A rider adds fare to a Clipper card at the downtown Berkeley BART station, Aug. 1, 2019. Photo: Emilie Raguso

BART has announced plans to eliminate the sale of paper tickets at stations in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco starting in August.

These changes won’t come to downtown Berkeley until September, but paper ticket sales will end at Oakland’s 19th Street station Sunday, according to the current schedule. Sales at San Francisco’s Embarcadero station are set to end Aug. 18, followed by Powell Street on Sept. 2. The final day to buy paper tickets in downtown Berkeley is currently Sept. 23.

For the first three days of the pilot program launch at each station, BART will set up a booth to give out free Clipper cards. BART said there is no set number of cards that will be available to the public during the giveaways. Riders who already have paper tickets will still be able to use them at all BART stations.

The pilot program is set to go systemwide in 2020. BART said the change makes sense because Clipper cards have been designated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) as “the Bay Area’s all-in-one transit card” to pay for buses, trains and ferries and for parking as well. Many agencies offer discounted fares for Clipper users, according to BART.

The shift will also reduce time spent on fare gate maintenance and the time staff spends handling cash payments: “Paper tickets can jam our fare gates so we do anticipate less fare gate maintenance” as more people use Clipper, BART spokeswoman Anna Duckworth told Berkeleyside by email.

Using a Clipper card to exit BART fare gates, Aug. 1, 2019. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Clipper card usage has been on the rise in recent years, driven in part by a 50-cent surcharge per trip on paper tickets that began in 2017, according to BART. From November 2017 to November 2018, Clipper card usage grew from 69% to 83% for BART riders, according to that agency’s annual report. As of this month, that number had risen to 85%. BART said it hopes to get to a 100% usage rate eventually.

BART’s preliminary paper ticket surcharge revenue from the fiscal year that just ended in June was $9.4 million, Duckworth told Berkeleyside shortly after publication.

In addition to the Clipper card giveaways, BART said it will have staff available to answer questions and help with Clipper card purchases for the first three days of each station’s pilot launch to make it easier for riders.

Clipper cards are available to buy at every BART station, the agency reports, and make it faster for riders to get through the fare gates. BART said Clipper cards reduce paper waste and save money: There’s no 50-cent fee per trip. (Surcharge discounts are available to seniors, youth and riders with disabilities.)

No official number was available this week regarding estimated paper waste reductions, but Duckworth said 15% of BART’s 400,000 daily weekday riders — or 60,000 people each weekday — use paper tickets.

Riders can use the Clipper card anonymously, but BART has noted that there are some benefits to registering it, such as replacements of lost cards (and their value) and the ability to autoload cards with a set amount. Riders can also link Clipper accounts to BART’s EZ Rider program to pay for BART parking.

When inmates are released, they are often given one-way fares to get home. Social workers also hand out one-way paper tickets to clients. Duckworth said schools, jails, nonprofits and other groups will still be able to buy paper tickets for field trips or other purposes through BART’s group sales program. BART hopes to find an alternative for group sales in the future, but a solution has not been determined.

Low-income riders — who make twice the federal poverty level or less — will be able to get a 20% discount per ride later this year through a pilot program run by the MTC, Duckworth said. (In 2019, an individual making $24,980 or less would qualify.) She did not know when the MTC partnership would begin. Berkeleyside has asked the MTC for details and will update this post if this information is provided.

BART has not decided exactly when the pilot will end or when the changes will roll out systemwide. Duckworth said the program “will be evaluated first,” then adjusted if necessary.

The only option for riders who end up at one of the pilot stations without a BART card will be to buy a Clipper card for $3 — whether they already have one or not. During the pilot program, paper tickets can still be purchased at 42 of BART’s 48 stations, said Duckworth.

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BART’s original announcement about the pilot program came out June 24. At the time, downtown Berkeley was set to be the first pilot station to launch, on July 8, and 19th Street was to follow two weeks later. (The San Francisco dates have not changed.) Duckworth said “it was a management decision” to change the schedule, but provided no further information. BART has also not said why it chose downtown Berkeley, 19th Street Oakland, Powell or the Embarcadero stations as their pilot group.

On Monday, some people at the downtown Berkeley BART station raised concerns about the pilot program. Station agent Guillermo Ruiz, who has worked for BART for 26 years, was one of them.

“There are no advantages for riders because it forces them to buy a Clipper card even if they’re not going to use them regularly,” he said. Ruiz, 63, said low-income riders in particular could have problems. “The advantage goes to BART. They can save a lot of money because the machines constantly break down.”

Tourist Dylan Okimoto, a high school English teacher from the Seattle area, said he could see how the new program might be a burden on those who don’t ride BART often. Okimoto, 50, said he did, however, like how the program would cut down on paper waste and thought it wouldn’t be too hard to keep track of the card, even for people who don’t use BART frequently. He said it would be good to have a Clipper card “just in case.”

Other riders said they were concerned about how the change might impact tourists and weekend-only riders who may not use BART much. One person said they didn’t even know what a Clipper card was.

Riders like El Cerrito nanny Gwen Curtis had a different take. The 23-year-old said she uses BART 2-3 times a week and has a Clipper card already. She said she likes how she can simply tap her card to get through the fare gates and never has to wait in line at the ticket machine.

Clipper-only kiosks are empty as a man waits in line for a paper ticket, Aug. 1, 2019. Photo: Emilie Raguso

“I like how Clipper cards don’t charge the 50-cent fee like the paper tickets do, which is a plus,” she said. “I also like how you can put a lot of money on it and easily get through the gates.”

Other riders who favor Clipper cards said they don’t have to worry about carrying cash and like how it makes BART parking easier, and that the program will cut down on paper ticket fraud.

One station that’s part of the pilot program, Powell Street in San Francisco, has been particularly hard hit by paper ticket scammers, said a Clipper representative who was giving out free Clipper cards at an East Bay BART station this week. (Berkeleyside did not name him because he was not authorized to speak with the media.) He acknowledged that the transition might be hard for tourists or other visitors who don’t want to buy a new plastic card.

He said some transit agencies in other cities let you use their card when you’re in town, then return it for a refund: He said Clipper might want to consider that in the future. He also suggested that people who know they will have visitors who are seniors or youth might want to consider buying discounted Clipper cards for them in advance — cards take about two weeks to receive — to ensure visitors get the best deal they can when they ride Bay Area transit. The application for discounted fare cards is available online and at some locations around the Bay Area. None of those locations are in Berkeley.

The Clipper rep cautioned that it may be hard for riders to get free Clipper cards during the pilot program giveaways because availability is limited and representatives will only hand out the cards during limited hours of peak ridership. That won’t necessarily be convenient for riders who work swing shifts or late at night.

BART said it’s hoping its outreach and education campaigns in the coming months will increase Clipper card use across the system. That happened last year with youth Clipper trips. According to BART’s annual report, the agency gave out more than 32,000 free cards to youth last year when it created a 50% discount program for riders aged 5-18. As a result, according to BART, youth Clipper trips increased by 260% in 2018.

The MTC introduced the Clipper card in 2002 under the name TransLink as a “reloadable contactless smart card used for electronic transit fare payment in the San Francisco Bay Area,” according to Wikipedia. The name of the card changed to Clipper in 2010.

See answers from BART to some of the frequently asked questions about the transition to Clipper-only sales. Read BART’s updated June statement about the change. Read more about Clipper card discounts.

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Cydney Devine-Jones

Cydney Devine-Jones was an intern for Berkeleyside in 2019. She is a Berkeley native and attends the Oakland School for the Arts. Cydney is a vocalist and dances with Culture Shock Oakland. Cydney is interested...