Silicon Valley might seem like a shining beacon of technological progress to some onlookers, but natives know it can be weirdly hit and miss — like how the San Francisco Bay Area has long had a physical tap-to-pay card that’ll let you onto practically every form of public transit, and yet never let you simply tap your phone or smartwatch to do the same.

Until today — because starting today, the Clipper Card supports Apple Pay, including its Express Mode where you don’t need to wake the device or open an app first.

You can now use almost any recent iPhone or Apple Watch to board BART (which serves the East Bay and San Francisco), Muni (San Francisco’s bus and light rail system), Caltrain (which connects San Francisco to the peninsula and South Bay), VTA (South Bay buses and light rail), and even the ferry. (Find instructions here.)

Here’s a pretty good picture of the SF Bay Area’s interlocking transit systems.
Map by Alex Li

That means travel across practically the entire urban and suburban Bay Area without pulling a wallet out of your purse or pocket — particularly since many of those vehicles also fit bikes on board. It’s not quite as significant as when Apple Pay came to Japan’s Suica in 2016, since that rail network spans an entire country, but it’s a big deal for tech workers and natives like me.

Or it would be, if I ever work in an office again. Not much demand for that at the moment! But I used to take the Caltrain and either BART or Muni to work each day, and Clipper was my constant companion.

There are a few caveats still: you can only load any given Clipper Card onto a single device, so you can’t share it across an iPhone and an Apple Watch simultaneously. (You can just use two cards, though, and it supports a variety of Clipper passes, not just cash.) You’ll also need an iPhone 8 or later, or an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, and Apple warns that you should “keep your plastic Clipper card for Bay Wheels bikeshare use and your RTC [disability discount] card for fare inspection.”

Android users with Clipper Cards should see similar capabilities via Google Pay later this spring, and you should be able to buy a card directly through Google Maps.

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