Big government at work: Bay Area transit card to get mobile phone update at cost of $194 million

by DCG

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) serves as the Bay Area’s transportation planning, coordinating, and financing agency, and oversees the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Riders use a “Clipper” card from MTC to avoid having to pay cash at each transit ride and when they change transit systems (over a dozen agencies accept Clipper cards). Clipper cards were introduced in 2006, just 12 years ago. Apparently the system wasn’t designed with advanced technology in mind even though the area is the hub for innovative technology.

Guess how long the MTC has been working on the Clipper card update (called C2)? FOUR YEARS. And the new card won’t be rolled out until 2021.

Guess how much the C2 update and maintenance will cost? Almost half a BILLION dollars.

No biggie, California government agencies always find more taxpayer monies to fund their ridiculously overpriced projects.

Here’s more details from SF Gate: Clipper, once the whiz-bang smart card that rescued commuters from having to buy a ticket or pay a separate cash fare every time they rode a different transit system — Muni, BART, Caltrain, AC Transit, the ferry and so on — has grown stiff, stodgy and nearly obsolete.

The existing system has been irritating to customers and transit operators alike. Riders often must wait three days or more to add value to their cards and several hours for bus and light-rail rides to be reflected in their balances. Adding new transit agencies to the Clipper system is difficult, and offering special fares or discounts is next to impossible.

So regional transit officials are preparing to overhaul the Bay Area’s universal transit card at a cost of $194 million, plus an additional $266 million to operate and maintain the system for the next 10 years.

The new Clipper system, they said Friday, will allow riders to use their mobile phones to pay fares or add value to their cards. Gone will be the multiple-day waiting period to put more cash on cards online. And the changes will make it easier for transit agencies to offer discounts or special fares.

“What we hope they will notice is that the system works better for them,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which runs the Clipper program. “It’s faster, it’s more convenient, it’s more functional, they can more easily add value or get cards for their whole family.”

The MTC is set to review plans to award a contract for the new card system to Cubic, the lone bidder and current operator, at an Operations Committee meeting Friday. The full commission is expected to vote on the contract at its Sept. 26 meeting.

Cubic will start work on the next generation of Clipper in January if awarded the contract. The mobile app is scheduled to arrive in 2021, with all existing readers and other equipment replaced the same year.

Much like someone deciding to replace an old laptop or smartphone, the commission decided it was time to invest in a new system, Rentschler said.

“We’ve been thinking about upgrading for some time,” he said. “Eventually, you taxpayers have to bite the bullet. We could have kept what we have running. But that would be less effective than upgrading the whole thing. So we decided it was time to just do it.”

Read the whole SF Gate story here.

DCG

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