By many outward appearances, the cost to rebrand the TransLink transit card seems to keep going up and up, with millions of new dollars expected to be added to the renaming budget by the MTC in a meeting tomorrow.

Back in December we reported that the MTC was planning on spending $975K to change the name of the cards to evoke, in their words, “the historic connection between Clipper ships and the development of San Francisco.” That’s quite a pricey evocation! Then in February the price went up almost half a million dollars more, to $1.4 million.

Tireless transit blogger Akit, who pores over MTC documents like they’re treasure maps on the back of the Declaration of Independence (suck it, David Simon) alerts us that the budget’s been increased yet again, doubling the previous planned expenditures.

So, I gave MTC spokesperson John Goodwin a call to see if he could walk me through the additional line items Akit noted, and to get a better understanding of how the price to change TransLink’s name has risen to, according to Akit, $2.63 M.

According to Goodwin, a number of the additions to the TransLink to Clipper budget would have been necessary regardless of the name change, as they’re actually related to the transition from a paper, magnetic strip fare medium (like your Fast Pass) to a smart card (that is, TransLink).

Some examples of this would be money going towards implementing new software to enable transfers for Ferry to Muni ($80K) or transitioning AC Transit paper pass users to TL ($250K). So, if you back MTC’s play to move to TransLink, you probably won’t begrudge them that $330K.

The same goes for, says Goodwin, a contract amendment with tech consultants Booz Allen Hamilton adding $1.5 million to what they’re contracted to pay them. “Again, we would have had to do this, regardless” said Goodwin. So they’re spending $500K to “assess the impacts of these fare media transitions on protected communities: low-income, minority, and limited English proficient populations,” which is required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

They’re also spending 1 million bucks more with Booz Allen to oversee the “Muni Metro ticket vending machine installation and faregate replacement project.” (This is on top of $1,410,000 they agreed to pay them in June of last year.) Again, Goodwin notes that this is a transition to smart card expense, not precisely a TransLink to Clipper expense.

Another new line item is $300,000 more for spare Muni TransLink-reading fare gates. In Goodwin’s words, “It’s probably good to have a spare or two in the closet,” a remark to which we responded with an embarrassingly cheap and obvious joke.

One line item Goodwin agrees is a TransLink to Clipper expense is a $500K “In-Person Customer Service Kiosk/Center” In their words:

Staff recommends executing a contract change order to provide for the implementation, management and one year of operations of an in-person TransLink/ClipperSM customer service kiosk/center on the mezzanine level of a downtown San Francisco BART station, most likely the Embarcadero Station. The purpose of the in-person customer service kiosk/center is to provide a location where customers can go to resolve customer service issues directly and to provide increased visibility for the ClipperSM program. The implementation of the in-person customer service kiosk/center is planned for June 1, 2010.

So! That was a very nerdy article to write, even for me. But, to sum up, we have $2.13 million more we need to spend to move to smart cards, and $500,000 we “need” to spend on a name change. And, finally, Akit is a total badass, as always, for digging into this stuff in the first place.

Have something to say about any of those expenditures (besides in our comments, of course)? The MTC’s Operations Committee will be meeting to discuss them tomorrow at 9:30 AM at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter at 101 Eighth Street in Oakland.

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at

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