The card is supposed to be a universal fare-card for all the Bay Area's transit agencies. When I got it, the promise was that I'd be able to use it on Bart and Muni in "a couple of months." As with all things governmental, the truth has been far, far worse.
In case you're not familiar with TransLink, here's a link to the relevant Wikipedia page. And here's a nice quote to give you a primer on the system and its problems:
Translink has become something of a boondoggle of governance. The project as initially undertaken in 1993 had a projected capital cost of just $4 million and even in its current conception was expected to cost just $30 million. Since then, however, costs have ballooned tenfold -- current total capital costs are estimated at $338 million. In addition, schedule delays have added up to more than a decade. In 1998, Translink was to be available on all transit agencies by 2001, but today (2008) is operational on just two, and not expected to be available regionwide until 2010.
I guess I should feel lucky that the system even works on AC Transit (one of the two agencies that supports it). Unfortunately, as one of the thousands of people who commute into San Francisco for work, what would really help me would be something that worked on both sides of the bay.
Shockingly, Bart decided to introduce its own competing system, called EZ-Rider, a couple years ago. Apparently the second system is the result of a "bureaucratic turf dispute." Great.
One of my favorite elements of this governmental fraud is the fact that, so far as I can tell, every single bus in San Francisco has either one or two TransLink terminals installed. Unfortunately, every single one of them in non-operational.
The only place the card works is in the Muni subway system, and down there I've had station agents repeatedly try to refuse me entrance and refuse to give me bus transfers. "You don't need a transfer," one said. Good thing I made him give me one, as there was a cop at the other end of my journey checking tickets. Bet he's never even heard of TransLink.
I've tried to use TransLink repeatedly when getting on buses. It's a fun joke with the bus drivers. I ask things like, "To your knowledge, has this card ever worked on your bus?"
The driver usually gives me a perplexed or angry look: "No. They're still testing it."
Perhaps a brief aside into business theory is in order. Everyone knows that the goal of business is to turn a profit. What many don't know is how a business determines whether a given profit is "enough" to justify entering a new line of business.
The novice businessman might think that any profit is enough to justify a business expansion. But this isn't right, because in private industry there is a cost associated with buying the stuff required to enter that business. This is the business' "cost of capital," and it depends on market factors such as interest rates and the value of the business' equity capital.
Typically, a business will not invest money in a new operation unless it expects that operation to return a pretty high annual increment on that investment. Twenty percent is a common number.
So, you can see why it's a complete disaster -- from a business standpoint -- to install a bunch of hardware in buses and then completely fail to use it for years on end. Whatever return Muni might have generated from my fares from using the TransLink card is lost each day they keep the machines turned off. Muni has already paid for the machines, so they're losing money every day on this debacle.
In the business world, management would push to get those machines generating revenue as quickly as possible. Not so in the world of government. Because the government doesn't even know how to measure its cost of capital, it is fundamentally unresponsive when faced with a situation like this. And why should they? They can just set the fare to $1.37 or whatever and tell me it's my fault when I don't have enough pennies with me.
This whole situation is pretty humorous when you think about it. I'm being lectured on television to keep my tires inflated to save gas -- and rightly so. But if the leftists in charge of every Bay Area transit agency care so much about CO2 emissions and oil imports, why did they purposely construct a situation where they'd trick me into getting this card then make sure it only works on two of the region's numerous systems?
In other words, shouldn't these "leaders" want to set up a system that makes it as easy as possible for me to use mass transit? I guess the answer lies somewhere in between Al Gore's Gulfstream jet and his Tennessee mansion.
Leftists have their hearts in the right place, but they are incompetent human beings. It's commonly said that those who can't do, teach. Well, I'm not sure how much of a failure one must be to get involved in governance, but it must be pretty monumental.
Incidentally, here is the list of transit agencies that supposedly will support TransLink someday. I won't hold my breath:
Alameda/Oakland Ferry, American Canyon Transit, Benicia Breeze, Cloverdale Transit, County Connection, Dixon Transit, Fairfield-Suisun Transit, Healdsburg In-City Transit, Petaluma Transit, Rio Vista Delta Breeze, SamTrans, Santa Clara VTA, Santa Rosa CityBus, Sonoma County Transit, Tri Delta Transit, Union City Transit, Vacaville City Coach, Vallejo Transit, VINE (Napa County), WestCAT, WHEELS and Yountville Shuttle.