Paper Muni Fast Pass Ends This October

February 1981 Fast Pass
Photo by Steve Rhodes

Rumors of “no more paper Fast Passes” have been flying around on Twitter. We knew it was coming (thanks to SFAppeal’s Chris Roberts) but we hadn’t heard about any official date from SFMTA until this week, when we found an announcement on SFMTA’s purchasing page:

The SFMTA is moving to TransLink! Online sales of monthly paper passes will end after June 22, 2010 (July pass sales period)

June 22, as in, less than two weeks from now?

We emailed SFMTA and talked to spokesperson Murray Bond. Here’s the skinny:

The last day to purchase monthly paper Fast Passes online at is June 22. They can also be purchased online at through June 16 and thereafter at Clippercard.comThe paper passes will be phased out in October and customers must load them on a Clipper card beginning November 1.

You’ll need a Translink/Clipper card before November 1. To get one, see SFMTA’s site for a list of TransLink/Clipper card giveaways. If you don’t get the card at one of these giveaways, the cards are $5 (unless you choose the Autoload option).

If you use Wage Works, CommuterCheck, or some other employer-benefit system to buy your pass, you’ll need to tell your employer-benefit system to start loading your Fast Pass onto your Clipper Card before November 1.

Translink is changing its name to Clipper on June 16.

So, there it is. There will be no more paper Fast Passes after October 2010. A long, colorful era will come to an end.

More questions? Translink’s FAQ has some good answers. We’re sure many Muni Diaries readers will offer further nuggets of advice here, so have at it in comments, please.

Here’s a look at Fast Passes through the years (photos after the jump).

February 1978
February 1978 Muni Fast Pass (Front)
Photo by Troy Holden

June 1991
Muni Fast Pass from 1991
Photo by sbfisher

May 1996
Muni bus pass from May, 1996
Photo by size8jeans

December 2007
flickr-ish colors
Photo by cbcastro

John Kuzich's Fast Pass art at the DeYoung through Sunday, August 30
Photo by Steve Rhodes
For more photos of John Kuzich’s Fast Pass exhibit at the DeYoung from summer 2009, see Flickr.

December 2009
Adult Fast Pass - Dec 09
Photo by Trevor H

January 2010
In response to Trevor H
Photo by spieri_sf

and who can forget, from Muni Diaries Live: Under the Influence, former SFMTA spokesperson Judson True as August 2005
Judson True
Photo by Troy Holden

Special thanks to Akit for all his diligent reporting on this and many other Muni-related matters.


  • While this might help make people who fare hop actually pay (or not), I think this is going to be a pain. It will take buses and trains longer to load because everyone is going to need to swipe their cards before they settle in.

  • We should start placing bets on whether or not this actually happens.

  • I’d expect Muni to not sell them online anyway. It’s not a popular option since they started charging a $2.50 surcharge per purchase, and at the end of this month, there will be no place to buy a paper pass with a credit card in our city.

    I mentioned in my blog in February based on the meeting notes from the TransLink director/board that:
    “SFMTA/Muni “is willing to confirm a transition date for the Adult BART/Muni Monthly pass of June 30, 2010…” however due to the transition of TL to Clipper, the transition date is suggested to change to August 1, 2010.”

    I don’t think they’ll wipe away the “M” paper pass yet. Based on this Muni Diaries article, typically when they mean “Fast Pass,” they usually mean the “A” pass.

  • mikesonn

    I personally don’t like this because my wife and I share her fast pass. She usually walked (now she bikes) to work but having a fast pass in the house was always nice for days I couldn’t bike or needed to haul luggage for a flight. The paper pass could easily be exchanged between the two of us. Now I’ll have my Translink with Caltrain on it, and she’ll have a Translink with MUNI on it.

    MTA has to funnel our money into the hands of consultants somehow.

    • lovescats789

      The one translink card works (or will eventually work) on every public transport system, bart, muni, caltrain, ac transit, and I think even samtrans. It’s meant to replace all paper. I use my husband’s all the time, no problem. My one complaint is really minor. I like the current name; they are renaming it the clipper card.

    • Mike

      Mikesonn, I have two Translink cards (don’t ask), and I just put a little label on the back of each card so I can remember which one has my Caltrain pass on it. The older one is getting a little flaky and I think it will be retired soon.

