Muni patrons pass by the TransLink card reader at the Montgomery Street Station Tuesday night

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The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency wants all Muni riders to switch to TransLink by the end of this year, but few riders have heard of the pay-as-you-go device.

That could change today as TransLink officials hand out free Translink cards at the Montgomery Muni/BART station today and tomorrow as well as Monday and Tuesday of next week. Riders can add money to the cards at add-value machines at BART and Muni stations.

Riders can also get the cards online and those that sign up for auto-load will have the $5 fee waived, according to the MTA.

It’s unclear how many of the cards officials will hand out, but in riding the Muni it’s easy to see why the agency has opted for the strategy — few have heard of TransLink.

The 33-Stanyan completed a full route from the Mission to the Inner Richmond District Wednesday without a single passenger using a TransLink card.

Typical among Muni riders was the response of Hannah Lew who considered the Translink question as the 33 bus climbed up 18th Street toward the Haight.

“I wouldn’t even know where to get one,” said the San Francisco native who had never seen anyone use Translink. “Probably Safeway?”

Nope. The transit cards can be bought at, Walgreens and at obscure retail locations around the city, but not at any Safeway stores.

The cards allow riders to travel on any Bay Area transit with TransLink card readers. Patrons add value to the card as they go.

“We hope to integrate TransLink’s smart card technology and introduce more modern fare gates towards the end of this year,” Kristen Holland, a spokeswoman for the transportation agency said.

The TransLink cards have only been in use on Muni since December 2008. BART began allowing use of the prepaid cards last August.

From Jan. 11 to Jan. 24, Holland said, Muni had an average TransLink ridership of 12,718 per day, which is about two percent of Muni’s 680,000 daily riders.

As the transit agency introduces TransLink, it’s cutting expenses by closing ticket booths at the Montgomery station on Feb. 3.

A sign hanging from the Montgomery booth to protest the closure read, “UNFAIR, UNFAIR!!!”

Each sales booth has one to two MTA employees a shift and one security guard. There are two shifts per day, Holland said.  

“Closing Montgomery allows the SFMTA to absorb the recent layoffs of the revenue positions and eliminates the additional cost of two full time security guards,” she added.

Union representative Reginald Drake for the Muni employees affected, was unavailable for comment.

But one ticket booth employee said, “We don’t count.” He refused to give his name saying he feared losing his job earlier than Feb. 3.

Lew and her boyfriend, Andrew James, said the full integration of TransLink cards on Muni is arbitrary.

James, a 29-year-old Inner Richmond native who now lives in the Mission, called the current Muni fares “ridiculous.”

“Cards are just another hassle to deal with.”

People actually using TransLink

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Nick Sucharski

Nick Sucharski is the current transportation reporter for Mission Loc@l.

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  1. Those cards are run by a private company in Walnut Creek even less accountable than Muni. They can overcharge and often don’t tabulate correctly. Good luck with em. Have had one for years, gave up in 08…

  2. I bought a Translink a few months ago because it allows one to put more money on online. That saves me having to make a trip to find a place that sells Fast Passes, and that has them in stock. But, when MUNI goes to these as a replacement for the Fast Pass it is going to be a nightmare on the buses. There is only one reader at the front, and it often takes several tries to get it to register one’s card. Imagine the delay this will cause on a busy bus.

  3. DONT DO TRANSLINK!!!! I was told to get a Translink card by a flyer I received at the Montgomery St station. I bought a $5 card at a Walgreens. It worked on the T several times but one day I got on and must’ve swiped it 10xs and it didn’t work. I did not have cash at the time (who needs it when you have this nifty card) and decided not to jump off the MUNI in order to find an ATM in the industrial part of 3rd Street (closest ATM is 7 blocks), make change, wait for another card and be 30-45 minutes late for work. But when I got to the Montgomery street station, cops were checking for proof of payment. I thought maybe the cops would be reasonable but NOPE. I was given a $75 ticket even though I clearly pay every time and this incident was out of my control. I will contest that since it was clear that the card had become defective by no fault of my own. But still, $75 is not something I can afford. So I called Translink customer service expecting some sort of apology but no. I have to send back the card to Fremont so they can determine if the card is defective. In the meantime, I have to pay $4 a day to ride MUNI, while the money I have already budgeted toward transportation in stuck on a card being sent to Translink. I asked for a refund because I can’t afford for this to happen again. They won’t issue a refund. But what if I want to go back to my trusty Fast Pass….too bad.
    So, ladies and gentlemen…let’s tally up the costs:
    $5 translink card + $55 balance on the card + $75 citation + $.47 stamp to send card back + $22 in fares while waiting for the Translink card to be sent back to me = $157.47. I budgeted $60 a month for transportation. Who is going to pay the extra $97.47? Oh right, me. Thanks SFMTA/Translink for sticking it to the working person.

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