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The Clipper card stands at the BART/Caltrain station in Millbrae, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 13, 2010. Starting this Wednesday, Dec. 15, SamTrans will start accepting the Clipper card as a form of payment. (Dan Honda/Staff)

Thousands of BART riders may find out Wednesday that their EZ Rider smart cards are no longer accepted to pay fares as the rapid transit district phases out the old cards and urges commuters to switch to a new regional card called Clipper.

Earlier this month, between 5,000 and 8,000 train riders a week were paying fares with the popular EZ Rider cards despite BART's e-mails, letters and other notices that it is unplugging the cards.

The transition arrives with the morning commute Wednesday, when BART blocks the use of EZ Rider cards at some stations. EZ Rider cards will be blocked at all stations by Dec. 22.

BART officials say they are concerned about potential confusion, lines and grumbling at stations if riders try to swipe the invalid cards at the fare gates.

"Some riders could be in for a surprise," said Melissa Miller, a BART spokeswoman. "There are higher numbers of EZ Rider card users than we would like, although the number is coming down fast as we move toward the deadline."

EZ Rider and Clipper are both smart cards with a computer chip allowing riders to load value onto the card either by paying cash or linking it to a credit card or bank account.

The smart cards get transit riders through fare gates more quickly and conveniently than paying cash, officials said.

"You can still pay BART fares with cash, but many riders prefer the convenience of a smart card," said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional sponsor of Clipper.


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BART riders can sign up for Clipper card online at www.clippercard.com. Riders also can get the cards in person at Walgreen stores, other retail outlets listed on the Clipper card website, or at the San Francisco Muni portion of shared underground stations at BART's Embarcadero, Montgomery and Powell Street stations in downtown San Francisco.

Some new Clipper card users have experienced delays or confusion the first time they used the card at BART. To avoid problems, riders should lower the Clipper card to touch the electronic reading device at fare gates, Miller said. The EZ Rider cards could be waved several inches from the electronic reader to work, she added.

The EZ Rider card was created a few years ago as a temporary way to pay BART fares until the long-delayed Clipper card was ready for use. At the old program's peak, 50,000 people used EZ Rider cards.

Clipper can be used on BART, Muni, AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit and eventually will be extended to all transit systems in the Bay Area.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Read the Capricious Commuter at www.ibabuzz.com/transportation/. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.

CLIPPER CARDS
Information about ordering Clipper smart cards to pay public transit fares is available at www.clippercard.com. BART will stop accepting EZ Rider cards as fare payment today.