I’ve been a fairly regular BART rider for over three years now, and one of my big complaints about the system is the lack of discounts for regular riders. To get the 6.25% discount, you have to buy paper tickets from neighborhood vendors. The “high value” tickets are not available in stations, for inexplicable reasons.
To add insult to injury, the ticket inevitably has a small amount of money left on it, so you are left with a pile of sub-$1.00 tickets that must be laboriously exchanged into a single consolidated ticket. (The rules are much more complicated; when I tried to exchange a pile of tiny tickets, there was a problem exchanging the tiny residual tickets that had been purchased from a BART ticket machine with a credit card, but not the tiny tickets that were purchased with cash. Don’t even ask!)
The whole situation is maddening for somebody who has an Octopus card (Hong Kong), an EZ-Link card (Singapore), and will probably get an Oyster card at the IEEE meeting in London next week. The technology is quite well-developed, but BART is still stuck in the 1970s with pieces of paper and magnetic stripes.
Well, somebody at BART must be paying attention to what’s going on in the rest of the world, because the EZ Rider card is now entering its second trial phase. I’ve been wondering how to get one ever since I read about it in the Capricious Commuter in November. Never having to go buy a paper ticket at a “convenient neighborhood vendor” again and automatically having my tiny useless amounts of money carry over on the smart card would address two of my biggest complaints with the fare system.
So far, though, the card has been somewhat annoying. There is an “on line” sign up system, where you fill out a few questions and it says, teasingly, that you’re almost done. In this case, “almost done” means that you need to print out a sign-up form, mail it to BART in Oakland, and wait. After two weeks (though, to be fair, that included the Christmas and New Year’s holidays), a card finally arrived in the mail.
In an amusing contrast, my EZ Rider card arrived the same day as a credit card. To activate the credit card, I called the number on the card, entered the last four digits, and my card was activated. If I had wanted to buy something with it, it was ready right then. To activate the EZ Rider card, I had to call BART and leave a message on what sounded like an answering machine with my name, the card number, and the last four digits of the credit card number that it’s linked to. Several hours later, I received an e-mail informing me that my card would be activated in the next three days.
All in all, this process could be made a lot easier. (Automating the activation process would be an easy Asterisk project!)
Fortunately, when I used the card for the first time this morning, it functioned in the fare gate as expected. I’m on the train to work now. We’ll see if it also works when I get off the train in another half hour…