Clipper card and BART parking vending machines at the Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre BART (Bay Area rapid Transit) station at 1365 Treat Boulevard in Walnut Creek, Calif. on March 5, 2021. (Samantha Laurey/Bay City News)

BART plans to launch a pilot program later this year to test the viability of a global transit pass compatible with every public transit agency in the nine-county Bay Area.

The first phase of the pilot program could begin as early as August and would offer up to 50,000 transit passes to students at San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Rosa Junior College as well as residents of at least three housing developments run by MidPen Housing.

The four schools and MidPen Housing were chosen in part because they each offer an existing transit pass that reduces fare costs or makes them free for at least one public transit system.

Transit fares would be free for those using the passes during the pilot program, according to Financial Planning Director Michael Eiseman.

“The objective will be to demonstrate the degree to which a product like this can promote greater ridership and meet the needs of riders, institutions and agencies,” Eiseman told the BART Board of Directors Thursday. “We’ll evaluate program performance and collect data that could be used as the basis of a revenue model for a permanent program.”

The two-year program is expected to cost roughly $6 million, according to BART Financial Planning Director Michael Eiseman, $4.5 million of which will reimburse transit agencies for fares that are waived by using the pass during phase one.

The second phase, planned for early next year, would make transit passes available at up to 10 employers across the Bay Area, with a focus on employers in parts of the region with several transit options.

The start of the first phase of the program, and the program as a whole, could also be pushed back, Eiseman said, if Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to make public transit free statewide for three months is adopted as part of the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget.

Eiseman estimated that on the program’s current timeline and if the pilot program is successful, a potential permanent region transit pass could be made available when the next generation Clipper Card system launches, tentatively scheduled for the second half of 2023.

Board President Rebecca Saltzman said she was glad the pilot first phase will involve public universities as students at schools like UC Berkeley have previously sought a similar global transit pass but have often graduated before making much progress.

“It’s really challenging to get these done at community colleges, universities because of that, so having a set program in the future would be incredibly helpful,” she said. “So super excited about moving this forward and want to see what the pilot shows and how we can make this permanent and expand it.”