, check it out: StreetsblogSF (awesome site, if you don’t already know it) was checking this post’s comments (okay, okay, i alerted them to it), and contacted SFMTA about an issue many of you are reporting: readers not being on, or other technical issues related to TransLink. turns out, SFMTA is on the case. ask, and ye shall receive.

  • Kameron

    I’ve had some problems with the translink system. As a law-abiding citizen I always try and pay for my fare (I especially hate it when people who don’t), but there has been a handful of times when the translink system is not working. It doesn’t say “out of order” or anything on the screen, it just isn’t on and I never carry cash so luckily no one has stopped me for not paying.

    At time’s I just kinda say *beep* as I tag my card and get on the bus. It’s always a hit or miss with the translink. Still need more work in my opinion.

  • aaron

    I really wish they would honor the “Late Night” pass after 8pm. When they want people to adopt a new technology they need to incentivize people for it to gain traction.

    This is exactly how they are able to relieve traffic at the toll plazas for the Bay and GG Bridge. The toll is cheaper, therefore people will go out of their way to get it. I’m not even saying charge $1.75 for muni fare for a TL user, although that’d be nice.

    It is just counter-productive to try and get people to adopt a system which penalizes you for saving them the driver’s time, transfer printing costs, boarding (and subsequently travel time) efficiencies.

  • Ann

    I have had nothing but trouble with my card on muni buses since also starting to use the card with Bart. It rarely works now on buses but always works on Bart. I have another card and I am going to try to use it seperatly on muni buses to see if it works better. So ridiculous.

  • Greg Herlein

    The policies are broken for the scenario where the TransLink reader is broken. The driver should allow the card owner to board for free. Twice in the last two weeks my bus has had a broken reader and twice the driver demanded that I pay a cash toll. I bought the TransLink to avoid having to carry small bills. If the City wants people to trust and use TransLink, they need to make sure the darn things work and that if they don’t the riders are not incovenienced.

  • Katy G

    I am trying translink for the first time and was wondering if there are any demagnitization issues with the cards. I carry an electronic ID for work, a smart phone and would like to avoid that hassel.

  • Nate

    I tried going to Walgreens.

    They had no idea what I was talking about at first. Then the one guy who knew said that their machine was down, and they had to get Translink to fix it.

    WTF am I supposed to do with my transit checks? I guess they really want us to use cash instead. I hate carrying wads of $1s and quarters in my pockets.

  • Katy G

    I was told to get a Translink card by a flyer I received at the Montgomery St station at the beginning of February so I bought a $5 card at a Walgreens (Fasts passes are free, why aren’t these?). It worked on the T several times but one day I got on and must’ have swiped it 10xs and it didn’t work. I did not have cash at the time (who needs it when you have this nifty card) and decided not to jump off the MUNI in order to find an ATM in the industrial part of 3rd Street (closest ATM is 7 blocks), make change, wait for another card and be 30-45 minutes late for work. But when I got to the Montgomery street station, cops were checking for proof of payment. I thought maybe the cops would be reasonable but NOPE. I was given a $75 ticket even though I clearly pay every time and this incident was out of my control. I will contest that since it was clear that the card had become defective by no fault of my own. But still, $75 is not something I can afford. So I called Translink customer service expecting some sort of apology but no. I have to send back the card to Fremont so they can determine if the card is defective. In the meantime, I have to pay $4 a day to ride MUNI, while the money I have already budgeted toward transportation in stuck on a card being sent to Translink. I asked for a refund because I can’t afford for this to happen again. They won’t issue a refund. But what if I want to go back to my trusty Fast Pass….too bad.

    Here is my grand total for this nightmare:
    $5 translink card + $55 balance on the card + $75 citation + $.47 stamp to send card back + $22 in fares while waiting for the Translink card to be sent back to me = $157.47. I budgeted $60 a month for transportation. Who is going to pay the extra $97.47? Oh right, me. Thanks SFMTA/Translink for sticking it to the working person.

    Wondering if anyone else is going through this and whether this vendor, Translink, is offering the best possible technology? I am kinda sick of paying for the City’s budget shortfalls while paying taxes, rent on a limited salary.

    • lola

      I feel your pain, Katy. I hope this gets settled quickly in your favor. I wish there was another option for this kind of service. They don’t have any competition right now and that’s a bad thing.

  • lola

    I use Translink for my Transbay commute. I was charged twice for my monthly pass last year. According to the phone representative, I wasn’t the only person involved with the system-wide error. The following month, my card was credited for the double charge. Fast forward to May 2010, my card has been blocked by Translink due to that dispute from LAST YEAR! I had been purchasing my monthly pass without a hitch for months since their error, but now my card doesn’t work. I’ve emailed them without response and finally called them. Translink wanted evidence from me that the dispute was settled. Why aren’t they keeping track of this?

    I’m curious: has anyone else experienced this kind of blocking action from Translink?

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