  • I’ve used Boston’s Charlie Card and it’s a great system, not sure how close it is to Translink/Clipper. It does seem that it will slow things down a bit… Right now I just flash my fast pass to the driver, and done.
    Also, I won’t be able to give people my old fast passes (still good for a couple of days in the new month) any more.
    I’ll miss the colorful passes. Sucks I just recycled about 5 months’ worth.

  • Cori

    Isn’t this going to up the cost of transit? $2 per ride, 2 rides per day, 5 days a week, for a month would cost at minimum $80. Are they planning on having the ‘Clipper’ be the same as a fast pass at $60 a month unlimited rides, or making us have $2 deducted for an account for every ride? This is ridiculous.

    • No, Fast Passes will still be available ($70 for A, which also works on BART within SF city limits; $60 for B, which is Muni-only). After October, they will be loaded onto Clipper/TransLink cards. That’s why we’re encouraging everyone to get a card asap. Here’s the link for free card giveaways:

      • Cori

        Thanks for elaborating, MUNI seems to be bad at communicating intentions.

      • Sam

        Jeff, will there be a way for Seniors to buy passes on the Clipper for the same price?

        • Hey Sam, the last paper Senior Fast Pass will be January 2011. As of February 2011, Seniors who want Fast Passes will have to have a Clipper card and have the pass loaded onto their card. As of now, that pass will cost what it costs today: $20 per month.

          Akit wrote about this last week. Read his post here.

  • Wait, I have a question: What about the youth passes? I thought they were being phased out in February.

    • According to SFMTA: There is no date for moving the senior/youth/disabled paper Fast Passes over to Clipper yet. Until there is, senior/youth/disabled paper passes will be available, and, I’m guessing, hot art commodities.

  • Sus

    Oh well, I guess I’ll be counting pennies out and cancelling my commuter check as of October – until they work out the obvious glitches that exist and don’t make it so inconvenient to get a free card for those of us who don’t work downtown, I won’t be using translink. Fix the kinks and maybe I’ll give in. Screw it, I should walk more anyway.

  • Seal

    Currently the transfer period is 2 hours. But the Tanslink site says the tranfer period is 90 minutes.
    It appears that MUNI is surreptitiously trying to cut down the transfer time.

  • Beth

    In October of 2005, I moved to San Francisco for a job. Sadly, finding an apartment in San Francisco proved to be next to impossible, and I was resigned to *shudder* Daly City. During that time, I bought “BART Plus” passes just so I could have a pass that worked on both BART and Muni. I can’t remember how much that cost at time, but I do remember that the Fast Pass only cost $45 (and that included BART!) Yes, I realize that is exclusive to San Francisco, but I so rarely wanted to be anywhere else that I didn’t mind.

    Come August 2006, I finally scored a beautiful apartment in Noe Valley (where I still live today) with a friend, and have not only bought a paper fast pass every month, but have saved each and every one.

    Translink cards simply have no place in my scrapbook.

    Autoload also makes me nervous, and the paranoid conspiracy theorist in me thinks it is far more convenient for the government to track where you’ve been than it is for you.

  • A

    If anyone has a stack of old Fast Passes they don’t care to hang on to – please contact me here:

    I’d like them for an art project.

    As for my 2 cents: I do think it’ll slow down things on the buses unless they OK people to tag in the back…. but that will open up opportunity for people to sneak on w.out paying as well.

    The train stations should be cool if every turnstile functions and all train car taggers are operational. Not quite sure what they’ll do on the days when the system goes down (as has happened several times in the last year I’ve owned my Translink card). Clipper better be prepared to handle the load of users!

  • Doitagain

    It seems every single day when im on Muni, the cards don’t work for some people and they have to stop and talk to the bus driver, holding up the line. I saw one driver make a person pay the $2 fee because the card wouldn’t scan in. Im very frustrated with Muni right now. It will slow everything down, and if people are scanning in on the rear of the bus, people will be able to get on without paying.

  • Seven

    So if I carry 3 paper Fast Passes, will Muni treat that as the equivalent of 1 adult “M” Fast Pass?

  • etthekid

    When October does come around, it will be both a sad day (for all those that find the old fast passes as both means of traveling, and as artwork), also it will also be an annoying day, because when Translink/Clipper goes full time, there will be problems. At this point, maybe half of the transponding devices on the buses/trains, are fully operational. In fact today alone, on the M Shuttle Bus I saw the device go from operational to out of order/turned off. I’m starting to doubt that MUNI will have this system properly functional by October/November.

