Test Driving BART’s EZ Rider Smart Card

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Living in the San Francisco Bay Area has its benefits, but public transit is not always one of them. But that may be changing with the introduction of a new contactless payment service, aptly named EZ Rider Card, by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

I got the EZ Rider Card a few months ago as part of their Pilot Program, and it has quickly become an indispensable way to pay for BART. Gone are the days of struggling with antiquated machines to pre-load a magnetic stripe every week or so, or having to worry about losing the card. Instead, it works by associating a credit card to your EZ Rider. BART then stores money by automatically charging $45 to the credit card every time the balance on the EZ Rider card falls below $10. The card works by using an ultra high frequently contactless payment system technology to pay for the fare. To use, you have to place the card over the plastic disk card reader on top of the fare gate. It calculates the money based on the station-to-station fare and conveniently displays your balance on the card reader display. If the card is ever lost or stolen, you can report it by calling BART and the card is automatically de-activated within 1 business day.

Things not so easy or smart

  • Not all the fare gates work equally well. For whatever reason, some readers decide to fail to read the card, generating a beep that seems to resonate disproportionately loud.
  • Waving the card over the reader does not work. As the instructional demo below states, it’s best to lay the card flat for at least one second for it to read the card. Otherwise, that now familiar beep quickly reminds you of your indiscretion.
  • You can read other complaints on the blog BART RAGE, such as a non-automated way to sign-up.

What’s Next?

BART is already talking about tying reward points with card usage and providing discount rates for the elderly. They’re also talking about connecting EZ Rider to the wider regional transit payment system TransLink (rumor has it that they’re launching it this year with the help of Cubic).

Should contactless payments become truly ubiquitous, the impact on payment applications and programs could be phenomenal. In Japan, where contactless payments are a fairly common way to make payments, there’s even talk of “wallet phones”, flipping the term “pay phone” on its head.