Clipper card

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LocationSan Francisco Bay Area
OperatorCubic Transportation Systems
ManagerMetropolitan Transportation Commission
CurrencyUSD ($300 maximum load)
Stored-valueClipper Cash
Credit expiryNone
Auto rechargeAutoload
  • 22 transit agencies (see below)
  • Youth Clipper Card[1]
  • Senior Clipper Card[1]
  • RTC Clipper Card[1]
  • Limited Use Muni Ticket (Paper)[2]
  • Limited Use Golden Gate Ferry ticket[3]

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.[4]


An Add Value Machine for TransLink/Clipper cards, used to load electronic cash or transit passes.

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.[5] 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.[5]

Translink had a projected capital cost of $4 million when undertaken in 1993.[5] In its current form, first as TransLink and later as Clipper, implementation was expected to cost $30 million.[6] Cost estimates have since increased; the projected 25-year capital and operations costs are now estimated at $338 million.[6]

Implementation took more than a decade. In 1998, MTC envisioned full availability of TransLink by 2001.[7] However, it was fully operational for only five transit agencies by 2009.[8] As of December 2011, Clipper was only accepted by eight of the Bay Area's transit agencies.[9]

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.[10]

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,[11] 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")[12][13] as the official Chinese name for Clipper. In Spanish it is known as "tarjeta Clipper".

The former TransLink card


Cost of card[edit]

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.[14] 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.[15] The $3 fee is waived if the card is registered to auto-load more value (in which case it cannot go negative).[16]

Adding money[edit]

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.[17][18]

Transit agencies[edit]

Clipper is currently functional for 22 Bay Area transit agencies:[9]

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.[21] 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.[22] Previously, a few parking garages in the Bay Area accepted Clipper as payment; however this program is discontinued as of September 1, 2017.

A number of smaller regional transit agencies have not yet joined Clipper, including ACE and Rio Vista Delta Breeze.

Differences between agencies[edit]

Single-fare payment
Agency Tag when entering Payment duration Tag when exiting Minimum card balance to enter Special rules
AC Transit Yes 2 hours No $0.01
  • If traveling locally on a transbay bus, the passenger has to inform the driver of this before tagging their card so that the driver can set the reader to a local fare.
  • AC to BART to AC may be cheaper with paper transfers.
  • Once a passenger has reached $5.00 in fares in one day ($2.50 for discounted fares) a day pass is automatically loaded to the card allowing for unlimited rides the remainder of the day.
Bay Area Rapid Transit


Yes 3 hours Yes $2.00
  • Passengers enter and exit the train platform through a turnstile, at which point they must “tag on” or “tag off” their cards.
  • AC to BART to AC may be cheaper with paper transfers.
  • Muni to BART to Muni transfer results in charging extra Muni fare.
  • If a passenger does have a low balance upon exiting, the passenger must use a nearby “Add-fare” machine to add the remaining balance by tagging the Clipper card at the machine and adding payment before exiting the BART system. The machines only accept cash. The agent may allow passengers to use the ticket machines outside the fare gates to add value with a credit or debit card.
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
  • There are no turnstiles. Passengers “must tag on & tag off for each trip [at] card readers . . . located on platforms except at San Jose (before you head up ramps to platform) and San Francisco (on the concourse).”[18]
  • Caltrain uses a proof-of-payment system: each rider must buy a ticket prior to boarding the train that may or may not be checked during the trip. Passengers who board the train without a valid fare are subject to an administrative fine of $75. Thus Clipper Cards must be “tagged on” prior to boarding the train or the passenger will be subject to the same fines.[18][23][24]
  • Passengers are charged the maximum one-way fare when they tag on prior to boarding the train and the difference is reimbursed when they tag off after leaving the train. If passengers forget to tag off when they exit the train, they will be charged “the highest cash fare from [their] point of origin.”[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.
SamTrans Yes 2 hours No $0.01
  • SamTrans does not issue paper transfers. Fares are good only for the duration of the initial bus ride.
  • Free 2-hour transfers with Clipper card[26]
San Francisco Bay Ferry Yes Unknown Yes $5.10 adult; $3.40 youth, senior/disabled
  • The passenger tags on and off at the ferry terminal, not on the ferry.
  • Not valid on the Oracle Park route.
San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) Yes 2 hours No $2.50 adult; $1.25 discount [27]
  • The passenger needs to re-tag if the 120 minutes expires while they are riding.[28]
  • Muni to BART to Muni transfer results in charging extra Muni fare.
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Yes 2 hours No $0.01
  • Single fare payment counts toward day pass.
  • VTA’s day and monthly passes are only available on Clipper. [29]
  • VTA’s light rail is a proof-of-payment system: Passengers must have a valid ticket (purchased at ticket vending machines) or a valid pass before boarding light rail. Clipper card customers must tag at a Clipper card reader located near ticket vending machines. Passengers without a valid ticket or pass may be fined up to $250.[30]
  • The passenger needs to remember to not tag when transferring to light rail within two hours of the initial payment; tagging when transferring to light rail incurs an additional payment.
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
  • If a person does not tag off, the maximum fare based on five zones will be charged.
  • Clipper card users must exit using the front door of the bus in order to tag off, as none of the buses are equipped with a Clipper card reader at the rear door exit.
  • No minimum balance is required when using a 31-day pass.
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
  • VINE accepts Clipper for payment on Route 29 to BART, but not for Route 29 to the Vallejo Ferry Terminal.
  • Fares are standard for most routes, but fares are higher for routes 21 and 29.
  • Day passes are not accepted on route 29.
  • American Canyon Transit, Calistoga Shuttle, and the St. Helena Shuttle also accept Clipper within the VINE system.
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.[31][32] 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.