  • Seven

    That was meant to be “3 paper Senior Fast Passes”.

  • JL

    Like others, I’ve often seen the cards/scanners not work. I’m wondering if they’re counting on people having to pay double (for the digital fast pass and then occasionally in cash when the card doesn’t work)? I wouldn’t put it past them. I also wonder what this will do to the already 8.1 mph ride?

  • J Dims

    How will this work for those of us who use our fast pass to ride a cable car to work?

  • EMo

    Been using Translink since May 1. Two MAJOR problems with Fastpasses:

    1) Fastpass does not reload until Muni grace period runs out on the 4th. Therefore need to use e-cash or a BART card to ride BART in the city from the 1st-3rd.

    2) Cable car readers do not show Fastpass when you also have e-cash (e.g., for riding BART to the airport). Need to argue with conductor and carry receipts, in which case you might still get thrown off. Been trying to resolve this for 5 weeks but conductors blame readers, Translink blames conductors, and Muni tells you to call Translink. Has led to a lot of hostility between commuters and conductors since they hate having to use the machines already.

    I am looking forward to the switch since Muni/Translink may listen to me once hundreds more people start to have the same problem. In the meantime I am going out of my way to ride buses or just drive to work.

    • To answer your first question/issue about the 3-day grace period and BART access, let me refer you to an old posting on my blog from last October:

      • EMo

        I am not sure I understand your comment, but perhaps you had a different experience. BART did not recognize the Fastpass on June 1-3 and I had to use e-cash to ride. On the 4th, the June Fastpass loaded automatically and I was able to ride BART for free again. The Translink customer service rep said she had heard about this issue before so perhaps it will be fixed for July.

        • I suggest demanding compensation since you have a valid pass for June that gives you the right to free rides on BART starting the 1st of the month.

  • Mike

    I’ve used Translink for several months now, and it appears that bad decisions have been made at every point in the project management and decision making process of this system, and now this horrible idea. I’m sure someone thinks it will save money, which it would in an ideal world where the readers consistently worked, and still might work if, as others have suggested, they intend to force riders to pay cash when the readers are down. As others have said, this forcing everyone to go over to the cards will S-L-O-W everyone down even more– I feel guilty and dread having to use my card because I have to swipe it so many times to get it to read. Finally, the website. As a professional web engineer for over ten years, and a programmer for almost 30 years, I would never, ever, ever release that site for production use. About two months ago I requested a transaction history request and the system said it would be emailed. It didn’t arrive, so I gave up on it because my expectations from the website were so low at that point that nothing surprised me. But I did get a surprise! WEEKS later, it finally arrived in my email. Last week I tried for several days to check my balance, and kept getting a zero balance report, even though I knew the card has had over $20 on it for months. Wankers.

    • Mike, since April 23rd, the history report process is automated and provides a PDF instantly on your web browser without the need to wait for an e-mail.
      Refer to:

      Lastly, please don’t “swipe” your card. The system was made to hold the card steady over the reader and then remove after receiving the green light. Moving the card while scanning, quickly tapping the card, and the swipe motion will cause the reader to respond negatively.
      Refer to one of my videos:

      • Mike

        I appreciate your feedback. I used the term “swipe” colloquially. Words that have a formal meaning may also have a colloquial meaning that, while technically incorrect, is recognizable due to common usage. I know how RFID works, and don’t get me started on that technology. And if you don’t like the term “swiping” you may want to offer an alternative, since it appears to be a pretty popular description for the action, like in this SFist article:

        Where they estimate that the readers fail about 30% of the time for their “swipes”.

        As for the PDF issue, you miss the point. The website, whether we are discussing the old Translink or the new Clipper, is a completely unreliable. I tried to access it a few days ago and it aborted on me every single time. ABORTED. A second ago I tried to check the value on my card and it gave me the old “No Products available” (sic) message, but did give me the PDF of my trip history. So, I have no card but I’ve used one, and it has $22 on it according to the trip history. WTF? Plus, all of the other problems are still in play about readers, balances, 72 hours, blah, blah, blah.

  • Beth

    Yeah, well, now that they’re Clipper, it’s much better… this is what I see when I try to check my balance! 😀

    The other day, my “ride history” showed that I rode Muni. Not which line, not what stop, just that I rode Muni. Thanks, that is really useful. If someone steals my Translink card, I will at least know that they used it to ride Muni. My conspiracy-theory-style paranoia about being tracked was unwarranted after all!

