Muni to Ditch Paper for Plastic

New electronic transit card system tookyears to launch, still has problems

By Jackson West
|  Thursday, Aug 13, 2009  |  Updated 2:23 PM PDT
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Muni to Ditch Paper for Plastic

David Lytle

Those TransLink things that have been on Muni vehicles for years? You'll actually get to use them now -- when they work.

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You may have noticed the plastic bubble on Muni vehicles near the back door for years and wondered if the devices hadn't been deposited by some alien life form.

At least, that's one explanation you might have come up with for the enigma wrapped in a riddle and then wrapped in a mystery known as the TransLink system.

For years, the baubles have quietly displayed meaningless LCD readouts to Muni passengers, but as soon as next year, regular riders who buy a monthly Fast Pass will have to get a TransLink card.

The problem is that the system still doesn't quite work, as agencies admit. Users of the passes are told to keep cash fares on hand just in case.

BART is the most recent agency to approve the system, even while its director suggests that he'd rather have people paying with mobile devices.

Assuming the Board of Supervisors approve the deal, TransLink checkpoints will start replacing all existing fare stations on Muni light rail next year.

Get ready for a bumpy ride. But then, if you take Muni, you're probably used to it by now.

Photo by David Lytle.

Jackson West hopes beyond hope that this ends well, but wouldn't bet on it.

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