Using Translink as Proof of Payment

TransLink Card - BART
Photo by Agent Akit

We’ve gotten a few complaints in the Muni Diaries inbox about using TransLink as proof of payment. If you haven’t heard, you can get free Translink cards starting today at select locations – yes, adults too. See details here.

Now, onto the inbox. I hope you won’t be running into these issues using your brand new Translink card…

Rider Deng-Kai entered the Powell station using a TransLink card and walked back upstairs to ask the station agent when the next N is coming. Upstairs, a fare inspector asked for proof of payment:

I flash my TransLink card in the air as I walk towards the booth and say, “I’m just going to ask the station agent a question.”

Fare inspector walks over to me, ask me for POP, I show my TransLink card again while I’m asking the station agent about the next train and complaining that the predictions are totally wrong. At no time does he scan my card even though I tell him to in order to properly show my POP.

I walk away muttering under my great, “God Muni sucks” Fare inspector walks over to me and says, “What did you just say to me?” I say back, “I didn’t say anything to you.” He says, “Are you giving me attitude?” I calmly say, “No, I’m not giving you attitude” He’s in my face now and starts saying stuff like, “Well if you give me attitude I can give it right back to you” and “You think you can mess with me, huh?” I don’t say anything. Then he says, “You know what, I’m going to write you up.” I ask what for and he says, failure to display POP. I contest it and refuse to sign the citation but he still gives it to me.

Separately, rider Katy asked:

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?).

Katy’s TransLink card did not work but she didn’t have cash at the time and was about to be late for work. She was given a $75 citation at the Montgomery station when fare inspectors checked for proof of payment. She details her expense:

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.

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 checked with SFMTA: to use TransLink as proof of payment, fare inspectors need to swipe it to check the time.

Here are a few ways to protest your citation. Katy, let us know if you’re successful in protesting the citation?

And about the $5 TransLink card fee? Typically you can get the TransLink card without the $5 if you buy it online and sign up for the Autoload option (where TransLink automatically loads your card with the amount you specify if your TransLink card dips below $10.) But if you missed the beginning of the post, you can get a free card on select dates starting today to April 30 (check SFMTA’s page for exact time and location).


  • Katy’s complaint doesn’t give a clear picture of how the problem unfolded. How did she know her card was “defective?” Did she attempt to tag the card upon entry of the fare gate or the vehicle?

    As for Deng-Kai, ask TransLink for a card history report (do it online) and you’ll get proof of your transaction. Then use that documentation and shove it up the SFMTA’s ass.

  • I was on an inbound 71 a few weeks ago and fare inspectors came on, looked at my card without scanning it, and let me go. Other passengers were ticketed, one was even detained.

    • Edmund

      Yeah, this is what typically happens to me when I ride around within the subway. In the entire time I have been using the card (since late December 2008 as a trial tester) only ONCE has an inspector whipped out the portable reader to verify that I had actually tagged for fare payment.

      I mean, what’s the point of spending all this money on a new way to pay fares if the inspectors don’t even use the equipment to verify that a rider properly paid his/her fare? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of being a fare inspector?

  • noah

    Thems the rules. They very clearly say that if the TL card doesn’t work for any reason, you have to pay cash. Annoying that it didn’t work, I admit, but you’re not required to rely on TL.

    This is why I think the March Against Muni people are nuts to demand no more paper Muni Pass.

  • Jeff

    Deng-Kai absolutely copped an attitude by waving the card at the inspector, talking (and complaining) to the agent while still ignoring the inspector, and topping it off with the “God Muni sucks” comment. Which begs the quesion: is this account of events fair in any way? Sounds like the inspector’s buttons were thoroughly pushed. Regardless, TransLink records should show proof of payment if it was used, so it will just be a (deserved, IMO) hassle to get it tossed.

    • JimmyD

      Buttons pushed or not… the inspector NEEDS to remain professional.
      I’m snapped off at them… after having to show my Fast Pass FOUR times between Castro and Powell. First when I used my card to gain access, then again by an inspector on the train, followed by another inspector as I left the train. When the inspector at the top of the escalator asked me for it? I told him off. I don’t wear it on a lanyard around my neck. I keep it in my wallet. Removing it is a pain in the ass. Having JUST DONE SO not a minute earlier, I was annoyed. Don’t tell me Upstairs guy didn’t know about Downstairs guy.

      They’re busy but so am I. I think MUNI security should listen to some of these complaints/incidents. I’m all for trying to work these things out.

  • Sara

    There’s just no way I’m going to switch to Translink right now given that every time I see someone try to use the card on Muni it fails to work. I don’t know if that is due to defective cards or defective machines, but it happens too often and too consistently. Are they really sure this system is ready to roll out?

    • It’s not really that it “fails to work” a lot of people who try it for the first time; it’s because they don’t have the patience when using the card. Many just do a quick tap, and that always results in error messages. Average transaction is about 1.5 seconds, but most errors are because they hold it for less than half a second. The standard procedure that works every time is the card must be held to the sensor and held steady until the green light and single beep is given.

      As for “defective cards,” it all depends on how a person treats their card. My card is at least six years old and works fine because I treat it like it’s fragile.

      One big warning, never punch a hole in the card. The antenna surrounds the entire length and width of the TL card and damaging the antenna ends the card’s life. Always use a pass/credit card sleeve.

  • Erik

    The only time it hasn’t worked on Muni for me is when the machines are turned off. Usually people having problems are waving the card over the reader when they are supposed to hold it still against the thing until it beeps.