    • Mike

      Your comment reminded me of a recent interview, I think it was with Stephen Fry, and when the subject meandered to government conspiracies he said that he found it incredibly hard to believe in them, since he had gone to school with several people that had high positions in government now, and none of them were capable of even keeping their sex lives private, yet alone a government conspiracy.

    • CopperJet

      Sorry Beth, I think you are naive to think that just because you logged in and they don’t reveal to you which MUNI line you took and the times/stops you got on/off doesn’t mean they don’t STORE the information and can’t retrieve it if they WANT to.

      I am really annoyed at the potential intrusion into my privacy.

      • Beth

        Oh, trust me, I was being a bit sarcastic / facetious there. You’re talking to someone who still isn’t fully convinced that social networking websites aren’t solely fronts for getting people to readily give up information in the interest of power ? control and is concerned about the possible ramifications of using any Google product in the event of a fascist government takeover.

        • CopperJet

          Ah. I see. Well I think a little paranoia is a good thing. Maybe the government isn’t competent enough to track our every move, but the corporations they are hiring to take over public services ARE. They have a motive to add to the simple desire to be in CONTROL. It is called PROFIT. Although it is non-profit right now and is run by MTC, there is no guarantee that it will remain a non-profit.

          I don’t see a real Privacy policy posted anywhere on their website, nor any detailed information about how much information they gather and store. They have a confidentiality clause (14) in the Terms and Conditions, but it does not contain a real Privacy statement.

          It looks like I will be forced to buy one of these things. I will go kicking & screaming.

  • Coop

    What’s the story with the paper Lifeline passes?

    I’m poor (and patient) enough to stand in the long lines of elderly Chinese ladies every month to get one, and hopefully this isn’t a foreshadow of their demise. The passes are already shamefully under-publicized, and for 30bucks a month on a student income, I gladly stand in the lines. The L-pass public-education and procurement options are horrendous, and the process needs to be examined before SFMTA says that not enough people are buying the pass, then pulling the plug.

    I haven’t heard anything about ’em being loaded onto Clipper, so hopefully SFMTA doesn’t quietly scrap the Lifeline pass… which truly is a lifeline to the working poor.

    • Thanks for the comment. I just spoke with an SFMTA representative, who said there aren’t concrete dates for the phasing out of the Lifeline pass. It’s going to happen at some point, but, in MTA’s words, “it’s a different beast altogether.” As soon as Muni Diaries gets more specific information, we’ll report it. If you hear anything concrete, please let us know.

    • Beth

      Sounds like a classic case of “war on the poor” if you ask me…

  • EMo

    Updates to my previous post:

    1) From what I can tell after two calls to Clipper this week, it sounds like they still have not addressed the problem with the Muni grace period and BART. So if you had a Fastpass on your Translink/Clipper card in June, be prepared to pay out-of-pocket to ride BART on July 1-3 until the Fastpass reloads on the 4th. (Clipper does not seem to appreciate that this is a big issue, so maybe more calls from others will encourage them to fix this before August.)

    2) Some cable car conductors now understand how to use the reader when the card has both a Fastpass and e-cash, but others will still insist there is no Fastpass and will try to throw you off. For July I have moved the two products to two different Clipper cards as a work around.

  • Elsie

    I don’t understand why this has not been publicized. The only reason I ever heard of the clipper card is from reading Muni Diaries! And my Sweetie, who rides everyday, heard it from me.

    I know he had trouble figuring out how to set it up, which makes me wonder how older people are going to deal with this.

    Also, the last two days, even though his account shows it’s paid when he checked online, on the bus it says he has nothing on it. He doesn’t pay again, why should he? He keeps it along with his receipt and wonders it he’s going to have to go to court to fight a ticket from a fare inspector.

  • Sam

    I don’t see the big deal with the switch. Yes, it was cool to get different colors every month and try to guess what it may be.

    I just got the Clipper Card in the mail and loaded my Monthly Fast Pass on it. I love it. It doesn’t bend like the paper one and it is easy to just run along the beeper thingy.

    How is this a “war on the poor”? Pay your $2 fee and… voila!

    Also, if you want to find out something that is going on, you usually have to go and look for it yourself. Don’t expect answers to be handed out on your lap. Look it up! Research! Ask questions–quit acting like a victim. My 2 ¢.

    I like the idea of the Clipper Card and it has not cause me any problems–as of yet.

