Android can finally tap to pay for BART, Caltrain, Muni, and other SF Bay Area transit

In 2010, the San Francisco Bay Area introduced a single tap-to-pay NFC card for practically all its public transit — and Google introduced the first NFC-equipped Android smartphone. Now, over a decade later, the two ideas are finally compatible. Today, you can finally digitize a Clipper card into most Android phones, or buy one there to start, then tap it to ride 24 different transit systems in SF and the greater Silicon Valley.

Apple also added the same functionality to iPhones and Apple Watches last month, and here’s how I described it at the time:

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.

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.

With Google Pay, most NFC-equipped phones with Android 5.0 or higher are compatible — but not Motorola devices due to “inconsistent experiences” — and Samsung users will have to set Google Pay as their default wallet app, according to this FAQ. It also doesn’t work for bikeshare or a few specific types of passes. Importantly, Google says if you load a Clipper card into Google Pay, you won’t be able to use the physical card anymore. Your card can only exist in one place.

The Clipper card as it appears in Google Pay.
Image: Google

While the SF Bay Area may be home to many Google (and Apple) employees, it’s just one of the metros where Google is planning to ingest these cards — Google says Chicago and Washington, DC are both coming soon, and there’s a transit shortcut on the home screen of the Google Pay app that’ll also let you pay for parking in 400 cities and transit in “70+ smaller towns and cities,” according to Google.

A Google rep also tells us that the previously announced ability to buy train tickets directly from Google Maps is still coming later on. That could come in handy for those who aren’t regular commuters but discover that a quick public transit ride can get them from A to B.

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