Demagnetizing Issues with TransLink Cards?

Translink Card
Photo by AgentAkit

Muni rider Katy G. asks the following:

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.

Surely they’ve got to be better than BART cards when it comes to demagnetization. Surely.

Any TransLink cardholders out there care to weigh in?


  • Erik

    They work using radio signals so there is nothing to demagnetize. If you want one to stop working then you have to crack it in half or drill a hole in it.

  • loren

    i’ve had a translink card for around 4 months or so and haven’t had a problem with it yet. i’ve often had problems with BART cards in the past because I tend to shove them in the same pocket where I keep my cellphone, and have had a few trips where I’ve had to talk to a station attendant because my phone demagnetized it. I keep my translink card in the same pocket, right next to my cell, and have had no problems.

    of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, just hasn’t to me yet.

  • TL cards don’t demagnetize. But be aware that if you also carry a proximity card or one of those debit/credit cards with RFID technology (e.g. “PayPass”), the TL readers will have trouble. When using the card, keep it separate from your RFID cards or use a separate pass sleeve.

    • Devin

      This will vary with the cards. There’s no technical reason multiple RFID chips can’t be carried together if they actuate on different frequencies, and the current free-for-all in RFID standardization coupled with the reasonably broad bands available leaves plenty of room. Indeed some RFID systems are designed to deliberately have many chips responding to a reader on the same frequency, such as when scanning the RFID tags from an entire pallet of items being shipped to a retailer.

      I tend to have 3-4 RFID-embedded cards in my wallet at any given time, and translink readers do just fine; response time and error rate are the same whether the card is in the wallet with the others or in my hand against the reader.

  • JC

    Yup. As someone who manages to demagnetize his Fast Pass about every other month, I’ve never had a problem with Translink (which I use for GG Ferry and BART)….when are the cable cars going to start taking them? Once that switch happens, I’m ditching the paper/magnetic pass completely.

    • I’m keeping my eye out on the TransLink management meetings (open to the public) and there’s no word on Cable Car availability.

      What I do know is Muni will transition the “A” pass in August to TL.

      • JC

        Interesting. As an “A” pass holder who currently uses it frequently on cable cars, and given that one of MUNI’s $$$ raising schemes is to require an “A” pass to ride the cable car without paying more, one hopes that they have it worked out by then.

  • Gary

    I do have to re-tag my TransLink card quite a bit; it seems one tag is never enough. Where the real issue will slow you down is when you get a fare inspector: they have to find their reader, sometimes boot it up, and then eventually verify your fare was paid.

    • I agree about the slowness of the fare inspector’s readers, and they are bulky. A rival RFID transit card company found a great solution by using a compact cell phone by Nokia to read cards quickly.

      • Edmund

        Ha! That is assuming the fare inspector actually stops being lazy and busts out the portable TL reader. So far it’s 5-zip in my favor in the past two weeks where the inspectors boarded the vehicle I was in and waved me by after seeing the TL without using the reader to verify that I had tagged and paid for my fare properly.

  • Tony

    They don’t de-magnetize but mine suddenly stopped working a few weeks ago. I’ve had it since Summer 09, and I did not bend/break the card or punch any holes in it.

    After calling TL, I was told I could either send it in to “be analyzed” for defects and receive a new one within a few days or buy a new card and have the balance transferred.

    Since the representative assured me I would receive the replacement within a few days max, I decided to send it in. After nearly 2.5 weeks, I’ve finally received my replacement card.

    I’m mentioning this to simply highlight how awful and slow TL customer service and operations are. I mean, you can’t even view your usage or balance online, and it takes up to 72 hours for money to show up in your account. Seriously one of the worse smart card systems ever set-up considering all the delays and costs that went into getting it off the ground.

    And MTC planning on spending $500,000 to “re-brand” the card to Clipper when it really should go to bettering TL operations or closing the ridiculous budget gaps! (

    • Tony, here’s the answer to the 72 hour policy: (It’s funny that TL folks on facebook refer to my blog entry)

      In brief, just do your card transactions at an automated machine or an authorized vendor like many local Walgreens. You get your funds and passes instantly.

    • Jenny

      Translink is completely useless in the customer service department. Mine stopped working suddenly too…no damage to it. They thought maybe the airport security x-rays did something. They didnt know. There was no explanation. Customer serivce is slow, not terribly bright, and misinformed me a few times as to what my rights were concerning refunds on pre-tax commuter money that had been loaded onto my TL card. It happened two weeks ago, and they still can’t fix my account for me.

  • I use the similar (but vastly superior) Oyster card system in London and I have no problems with interference or demagnetization. I usually ram it into the back of an over-stuffed wallet with my University ID and keycard and the thing is still recognized.

    I’ve had some experience with Translink and with Oyster and can I just say San Francisco. You’re doing it wrong. Oyster should be the absolute bench-mark. I’ve been using it for 2 years now without any problems and I can use it on the bus, train, tube, tram and now even on the riverboat services. Take some lessons from TfL.

  • leader desslok

    San Francisco can do MUCH better than Oyster. How about the original system, the Hong Kong MTR Octopus Card? Not only does it work on every mode of transport, convenience store, fast food restaurants, parking meters and the like, it makes money and is profitable! Of course, it’s run by a private corporation and is very efficient.

    You don’t need to register and give away all your financial information to get a card, like TransLink makes you do, you buy the card over the counter. If you want to do automatic refill, you register and if you want to do cash, you don’t have to register. Asia has been doing this for years with no problems, whether it’s called Octopus, EZ-Link, Touch
    & Go, Suica, Passimo or Shanghai Public Transportation Card.

    • With the new Barclaycard one-touch you can intergrate your Oyster card into a credit card and swipe it in sandwich shops and newsagents and stuff like this to quickly pay for purchases under £10.

      With a regular Oyster card you just pay a £3 refundable deposit and there’s no need to register it, of course I registered mine to get my student discount put on and have the balance protected and also to get auto top-up put on.

  • Mikhail

    I’m not sure if this is a demagnetizing issue, but quite often my card just won’t work. The gates at BART are especially problematic.

    • Mikhail: Are you sure you’re holding your card against the reader long enough for it to register? That was something I had to get used to when I got my card. If you are, I’d suggest contacting TransLink and letting them know you have a faulty card. Click here for TL Customer Support.

  • Wayne

    Hi there,
    Looking for a TransLink card for collection purposes if anyone has one that they are willing to part with. Thank you!

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