In 2009, MTC had launched the TransLink transit fare payment system on five Bay Area operators, but its contractor was having difficulty completing the job, the system faced technical challenges and transit operators were losing confidence.
- Over $40 million in revenue each month moving through the Clipper card
- More than 1.7 million active cards in circulation
- Over 20 million transactions each month
- Clipper is used on more than 95% of transit trips in the Bay Area
Like the quintessential Californian, the San Francisco Bay Area is a region under constant transformation and flux. Spanning from Sonoma County to Silicon Valley, it comprises nine counties, each with a distinct identity ranging from cosmopolitan to rural. Every day nearly 1.5 million daily transit trips are taken via the region’s complex transit network of ferries, light rail, heavy rail, buses and highways. With a highway system that has reached capacity – and no plans for expansion – a robust, flexible and convenient transit system is imperative, requiring cooperation and coordination among more than 20 transit operators in the region.
Simplifying the System
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is tasked with planning, coordinating and financing the Bay Area’s transit network and aimed to simplify fare collection across the system. In 2000, MTC conducted a trial of the TransLink card to provide commuters with a single smart card payment method that would someday be accepted on all Bay Area transit operators. The success of the trial led to the decision to implement region-wide. TransLink launched on five of seven major operators—Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (Muni), Caltrain, AC Transit, and Golden Gate Transit & Ferry. But the project struggled with hardware and software issues, and the contractor faced challenges that jeopardized its ability to complete the work. Operators were losing confidence.
Looking for a fresh start, MTC turned to Cubic Transportation Systems, and approved an assignment of the contract from the original contractor. Cubic stabilized and scaled the back-end system, integrated new equipment important to individual operators, delivered the final two major operators—SamTrans and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)—and became an integral partner in the successful operation of the Clipper system. “I am happy with the way our contract is working today and level of commitment Cubic has demonstrated on this project,” said Andrew Fremier, deputy executive director of operations, MTC.
A New Identity
MTC’s goal was to make its new smart card relevant to its target market and incorporate some of the region’s history. “Clipper” was selected to refer to the Clipper ships that were the preferred mode of transport during the Gold Rush of 1849, but also as a symbolic nod to the Bay Area’s rich mining history and a positive connotation of mobility.
The new Clipper brand was launched in 2010. After SamTrans and VTA were complete, Cubic began implementing Clipper on small operators in the region: County Connection, Fairfield-Suisun Transit (FAST), Marin Transit, San Francisco Bay Ferry, SolTrans, Tri Delta Transit, Vacaville City Coach, VINE, WestCAT and Wheels. Today the Clipper card accounts for approximately 20 million fare transactions each month totaling over $40 million in monthly revenue. In 2016, Petaluma Transit, Santa Rosa CityBus, Sonoma County Transit and Union City Transit will start accepting Clipper, and the new Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) service will be the first in the region to be Clipper-only.
Public approval has been positive, with roughly half of all fares paid via the Clipper card each month, demonstrating a regionally recognized and convenient mode of payment for the region’s commuters. Customer satisfaction surveys historically show very high ratings.
Cubic also manages a diverse range of services related to the contract, including development of new applications, media management and distribution, operation of the Clipper call center, field services support and asset management, revenue management, transit benefits, and support of the retail network that provides an additional channel for customers to purchase Clipper cards.
Looking to the Future
Predicting what the next version of Clipper will look like is difficult, as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. MTC is looking to other US cities like Chicago and Washington, DC, and even abroad to observe and learn from an industry that has made major strides in the past 10 years. Clipper has come a long way since its inception over a decade ago, and Cubic and MTC have adapted to the changing needs and demands of the public. “We have the strategic relationships and business rules in place today so that Clipper is ready to evolve,” says Carol Kuester, director of electronic payments, MTC.
“We have the strategic relationships and business rules in place today so that Clipper is ready to evolve."
Cubic helped MTC rebuild confidence in the system by delivering much needed equipment to major operators and committing to expand the system to full implementation.
Today the Clipper card accounts for approximately 20 million fare transactions each month totaling over $40 million in monthly revenue.