Pilot program launches for transit pass compatible with all Bay Area transit agencies

Clipper card vending machines at the Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre BART (Bay Area rapid Transit) station at 1365 Treat Boulevard in Walnut Creek, Calif. on March 5, 2021. (Samantha Laurey/Bay City News)

A two-year pilot project launched this week that will examine the viability of a transit pass that is compatible with every public transit agency in the nine-county Bay Area.

The project will make Clipper BayPass available to some 50,000 college students and affordable housing residents in the Bay Area.

All students at Santa Rosa Junior College will have access to the BayPass program as well as select students at San Francisco State University, San Jose State University and University of California, Berkeley.

The pilot will later expand to include residents of at least three housing developments run by MidPen Housing.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission -- the agency overseeing transportation planning, financing and coordination in the Bay Area -- and two dozen transit agencies across the region launched the project in an effort to make public transit easier and more efficient to use.

"This pilot program is an exciting step toward fare coordination among transit agencies and toward making it easy for organizations to prioritize and promote transit as the preferred mode of transportation in the Bay Area," BART board president Rebecca Saltzman said in a statement.

The pilot is one of several efforts by the MTC and transit agencies across the region to both bring back riders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and make public transit more seamless to use, particularly when transferring across multiple transit agencies.

Transit officials across the Bay Area have also sought to eventually develop a single mapping and wayfinding system for the region's transit agencies and align their schedules and fare systems.

The four schools and MidPen Housing were chosen for the BayPass pilot in part because they each already offer a transit pass that reduces or eliminates fare costs for one or multiple public transit systems.

The first phase of the pilot is expected to cost roughly $6 million, a BART official said in May, most of which will go toward reimbursing transit agencies for the fare revenue that will be waived for those with BayPass.

A second phase planned for early 2023 would make BayPass available to employees at up to 10 businesses, nonprofits and other employers across the region, focusing on areas with multiple participating transit systems.

Those participating include BART, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni), Alameda-Contra Costa Transit (AC Transit), Caltrain, Soltrans, the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay ferries, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit and SamTrans, among others.

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BayPass users will still use their standard Clipper card at faregates and on buses, rail platforms and ferry ramps. As part of the pilot, users will not be allowed to share their BayPass with friends or family.

"We'll use the information collected to help shape the development, pricing and implementation of one or more new multi-agency passes or fare caps that eventually will be used by vastly more riders," MTC chair and Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.