    I do have one question…What if it is lost or stolen, can you get a new one with your balance on the same card? I mean, your info and account has proof that you bought one with the balance. Just a thought, and really much better situation than losing a paper Fast Pass.

    Quite whining! 🙂

    • Sam

      ooops–“quit”! bahaha jokes on me!

    • Beth

      “How is this a ‘war on the poor’?”

      I was not referring to those of us (including me) who currently pay $70/month for a Fast Pass; I was responding to Coop’s concern regarding the elimination of Lifeline passes.

      On a separate note, many of the comments on this post were about the glitches and failures of the new system. I have yet to experience any, but, let’s say there is some sort of problem with the card readers one day, and you don’t have $2 on hand. At that point you are at risk of being fined “up to $500”, and an additional $250 if you cannot pay that (oh, the inherit irony of such rules).

      I, personally, am all for Clipper/Translink in theory. I just wanted to comment on its existing shortcomings as well.

    • EMo

      Based on my experience switching from a Translink card to a Clipper card, you should be able to replace your card and keep the balance but the process may take several days since their system updates infrequently. You will probably need to:

      1) Call to have your lost card blocked and wait for system to update
      2) The next day, call to have the funds transferred to the new card
      3) Wait another 24-72 hours until the transfer is posted and you can use the card again

      (I have no idea why it should take up to 72 hrs for a balance to post since withdrawals post quickly, but whatever…)

      This assumes you can find a replacement card somewhere. Add several more days if they need to mail one to you.

      • Also, just for the record, TransLink cardholders are not required to get a new Clipper card. Their TransLink cards will still work. Mine does. Read this about the switch from TransLink to Clipper.

        • EMo

          You are correct that the Translink pass still works. However, I transferred my e-cash and Fastpass to two separate Clipper cards this month to try to make it easier on the cable car conductors who have trouble dealing with cards that have multiple products. That potential work-around cost me 3.5 days of being without a card and $5 (since I did not yet have autoload set up on one of the new cards). Despite all that, I still needed to show the conductor what button to press to make his reader show the Fastpass.

  • newreba

    a question? i’ve been looking around this particular thread but haven’t found an answer to my question. Is the simple possession of a Clipper card proof of payment? I’m thinking about the underground and the fare inspectors.

    • Elsie

      No it’s not. Clipper’s official statement is that you need to bring cash for fare in case the card doesn’t work. The fare inspectors have handheld readers, and if your card is having issues, you’re screwed.

    • Beth

      No, possession of a Clipper card alone does not equate to a proof of payment — the card has to have a sufficient balance and be successfully tagged beforehand. The fare inspectors use handheld readers to verify proof of payment.

    • Elsie and Beth are right. This link goes over some of the details, but basically:

      If you have a Fast Pass on your Clipper card
      – always tag your card when you board a Muni vehicle. At Metro stations, you must use the card the card to get through the turnstiles.

      If you have e-cash on your Clipper card
      – same thing, tag your card when you board Muni or enter stations at the turnstile.

      The point is, when/if fare inspectors ask for your card, it is proof of payment as long as it was tagged.

      If you have Fast Pass on your card, don’t tag for whatever reason, and are asked for PoP, well, that’s a weird situation. I suppose they could give you trouble for not tagging, but they certainly couldn’t give you a citation.

  • Lifelong MUNI Rider

    Everything has to be fucking digital doesnt it….
    How are elderly and working people who maybe don’t know how to use all this technology type of bullshit going to work this?

    Personally I actually like interacting with the driver when I show ’em my fast pass…

    I’ve been using Lifeline pass for the past 1.5 years and I googled to this site as nobody else has mentioned what’s going to happen with the Lifeline passes either….

    You know SFMTA could have given everybody a heads up in the beginning of the year these were to be phased out…. until like 2 weeks ago… what is that shit?! I didn’t even know about this until 5 minutes ago

    Looks like I’ll have to figure out what the hell is going on and explain this shit to my parents “see this? you gotta tag your card”

    WTF they can’t even use a self-check out or use the ATM

    Im gonna miss the hologram and all those colors… RIP

  • Owned

    America’s “clipper card” is nothing compared to Hong Kong’s “octopus card” their octopus card can be used everywhere – 7-11, bus, metro, etc. etc. Why is it that America is two years behind on everything?! That includes fashion as well. Failed. Thanks, but no need for anyone’s opinion since you’re all failure. You mad?! =)

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