Clipper Card’s Dirty Little Secret (Hint: It Can “Go Negative”)

Photo: Matthew Roth
Photo: Matthew Roth

Of all the ways you can use your Clipper smart card for payment on transit agencies throughout the Bay Area, you probably didn’t realize you could use it like a credit card, spending up to $10 more than the value on the card. And you probably didn’t realize it’s set up with the perverse economic incentive to game the system, whereby you can scam distance-based fare operators like BART out of most of the cost of your trip.

Or maybe you did and you hoped to fly under the radar?

Here’s how the scam works, and mind you it is especially effective on BART, where you don’t have fare inspectors or conductors to check your Clipper card and catch you. At any retailer or vending machine that sells Clipper, load the minimum $2 dollars on a new Clipper card. Buy a bunch of them this way, if you like. Pay cash and do it at a Muni Metro vending machine in downtown San Francisco if you really don’t want to be traceable. Then ride BART where ever you desire and you will never have to pay more than $2.

Let’s take Civic Center to the San Francisco Airport, a trip I made over the weekend to see if the scam worked as a Streetsblog tipster had suggested. I bought two $2 cards at the vending machine, paying $4 in cash. When I tagged into the system at the fare gate, the card had a $2 value. I rode to SFO, a trip that should have cost me $8.10. When I tagged out at the International Terminal fare gates, instead of an “Insufficient Fare” warning, which I would have seen had I been using a $2 traditional BART fare card, my Clipper card subtracted $6.10, leaving me with a balance of $3.90 of someone else’s money.

After completing my return trip to Civic Center with my other $2 Clipper card, I ended up with $16.20 worth of BART rides for $4. If I had entered BART at one of the terminus stations, like Pittsburgh Bay Point, and traveled to SFO round-trip, I could have gamed BART for $21.80.

Because the cards still register the negative balance, and I would have to pay that down before I could add a positive balance to the card upon re-loading it, the smart thing to do would be to throw away the cards. At a cost of $2 per card to manufacture, I’m essentially paying for the privilege of adding two pretty blue cards to the landfill.

What a steal!

Of course, someone has to pay for the scam and that would be the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation planning body that administers Clipper (though in the end it’s the taxpayer who foots their bill). MTC settles its Clipper debts every day with the transit agencies participating in the program, so BART would have been repaid the cost of my trips from regional funds allocated to the Clipper roll-out.

MTC spokesperson John Goodwin acknowledged that Clipper cards can “go negative,” which he said the MTC programmed into the card to help customers get out of a transit system where there aren’t fare machines or customer service personnel to help them add value to their cards.

“It’s a built-in convenience to the system, based on the goodwill that people will re-load their card,” said Goodwin.

According to Goodwin, Streetsblog’s inquiry represented the first time an “enterprising journalist blew the lid off this” (actually, Stanley Roberts at KRON appears to be first). He said the Clipper program managers were looking into whether or not there is “wide-spread abuse of this system,” though he acknowledged that they had not determined what the threshold was for that abuse. He also acknowledged that MTC “wouldn’t be able to answer precisely the question how many people are scamming the system.”

He could say that in August, the most recent month for this data, there were only 152 cards out of more that 100,000 that had only been used once. He also knew that in October 5 percent of 247,700 Clipper cards in use had a negative balance. Beyond that, the agency had not finished evaluating the potential for this type of fraud. Goodwin said the “ability to go negative is a standard feature in most smart-card programs” and he said he believed that “north of 95 percent are using the card correctly.”

“We designed the system based on an expectation that the vast majority of our customers are honest,” he added.

Though MTC has no current plans to reprogram the software to eliminate the ability to go into debt on the card, Goodwin said there were numerous options at their disposal if they thought there was widespread abuse, including lowering the card’s debt balance or charging a small amount for each card.

BART’s spokesperson Linton Johnson said his agency knew of the scam, calling it “Clipper’s dirty little secret,” but he declined to provide further comment on the matter.

Tom Radulovich, a BART Board director, said he was disappointed with MTC, which he said was botching the implementation of Clipper. “One of the things we were promised with [Clipper] was that it would be harder to scam the system, but it turns out there is a pretty easy way,” he said.

Radulovich said he had tried to get BART staff and MTC to retrofit BART’s Add-Fare machines in its stations to accommodate Clipper, but MTC was reluctant, preferring to rely on retail outlets like Walgreens to fulfill that role. While that might make sense in downtown San Francisco, it was a ridiculous proposition at a BART station like Orinda, he said.

“They didn’t want to retrofit the Add-Fare machines. They didn’t want to pay for that. They’ve not been willing to put the money forward,” he argued.

Radulovich said MTC could avoid the scam by making the debt option possible only for someone who registers their card with Clipper so they have a record of the user. But, he argued, MTC were transportation planners, not operators, and they didn’t have experience with customers like BART did.

“They’ve been in such a rush to declare success, they don’t care if agencies are losing money,” he said. “Scamming the BART system is a flaw and that is definitely something they should fix.”

  • mrcawfee

    Allowing it to go negative makes sense for autoload cards, but those one time use cards is just dumb.

  • It’s true, it’s the dirty little secret about Clipper. It’s one of the reasons why Clipper wanted to stop giving away the plastic cards for free and start charging a $5 new issuance fee. It was supposed to be a short term promo until someone declared the plastic cards for free until mid-2011.

