Art + Design

From the Design Desk: Passing On


Last Friday marked more than the beginning of a new month—it signaled the surrender to the streamlined Clipper Card and the relinquishment of my good ol’, paper-issue Fast Pass. For those not familiar with the San Francisco Municipal Railway (affectionately known as Muni), the paper Fast Pass has been the cornerstone of San Francisco public transportation since monthly passes were introduced in 1974, but is now being phased out in favor of the new, plastic Clipper Card.

(left) September ’10 Fast Pass; (right) Clipper Card

The original Fast Pass featured changing art and themes and eventually settled into the brightly colored design we know today.

Images courtesy of Sally Wassink

With its signature split color background, bold black type, and repeating silver MUNI logo undulating down the card, the Fast Pass of recent years is as diverse and colorful as the city itself. Each time I’ve purchased the Fast Pass, the moment is akin to the unveiling of the Color of the Year, all eager excitement in anticipation of the new palette selected by the Muni powers that be. As with any surprise, the result sometime disappoints. But whatever the palette, each Pass is undeniably unique and inspirational in its own way. Here in the Design Department, we’ve seen Fast Passes as room décor, color source (I have asked a printer to match a Fast Pass color for a project), or museum art. I’ve even found myself employing the passes in a kind of tealeaf fortune-telling ritual (“Blue and orange! It’s going to be a great month!” or “Hot pink and yellow—time to spice things up.”). And in a city where the seasons are either Fog or No-Fog, I appreciate the sense of time and seasons that my collection of Fast Passes has provided.

(clockwise from left) portion of my personal collection; Design Director Vanessa Dina’s artful arrangement; (bottom) from John Kuzich exhibition at the De Young

As I was bemoaning the end of the Fast Pass era last week at work, it became clear that I am not alone in my love of the Pass. Although several people promised that I was going to be won over by the ease of the Clipper Card, even the most vocal Clipper Card advocate boasts a collection of brightly colored Fast Passes pinned by her desk.

For so many of us, the Fast Pass has served not only as a means of getting where we need to go, but also as symbol of being part of San Francisco’s vibrant, creative culture. So even though the Fast Pass will soon be relegated to the archives, it will always hold a place in this designer’s heart.

Jennifer Tolo Pierce
Design Director

Jennifer Tolo Pierce

Jennifer Tolo Pierce

Jennifer Tolo Pierce is a Design Director at Chronicle Books with a love of all things words and images, particularly as they intersect in the realm of lifestyle and children’s publishing.
Jennifer Tolo Pierce



  • jake October 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Let's just hope the never change the MUNI logo. Keep it funky SF.


  • MJC October 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I was a MUNI Fast Pass user in the early '90s so i can appreciate the nostalgia for the
    monthly color card. Somehow the plastic Clipper card, and its predecessor, Trans-Link, doesn't have the same panache as the paper ones. As for the undulating MUNI logo, I once worked at the design firm, and with the designer of the "MUNI worm" as we called it.


  • Steffan October 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I will miss the sort of unintentional art that the Muni pass represented (just like I miss the unintentional art involved with library "Date due" index cards.)

    Since the plastic cards are more permanent than the paper pass, the city should solicit work from local artists and have their work displayed on the plastic passes.


    • Jennifer October 6, 2010 at 9:23 am

      Good idea! I'd love to see the tradition of Muni pass as collector's item continue. It would be a great (and highly visible) way to showcase some of SF's local creative talent.


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