TransLink readies an early rollout in Bay Area 

After nearly a year of agencies hammering out kinks, more than 250,000 Bay Area commuters will have the luxury of swiping a card to board multiple transit systems Sept. 17.

TransLink, a single-card, multi-agency fare-payment system, will launch full-scale on Golden Gate and Alameda-Contra Costa transit district buses and ferries three months earlier than previously expected.

The two systems have been running a soft launch that began in November, during which a select group of commuters used the cards to board buses and ferries. The test phase allowed the districts to determine the glitches in the system, such as an inability to transmit information from the bus to the central database, and address those before the cards became available to the general public.

Riders who take BART, Caltrain and San Francisco’s Muni will continue to wait a little longer before their transit systems are ready to begin the scaled-back launch AC Transit and Golden Gate are about to complete. Field testing of equipment is expected to begin in October, Melanie Crotty of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said.

Current schedules have the three systems ready to begin a soft launch Dec. 17, but Gary Labonte, a BART executive manager of transit systems development, doubts whether that date is realistic. He said a new forecast of when the three transit systems would be ready arrives Thursday.

AC Transit, the massive East Bay bus system that also connects riders to The City and the Peninsula, has 227,000 daily riders, including 60,000 schoolchildren and 12,000 transbay commuters. The Golden Gate Transit District has an average daily ridership on its ferries of 5,000, with an average of 25,000 riding its buses each day.

One in five Golden Gate commuters has a 20 percent discount ticket book, a book full of tickets offered at a lower rate, and Golden Gate Transit will target those riders for TransLink when the system kicks off Sept. 17, spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

Jim Gleich, deputy general manager of AC Transit, said the district would target its adult riders, and he expects a surge in TransLink participation from transbay riders. He said the system would help the agency reduce costs as well by improving operating times.

"It will reduce operating costs because vehicles won’t be sitting, waiting for people to put cash in the fare box," Gleich said.

Golden Gate and AC Transit gear up

WHAT IS TRANSLINK? A card that gives commuters access to multiple transit agencies.

HOW DOES IT WORK? A computer chip in the card automatically deducts the fare amount when you board.

HOW DO I ADD MONEY TO MY CARD? Via the Internet, phone, in person or at a self-service machine at a transit station.

WHEN WILL TRANSLINK BECOME AVAILABLE? For Golden Gate and AC Transit districts, Sept. 17.

WHAT ABOUT MUNI, BART AND CALTRAIN? Officials hope to begina limited launch by mid-December.

WILL MY DISCOUNTS WORK ON TRANSLINK? Any discounts will automatically be included when the card is swiped.

dsmith@examiner.com

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