The Unlimited Multi-Agency Pass That’s Reshaping Bay Area Public Transit

The Unlimited Multi-Agency Pass That’s Reshaping Bay Area Public Transit

With more than 2 million trips recorded and a 40% surge in student riders using public transit in its first year, the BayPass pilot program is increasing public transit usage and transfers between operators.

The first year has flown by for phase one of San Francisco Bay Area’s BayPass pilot program, which has been providing free unlimited access to a randomly selected number of students and residents to use all public transit across the nine-county region.

More than 2 million BayPass rider trips have been recorded, with a 40% surge in student riders with the BayPass using public transit and a 74% increase in transfers between operators per trip as opposed to the students using their single-agency institutional pass. The pilot has also received a plethora of positive feedback from participant surveys.

The two-year randomized control experiment, which was launched in fall 2022 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Fare Integration Task Force in conjunction with all other transit agencies participating in the Clipper® fare payment system, observes the viability of having an all-agency transit pass and coordinated fare system to increase transit ridership, support regional sustainability goals, and meet the needs of local riders and of institutions and employers.

Young girl entering a bus

With phase two quickly coming around the corner and the pilot soon expanding the range of its participation to the existing institutions and employers, Sengerio was curious to learn more about how the pilot is evolving.

This article breaks down the pilot and some of the data from the most recent Fare Integration Task Force meeting to see how it is affecting the way people commute and explore the Bay Area. Sengerio also had the pleasure of speaking with Tiffany Rodriguez, Manager at one of the participating institutions in the program, San Jose State University, to discuss how student mobility has changed since the BayPass pilot came into effect.

Unlocking a Rider-Friendly Fare System

Public transit in the Bay Area has frequently battled with its somewhat fragmented nature; 27 different transit agencies serve the region with each operator implementing its own fare system. Consequently, different agencies with different fares means there isn’t always a smooth transfer for riders hopping between agencies during single trips.

The passes were given to a randomly-selected limited number of students at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and San Jose State University. Whereas all eligible students at Santa Rosa Junior College received the pass, in addition to all residents of select affordable housing communities managed by MidPen Housing in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano counties.

Map of the participating institutions in the Bay Area region
Map of the Bay Area region with the locations of the participating institutions. Source: Fare Integration Task Force

While a seamless multi-agency fare system benefits riders when it comes to planning trips and making transfers across agencies, it also puts a constructive tool in the hands of TDM experts at participating institutions to sharpen their own transportation and mobility programs. University transportation, which sees a large consistent flux of students coming and going, particularly benefits from greater student ridership on public transit — usually allowing universities to reduce on-campus parking.

One Year In — What’s the Data Telling Us?

With over 2 million BayPass ‘taps’ recorded during the first year in all the participating operators, AC Transit has seen the biggest portion of student BayPass ridership. This is likely due to the agency operating near UC Berkeley, which, out of the four participating universities, has the largest portion of students using the BayPass (12,000 students).

Interestingly, riders with a BayPass have shown to use AC Transit services more than the students who have a single-agency AC Transit pass, suggesting how the pass is broadening access to other transit systems.

Chart of Clipper BayPass trips by transit operator
Clipper BayPass trips by transit operator — Preliminary Data 8/15/2022 to 8/17/2023. Source: Fare Integration Task Force

San Jose State University has shown the biggest leap in public transit usage, with a 43% increase in students with the BayPass riding public transit and an enormous 333% increase in average number of transfers between operators per trip.

Over at Santa Rosa Junior College, more than 2,500 students are using the BayPass out of a possible 5,000 eligible users and more than 140,000 trips have been recorded.

Meanwhile, approximately 40% of the 2,200 eligible residents in Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo Counties have picked up their BayPass and have recorded more than 60,000 trips across 12 properties.

Feedback rider surveys have also been hugely positive for many students who commute every day to their institute and rely on a more easy-to-use trip fare and multi-agency approach. In addition, 70% of residents strongly agreed that since receiving the BayPass they are more likely to adopt public transit.

Completely electric bus
With 38% of total BayPass ridership, AC Transit has seen the most of the pilot’s riders. Source: AC Transit

A Closer Look at the BayPass at the San Jose State University

With San Jose State University (SJSU) having witnessed the largest increase in ridership after the pilot’s first year, Sengerio had the pleasure of speaking with Tiffany Rodriguez, Manager Associated Students San Jose State University, to discuss how student mobility has changed since the BayPass pilot came into effect.

