|Location||San Francisco Bay Area|
|Operator||Cubic Transportation Systems|
|Manager||Metropolitan Transportation Commission|
|Currency||USD ($300 maximum load)|
The Clipper card is a reloadable contactless smart card used for electronic transit fare payment in the San Francisco Bay Area. First introduced as TransLink in 2002 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) as a pilot program, it was rebranded in its current form on 16 June 2010.
In 1993, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and County Connection launched a pilot program named Translink (not to be confused with other agencies with that name) that allowed the use of a single fare card between the two systems. The card, which used magnetic stripe technology, was envisioned to one day include all Bay Area transit agencies. However, due to technical problems, the program was abandoned two years later.
Translink had a projected capital cost of $4 million when undertaken in 1993. In its current form, first as TransLink and later as Clipper, implementation was expected to cost $30 million. Cost estimates have since increased; the projected 25-year capital and operations costs are now estimated at $338 million.
Implementation took more than a decade. In 1998, MTC envisioned full availability of TransLink by 2001. However, it was fully operational for only five transit agencies by 2009. As of December 2011, Clipper was only accepted by eight of the Bay Area's transit agencies.
Clipper was developed by Australian-based ERG Group and Motorola under the ERG-Motorola alliance in April 1999. However, upon the launch of Clipper, Cubic Transportation Systems took over administration of distribution, customer service, and financial settlement of the program.
On June 16, 2010, MTC changed the TransLink name to Clipper, an homage to the clipper ships of the 19th century, the fastest way to travel from the East Coast to San Francisco, and eliminated the contact interface which had been used to load funds onto the cards at Translink machines.
In October 2010, the MTC selected 路路通 (Pinyin: Lùlùtōng, the "Go Everywhere Card", lit. "every transit route/line pass") as the official Chinese name for Clipper. In Spanish it is known as "tarjeta Clipper".
Cost of card
Obtaining a card was free from introduction in June 2010 to encourage users to adopt the card, until September 1, 2012 when new adult cards began to cost $3. This charge covers the approximately $2 per card to manufacture and reduces the incentive to throw away the card if the value goes negative when fare is calculated on exit. The $3 fee is waived if the card is registered to auto-load more value (in which case it cannot go negative).
Passengers can add money to their Clipper cards in person ("at participating retailers, participating transit agencies' ticket vending machines and ticket offices, Clipper Customer Service Centers, and Clipper Add Value Machines") at work, automatically, or online. While the money is added immediately in person, it will take 3–5 days before it registers on the Clipper card if added by telephone or online.
Clipper is currently functional for 22 Bay Area transit agencies:
- AC Transit, including Dumbarton Express
- Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)
- County Connection
- Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (Golden Gate Transit and Golden Gate Ferry)
- Marin Transit
- Petaluma Transit
- San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni)
- Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)
- Santa Rosa CityBus
- San Francisco Bay Ferry (except for seasonal and Oracle Park service)
- Sonoma County Transit
- Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART)
- Tri-Delta Transit
- Union City Transit
- Vacaville City Coach
Clipper can also integrate with transportation modes other than public transit. Ford GoBike, a bicycle-sharing system operating in several Bay Area cities, can accept Clipper as a form of payment. Several BART stations have electronic locking bicycle racks that are accessible with Clipper, and the agency also plans to enable Clipper for its secured bicycle lockers. Previously, a few parking garages in the Bay Area accepted Clipper as payment; however this program is discontinued as of September 1, 2017.