  • Alex

    I have never been given a citation because my TL card (or the reader) wasn’t working. In fact the last time I had my “proof” of payment checked, the pop cop laughed as I reached for my TL card and didn’t even slow her walk. Sure the pop cops can check your transaction history on your card… but that takes even more effort than simply tagging it to get the is the fare valid? YES/NO prompt. If you want to avoid paying for the ride, just get a TransLink card and never tag it.

    As far as registering transactions, I tried to buy a FastPass online with my WageWorks debit card. Turns out if you buy those things online they can take 72+ hours to post to your card. If you buy them at the kiosk, they should post immediately(!). I called to whinge and was given a credit for the amount of money I expected to spend until the pass would post. I was told to call back if it still wasn’t working in however many days.

    My CAPTCHA: paid rubdown.

  • muni_lover

    My question is this:
    If a fare box is out of service, drivers give out transfers for free to riders who go up to pay so they dont pay a price of a fare inpector’s citation because of a Muni f-up. Why then do they not give a transfer to T-link users who encounter a reader that’s broken? Aren’t they as well-intended as the other cash payers who face a broken fare box? Shouldn’t they be afforded the same generosity from Muni when suffering a similar inconvenience? Or, is the fact that the fare box is working when the T-link is out supercede all and require payment anyway? What do you all here think?

  • Summer

    I’ve had my Translink card for almost a year now, and I’ve never had a problem using it as POP. The only times I was asked for POP were in the underground stations, Powell and Montgomery, and once the officer swiped it and thanked me, and the other time, the officer’s tricorder thing was broken and couldn’t verify anything other than that I had a card, so she sent me on my way with a smile.

    The biggest problems with Translink are the huge delay between depositing funds and when they become available (72 hours? really?) and the very frequent outages of the readers on the buses around town. Otherwise, I love it and use it for Muni, BART, and CalTrain.

    Oh and renaming the whole service to Clipper at a cost of half a mil is just insanely ridiculous. OMG.

  • Sus

    Considering how many problems this card seems to have, the fact that I’d have to pay $5 to get the card and that it doesn’t allow for commuter check purchases at this time (unless I find a random Walgreens that can load it on there, thereby not saving me time at all), there is no way in hell I’m getting a translink card. If these are still issues if/when Muni decides to transition all passes to translink, I’m cancelling the commuter check and paying cash – if I take too long to get on the bus because of it, oh well.

    1.5 seconds is a long time during peak periods, and it’s way faster to wave the pass and go straight through.

    • eugenia

      Sus, you can actually get a translink card for free (see the links in the post) starting yesterday and continue to April 30.

      • Sus

        Thanks for the clarification, Eugenia, good to know. I’ll retract my whiny $5 charge comment (even though the currently listed locations are nowhere near places I work or live, grumble grumble). :]

        @Akit, I hear you about the cash payers and agree to an extent, but to me it sounds like the issues that are currently happening with Translink are far more irritating. Unfortunately I do not have the option of the CC debit card at this time, and am not sure it will be an option by the time this is rolled out. Also, with the location of the translink readers being located where they are at the front on buses, it will still take just as long as it does now to get on. I guess the upside is the current delays that happen to paper fast pass holders due to translink users swiping their fare would become non-existent.

        Did I mention it’s raining and I’m not wearing rainboots today? Grumble, grumble, whine…

    • It’s better than the 5 seconds of the penny pinchers who pay in cash or change. Some realize they don’t ride enough to make-up the value of a pass, so cash paying customers hold-up the buses.

      TL cards can accept Commuter Checks. TL reps told me the paper vouchers are accepted at all Walgreens locations and transit agency ticket offices. If you choose the CC debit card, you can use it at the TL automated machines and the TL website.

  • Schtu

    My Translink experience as been great with one exception. I did have my first card fail and the gate agent gave me a free ride and a link to the translink number to call. I too had to send my card back and wait a week for a new one. That is unacceptable. As far as POP goes, I have been checked probably 5 times and each time except once, the inspector either swiped my card on a mobile reader it tagged it on the one on the bus to check it’s status.

  • A

    I’ve had the TL card for 8 or 9 months now and I’ve only experienced a few times where I had issues. Same as previous comments I’ve only had a POP cop scan it ONCE out of the 10+ times I’ve been checked. Most of them just glaze over yo once they see it.

    As for the issues with the readers – there’s been a few times on the N when the reader was either turned off or gave an error. If it was on, most of the time a second tag worked successfully.

    People really need to pick better things to whine about. TL functions far better than everything else MUNI-related.

  • Robert

    Trans Link keeps a record. The cops use it to prove they rode the bus as required. Protest this bitch.

  • The other day I used the card on the first bus and it deducted by $2. When I got to my transfer bus, the scanner hadn’t been working all day, according to the driver. He told me I had to pay $2. cash or I’d have to get off the bus. I went ahead and paid but I don’t understand Muni’s policy on this. Should I have had to pay $4. for a trip within the transfer period allowed by Muni? Is it my fault that their crappy equipment doesn’t work? What is the actual Muni policy in this situation? Shouldn’t the driver have just let me ride without paying? Does Muni have a policy for this situation?

    • I think that second driver was wrong to make you pay. At that point, it should’ve became a PoP issue, and you’re right: You shouldn’t have to pay extra money when the equipment is broken. But, from pouring over TransLink’s FAQs, there’s this: “Unfortunately, transit agencies cannot give free rides when a TransLink card doesn’t work.” Shitty, but there you go.

Leave a Reply to JimmyD Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *