Defects delay TransLink debut in S.F. 

Muni, BART and Caltrain riders will have to wait a little longer to sign up for the long-awaited TransLink program — expected to allow Bay Area public transportation passengers to use a single card for all of the region’s systems — as bugs found during trial runs with other transit systems are just now being worked out.

Since last November, AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit and Ferry have sent out thousands of the free smart cards to passengers to test the program.

Although Golden Gate experienced only minor troubles with the system, AC Transit experienced more glitches, including problems transmitting information from each bus to a central computer, according to Melanie Crotty of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"We’ve learned a lot from working on AC [Transit] and Golden Gate," Crotty said.

The trial was originally expected to run through the beginning of 2007, but glitches pushed back the formal launch of the TransLink program. Crotty said a full rollout of the program for AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit and Ferries is now scheduled to start by the end of this year.

The next phase of TransLink will be the biggest test of the program — when Muni, BART and Caltrain start offering the card to its passengers. According to MTC documents, the company producing and testing the program, Motorola/ERG, has promised that the system will be ready for all three agencies by December.

Gary LaBonte, a BART executive manager of transit systems development, said given the program’s current pacing, he has his doubts about the current timeline.

"What they’re showing is all three of us will be ready at the same time, and what we’re saying is that’s unreasonable," said LaBonte.

Muni expects to be ready by December, said Jenniffer Hamilton, the agency’s chief information officer and director of technology planning.

To use TransLink, riders are provided with a plastic card embedded with a computer chip that is loaded with a dollar value, a number of specific ridesor a monthly pass for a specific agency. When waived in front of a TransLink card reader, located within transit vehicles and stations, the fare is deducted from the card’s balance.

More value can be added through machines located at transit stations and ticket offices, by going online, or through automatic transfer.

Waiting on TransLink

Designed to be a universal transit pass for the Bay Area, TransLink is recording an average of 4,500 weekday boardings in recent testing:

» 1,900 on Golden Gate Transit buses

» 1,700 on Golden Gate ferries

» 880 on AC Transit buses

» 90 on the Muni light-rail system

Important dates for the program:

AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit and Ferries: Final rollout in December 2007

BART, Caltrain and Muni: TransLink trials by December 2007

Are you open to using TransLink smart cards?

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Bonnie Eslinger

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