Clippercard Brainstorm

On the way home tonight on the ferry discussion turned to Clippercard, the SF Bay Area’s NFC-based transit payment card, and some of the strange limitations it has. What followed was a collection of ideas for how to improve it, some quite practical and others less so.

Here’s a few of my favorite’s, and while I don’t expect the folks at Clippercard to implement any of these, it is fun to think about what could be done with a card like this.


One of the most frequent comments about the card is the strange delays associated with reloading it online. Amazon can often ship physical items to my house faster than I can add funds to my Clippercard via their website. That makes no sense. Adding funds online should be instant, the same as it is when done in a store or at one of their terminals.

Based on the discussion tonight, it can be even more complex to get funds loaded onto the card when using some of the employer contributed commuter schemes (I am lucky that my company just gives us what are essentially MasterCard debit cards). Given that the Clippercard’s primary target market is commuters, I would have expected them to work to streamline all of those programs.


In other cities I’ve visited, their NFC payment cards have been able to be used for purchasing things like drinks, snacks and newspapers from vendors near, or inside, the stations and terminals. That is very convenient for commuters, and potentially offers another source of revenue for the company running the cards as vendors can be charged transaction processing fees similar to those on credit and debit cards.

Linked Preferences

This one definitely falls in the less practical bucket, but just imagine if tagging on to the ferry automatically triggered an order at the bar for your favorite beverage. Time sensitive, of course. In the morning, you could walk up to the bar and collect your steaming hot coffee and a bagel; on the way home, your favorite beer or cocktail would be waiting for you. Maybe a single tap gets you a “ticket” and a double tap orders your drink too.

In an even more extreme version of this, a waiter would even deliver the drink to you at your seat, located perhaps by your Clippercard being read by onboard scanners.

Phone Integration

Earlier this week, after returning from a vacation, both myself and a neighbor who had also been away made the same simple mistake: we both forgot to put our Clippercards back in our wallets, having removed them so as not to risk losing them while traveling.

Imagine if we didn’t need a physical card however? My ChargePoint account (for accessing EV chargers) supports a physical card and my phone. I can hold my phone up to the reader to start and end charging sessions, so why can I not do this for my ferry rides too? If ChargePoint can do it, surely Clippercard could too?

Other Cards

In London, the Oyster card (their version of the Clippercard) has all but been replaced by NFC enabled credit and debit cards. Transit systems directly charge the card that is used to tag on & off. Clippercard, as the owner of the scanning terminals, would still be the payment processor, but now they would be directly charging a card for each journey. No need to load funds onto a special card.

Company commuter schemes could simply reload an NFC enabled debit card. Less people would need to buy physical tickets too since all they would need to ride on the ferry would be an NFC enabled credit/debit card.

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