Clipper Card A Hit Across Bay Area Transit Agencies

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Over the past two years, Bay Area transit agencies have rolled out the Clipper Card system.  The single plastic card allows riders to travel across over 20 transit systems throughout the Bay Area, including AC Transit, BART and SF Muni.  Though not without it's technical glitches and implementation criticism, the Clipper Card has successfully attracted commuter support and adoption.  This success has been, in part, due to the use of critical design elements outlined in McGrath and Murray's "Principles of e-Government":

Data Focus:  Clipper Card is fundamentally a mechanism for capturing and transmitting data related to fare payment and travel patterns.  The system allows customers and transit agencies significant flexibility in how they choose to manage the process of this collection.  Customers can prepay, pay-as-they-go or reload automatically.  Agencies can use turnstiles, onboard processing or fare inspectors.  This gives individual agencies the freedom to evolve their on-the-ground systems without disrupting the data services that Clipper handles for them.  Similarly, Clipper can make improvements and upgrades on the backend without fundamentally impacting the day-to-day traveler's experience.

Federated Architecture:  Clipper Card recognized that agencies had vastly different structures for charging customers.  Some charge a flat fee, others calculate payment by distance and for many, commuters also have an option to buy a variety of monthly passes.  Rather than wading through a bureaucratic and political nightmare trying to combine so many agencies, Clipper acknowledged that each needed flexibility to operate independently.  By unifying data structure and process, Clipper allowed agencies to trade fare information while keeping other systems and infrastructure autonomous.  

Though Clipper has generally been deemed a success, it does provide further evidence of a theme that arose in many of the articles we read for class.  Technology-driven organizing systems are expensive.  The complexity of building and implementing the Clipper Card system has cost taxpayers $140MM in development and an additional $30MM in annual operating costs.  Interestingly, it seems that just as in the doctor's office or on the farm, Clipper users would never turn back from their new technology - even if its net financial benefit is zero.  

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