Entrance of San Jose State University
San Jose State University

When asked how the pilot has influenced transit options for SJSU’s students and employees, Tiffany explained how the pilot is improving the overall accessibility to transportation and reiterated the value of having a multi-agency solution for riders in the region.

“A regional transit pass not only provides access for students that live in the Bay Area with a commute option, but also with an opportunity to explore the Bay Area outside of school to access internships and job opportunities that they didn’t have the option to do previously.

At SJSU, we have really tried to sell this value to students so they can understand that this type of pass means much more than another way to get to the campus.”

San Jose State University has approximately 35,000 students and distributed the BayPass to 7,000 students (1 in 5 students). SJSU already partners with Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to offer students and employees a single-agency institutional pass, known as SmartPass, which allows them to travel free of charge on local and rapid buses, limited routes, and light rail lines.

Tiffany highlighted that SJSU was easily able to integrate the BayPass pilot into the institute’s existing system to allow the university to centralize its marketing and communications as normal.

One year on, the data have shown a rise in people utilizing the pass and that ridership has increased not only with VTA, but with all the other participating agencies that students can now use — a significant trend that suggests riders are willing to utilize a broader transit system when a more seamless and multi-agency solution is in place.

“We have received a positive response from students that are very excited about the BayPass. Many students made it clear how expensive public transit currently is in the Bay Area and that they would really benefit from the BayPass initiative.

A big challenge we’re going to face is making sure people understand the value of it and that it has a greater impact than simply for the students that live along the corridor and that it’s more than just another commute option. For those that don’t live along the main corridor, they would be able to travel into the Bay Area to experience new things and to have access to jobs and events.”

As well as increasing public transit ridership, the pass also ties neatly into the broader goals of TDM projects to make transit more accessible and sustainable, as Tiffany explained:

“If the program is something we can move forward with and make available to more students, then I think it could really be impactful in terms of long-term ridership and sustainable transportation use.

The BayPass would be transformative to institutional transportation plans and would have a huge impact on the way people are commuting to the campus and the way they use transportation in general. Currently, there is so much traffic and congestion and it only continues to grow. Our university is planning on expanding its population, so I think that the pass would have a huge impact in reaching our sustainability goals.”

The Road to a Seamless Regional Fare System

With a full phase one evaluation being made available in fall 2024, the pilot continues to expand the number of BayPasses to the eligible students and residents of the pilot’s existing institutions until a post-pilot program can be developed.

In the meantime, the pilot moves closer to launching its phase two to allow 8+ employers to purchase regional transit passes for their employees to add around 20,000 additional riders over the next two years.

Smiling girl on a bus

While the BayPass pilot has so far proved largely successful, it isn’t without its challenges. Seamless Bay Area highlighted several limitations of the current plan in a recent article which ultimately misses some opportunities to increase ridership. The article reiterates the concern that transit agencies with existing single-agency passes worry that the BayPass could reduce revenue — despite the increase in overall ridership.

This is especially the case with Caltrain, who already offers its single-agency pass ‘GoPass’. The GoPass differs from the BayPass because the GoPass is offered to employers who pay a flat rate per worker, whereas with the BayPass the Metropolitan Transportation Commission pays transit agencies according to the amount of trips taken by employees. According to Caltrain, it is estimated that this reimbursement formula would generate less revenue for the agency.

As a solution, phase two of the pilot would only be offered to existing GoPass riders within three miles of a Caltrain station. Consequently, however, employers within three miles of a Caltrain station that isn’t a GoPass customer are excluded from the BayPass program’s extension. In their article, Seamless Bay Area highlights that this would leave out around three thousand workers at San Jose Mineta Airport as well as other opportunities to provide transit solutions to workers.


Although there is work to be done to establish “revenue neutrality” in the Bay Area, the BayPass pilot program provides an interesting case that aims to resolve its fractured system by introducing a regional funding measure that’s built on the foundation of an improved system with increased ridership.

The success of the pilot’s phase one needs to be reinforced by governing bodies to reassure transit agencies, such as Caltrain, that the concept of a multi-agency pass offers a future solution for both agencies and riders, as opposed to single-agency passes that only contribute to the region’s fragmented system.

While revenue-sharing is still being refined and fine-tuned, the pilot has brought an air of optimism for riders of the Bay Area who are looking forward to a broader rollout of passes. So far the program has been a success for students and residents and the region is excited to see how the BayPass changes public transit in the region for its employees.

Scott Frankland

Scott Frankland is Head of Content at Sengerio. His spirit of inquiry leads him to the world of transportation and mobility to connect with the industry’s leading experts and shine a light on the hot topics.