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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 Translink.org, 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