Differences between agencies
|Agency||Tag when entering||Payment duration||Tag when exiting||Minimum card balance to enter||Special rules|
|AC Transit||Yes||2 hours||No||$0.01||
|Bay Area Rapid Transit
|Caltrain||Yes||4 hours; 15 minutes to re-tag at the same station to cancel the trip and refund the fare charged to the card||Yes||$1.25||
|County Connection||Yes||1 hour||No||$1.75; $0.75 Senior/Disabled||Not valid on routes 250, 260, or the Alamo Creek Shuttle.|
|Fairfield And Suisun Transit||Yes||1 hour||No||$6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled||FAST does not accept Clipper for Short Hop Fares on SolanoExpress Route 30 and Route 40.|
|Golden Gate Transit||Yes||4 hours||Yes||$0.00||If the passenger does not tag off, the fare from the boarding point to San Francisco or Santa Rosa, whichever is greater, will be charged.|
|Golden Gate Ferry||Yes||N/A||No||$4.25||The passenger tags on (or off, if boarding took place at a terminal (such as Tiburon) without a Clipper reader) at the ferry terminal, not on the ferry. Not valid on the Oracle Park route.|
|Marin Transit||Yes||Unkown||Yes||$4.00||Not accepted on Muir Woods shuttle routes (66/66F).|
|Petaluma Transit||Yes||1 hour||No||$1.50 adult, $1.25 youth, $0.75 senior/disabled||No minimum balance is required when using a 31-day pass.|
|San Francisco Bay Ferry||Yes||Unknown||Yes||$5.10 adult; $3.40 youth, senior/disabled||
|San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni)||Yes||2 hours||No||$2.50 adult; $1.25 discount ||
|Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)||Yes||2 hours||No||$0.01||
|Santa Rosa CityBus||Yes||1 hour||No||$1.50 adult, $1.25 youth, $0.75 senior/disabled||No minimum balance is required when using a 31-day pass.|
|SolTrans||Yes||1 hour||No||$6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled||Local transfers do not exist within the SolTrans system, however transfers between other transit systems are valid 60 minutes after tagging.|
|Sonoma County Transit||Yes||3 hours||Yes||$3 adult, $2.75 youth, $1.50 senior/disabled||
|Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART)||Yes||4 hours||Yes||$3.50; $1.75 Youth, Senior or RTC||No minimum balance is required when using a 31-day pass. Uses a proof-of-payment system as on Caltrain, above.|
|Tri-Delta Transit||Yes||1 hour||No||$1.75; $0.75 Senior/Disabled|
|Union City Transit||Yes||1 hour||No||$0.25||31-day passes are only available on the Clipper card.|
|Vacaville City Coach||Yes||1 hour||No||$6.00, $5.50 Senior/Disabled|
|VINE Transit||Yes||1 hour||No||$6.00, $5.50 Senior/Disabled||
|WestCAT||Yes||1 hour||No||$6.00; $5.50 Senior/Disabled|
|WHEELS||Yes||1 hour||No||$1.75; $0.75 Senior/Disabled|
Clipper utilizes an NXP Semiconductors MIFARE DESFire (MF3ICD40) or MIFARE DESFire EV1 (MF3ICD41) integrated circuit to manufacture the card. The card operates on the 13.56 MHz range putting it into the Near Field Communication category (rather than RFID, as is commonly misconceived). Because the card uses NFC technology, any NFC-enabled device can read the serial number, travel history, and current balance on the card. However, data cannot be written to the card without the proper encryption key, preventing unauthorized access to funds on the card. The former Translink cards, while still functional on the fare system readers, do not conform to MIFARE and are unreadable by 13.56 MHz readers.
Because Clipper operates in multiple geographical areas with sporadic or non-existent internet access, the fare collection and verification technology needs to operate without any networking. To accomplish this, the Clipper card memory keeps track of balance on the card, fares paid, and trip history. Unfortunately, this also means if funds are added to the Clipper account via the internet, funds will not show up on the clipper card until it has been scanned at an internet-enabled (or recently synchronized) device. Buses and other vehicles without internet access will have to return to a service station in order to synchronize with Clipper’s servers. During synchronization, the payment collection device will upload to the server data about any fares collected, and will download information about new account balances. Riders who scan their card at a recently synchronized payment collection device will have their card updated to reflect their true account balance.
The waiting period between synchronizations may cause some cards to report lower funds than are actually on the corresponding Clipper account. In order to alleviate this problem, Clipper allows riders to go as low as −$11.25 on the card before funds need to be added, and/or the card needs to be scanned at an internet-enabled or recently synchronized device.
In 2014, the MTC started an initiative to design the next generation version of the Clipper system, nicknamed "C2" or "Clipper 2.0".  The current contract with Cubic for the existing Clipper system expired in 2019, and the system architecture dates from the 1990s. These factors led the MTC to start developing a next generation system that is planned to begin operation in 2021. The new system will include a mobile app, expected in 2021, that will enable mobile ticketing on the Clipper system. The new system may additionally integrate with additional electronic payment systems such as digital wallets.
In 2017, a request for proposal was issued for the project with proposals due in 2018. Transit advocates such as SPUR have called on the MTC to use the C2 planning as an opportunity to simplify and integrate fares on a regional level to improve the experience for transit customers. The upgrade is funded in part by $50 million from Regional Measure 3, a bridge toll increase approved in June 2018.
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-  VTA. Last accessed on August 7, 2014.
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- Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "Frequently Asked Questions : Future of Clipper". Retrieved 16 June 2018.
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- Metropolitan Transportation Commission (2018). Regional Measure 3 Expenditure Plan (PDF) (Report). Retrieved 16 May 2018.
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