Clipper 2.0[edit]

In 2014, the MTC started an initiative to design the next generation version of the Clipper system, nicknamed "C2" or "Clipper 2.0".[33] [34] 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.[35] The new system will include a mobile app, expected in 2021, that will enable mobile ticketing on the Clipper system.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37] The upgrade is funded in part by $50 million from Regional Measure 3, a bridge toll increase approved in June 2018.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Senior, youth and disabled discounts". Clipper card website. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Limited Use Muni Tickets". San Francisco Municipal Railway website. Archived from the original on 13 August 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Clipper on Golden Gate - FAQ". Clipper website. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  4. ^ "TransLink name changes to Clipper on June 16 - SF Ferry Riders".
  5. ^ a b "Metropolitan Transportation Commission Fund Management System". Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Retrieved 19 June 2008. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Bowman, Catherine (15 January 1998). "Multitransit Card Proposed". San Francisco Chronicle.
  7. ^ Gordon, Rachael (27 November 2007). "TransLink backers consider letting people pay for parking with card". San Francisco Chronicle.
  8. ^ a b "Use Clipper". Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Cubic Supports Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Launching ClipperSM Card for San Francisco Bay Area". Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  10. ^ Cabanatuan, Michael (10 February 2010). "Translink, step aside". San Francisco Chronicle.
  11. ^ "ClipperSM Card Grows in Popularity and Reaches Out to Chinese Market". Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Archived from the original on 4 May 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  12. ^ 李秀蘭 (8 October 2010). 公車儲值卡 中文名路路通. World Journal (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  13. ^ "New Clipper Cards to Cost $3". 1 September 2012.
  14. ^ "Clipper Card's Dirty Little Secret (Hint: It Can "Go Negative")". 9 November 2010.
  15. ^ "Get Clipper".
  16. ^ "Use Clipper - Ways to Add Value".
  17. ^ a b c "Clipper".
  18. ^ "Clipper® Expands to Union City Transit". YAHOO Finance. 3 April 2017. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  19. ^ "Clipper Home". Clipper Card. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  20. ^ "Expanded bike share program launches, mom & pop safe for now". KTVU. 28 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  21. ^ "Improvements underway for more secure bicycle parking at BART". 19 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  22. ^ "Ticket Machine".
  23. ^ "How to Ride Step 3 - Pay".
  24. ^ "Clipper on Caltrain - FAQ".
  25. ^ "Free 2-Hour Transfers". Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  26. ^ "Clipper on Muni".
  27. ^ "Single Ride - Adult". SFMTA. 27 April 2017.
  28. ^ "Clipper on VTA - Fares".
  29. ^ [1] VTA. Last accessed on August 7, 2014.
  30. ^ Butler, Eric (7 February 2011). "FareBot: Read data from public transit cards with your NFC-equipped Android phone". Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  31. ^ "Clipper Cards Reveal Travelers’ Whereabouts To Police, Lawyers, Apps". 16 October 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  32. ^ Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "Frequently Asked Questions : Future of Clipper". Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  33. ^ Levin, Adina (17 February 2014). "MTC starts work on Clipper 2.0 – will it fulfill promise of integrated regional fares?". Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  34. ^ a b Cabanatuan, Michael (7 September 2018). "Clipper transit card getting $194 million overhaul — including phone payment app". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  35. ^ "Next Generation Clipper® (C2) Regional Transit Fare Payment System Integrator".
  36. ^ SPUR (4 October 2016). "SPUR Supports Regional Fare Integration for Transit Operators". Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  37. ^ Metropolitan Transportation Commission (2018). Regional Measure 3 Expenditure Plan (PDF) (Report). Retrieved 16 May 2018.

External links[edit]