    During the freebie period, they just handed cards out left and right with no value on it. Someone could go to an in-person vendor and just add one penny, and score up to a $10 free ride one-way. Clipper then changed the policy stating that a new card is still free, but a minimum of $2 or a transit pass must be added (includes all vendors and Muni ticketing machines); still, Clipper teams go to random places in the Bay Area and hand out free cards.

    To make matters worse, the cards are still issued without the surcharge until June 2011. If they want to stop the abuse, they need to stop giving away free cards and tack on the $5 card issuance fee (paying $5 for the new card doesn’t give any cash balance to it).

    Interesting fact: MTC has paid for a new batch of cards costing $1,000,000 to get 475K of them. Each card costs $2.11 each, and is a major financial loss by simply giving them away for free.

  • Joe Smith, Jr.

    Why not just jump over the fare gates? If you’re going to steal, just steal. No need to be so creative about it.

  • @mrcawfee If a person has autoload, their card will never go negative. Once it hits a tolerance limit (I believe it’s $10), the card is replenished with money, just like fastrak.

    A way to help stem the problem is to register all customers who wants the negative balance protection, but some may just falsify registration so the collection agency doesn’t chase them down.

    It is a unique problem as BART passengers may not know they don’t have enough value when entering, but they can’t top-off funds at one of their exitfare machines. Since I keep an eye on Clipper and their meeting notes, MTC is intending to let their ticketing machines add Clipper value, but didn’t note anything about exitfare machines.

  • Andy Chow

    The ability to go negative is also necessary for Caltrain and GGT. These systems take the maximum possible fare on the first tag, and give a refund on the second tag. So if you board Caltrain in SF, you would be charged with a fare to Gilroy. When you tag off in San Mateo, the fare difference will be returned. What if someone only has enough fare on the card to cover San Mateo?

  • mrcawfee

    @Akit that is true, but there is probaly a latency between when you pass the threshold and when it actually reloads, don’t really want to reject someone who does a lot of travel in one day due to the delay.

  • Zendritic

    The most infuriating part of this article is that the MTC refused to pay for add fare machines and opted to outsource this necessary feature to private vendors. Clipper can’t institute a max negative balance until there’s a Clipper addfare machine behind every fare gate. Until then, Walgreens continues to make money on impulse sales while BART gets scammed.

  • Alex

    Fare inspectors wouldn’t play any role in the effectiveness of the last ride policy. If you tag your card with less than the cost of a fare, you’re still granted entrance and as far as the MTA is concerned you’ve got a valid transfer. Not only do you get a free ride, you also get a free TransClipper card. Hell you can game the autoload by canceling your credit card (or not updating it when it expires). BTDT a few times accidentally when I was trying in vain to get my WageWorks parking debit card to work with EZ-Rider.

    A surcharge doesn’t fix the problem, unless the surcharge / minimum balance is the cost of the most expensive single trip you can take with a Clipper card. What *would* solve it would be disallowing a free last ride unless you’ve got a valid autoload set up.

    As for the insufficient funds for a long trip, what about it? What happens if you’ve only got a two zone ticket on Caltrain and try to go to Gilroy? If you get caught, you get caught. I don’t see the problem (or need to grab the extra cash at first).

  • captainfrank

    Screwing the transit system is basically screwing all of the other riders. Don’t be evil. Pay your fare.

  • Amen to that captainfrank!

  • Disco Burritos

    well if the expected losses are less than the cost of retrofitting the add-fare machines, this isn’t such a dumb policy.

  • MickV2

    Heh. Well if it was a secret before, it certainly isn’t now.

    Maybe it’s a loss leader, like giving away free heroin. Take muni twice for free and you’ll never want to go back to that air-conditioned mercedes with the top range sound system

  • Alex

    @captainfrank On some level I agree. OTOH, the MTA deserves what they get for fucking up TransClipper so badly. Even compared to other TransClipper readers, the MTA’s turnstiles are exceedingly slow on both entry and exit.

    And the MTC sure has some just desserts. How many millions of tax dollars did the MTC blow on renaming the TransClipper card???

    @Zendritic It’s my understanding that Caltrain requires a minimum balance of $1.25 on your card before you can use it on their system. If BART were to implement a similar policy, the problem could easily be solved. Thing is that BART’s had a last ride free policy for a while, so keeping it with TransClipper makes/made sense.

  • m

    BART has a $1.75 minimum to use the clipper card. It’s not advertised anywhere and causes lots of fun when you’re at a place with no add value machine and want to go home and only have $1 left.

    BTW, this article isn’t exactly responsible: it’s not really a ‘secret’, just like ‘you can wave your hands over the exit part of the gate’ isn’t a ‘secret’. But encouraging people to scam the system just because they can? Yeah, there’s lots of ways to do that, why do you want to encourage them?

    (As noted, many BART stations have ingress/egress points which don’t require payment.)

  • Clipper card is not mean for single use ticket. Even if the rider do not intent to leave a negative value, if they throw away the card after a single use it will still cost the agency money on the cost. That’s why it make sense to request a deposit. If you have to give it away, at least ask them to fill a form or something so that they have some work to do at least. It is not like they should be able to get a ticket every morning and use it for just one time.

    Allow negative charge also make sense. It is a goodwill and user friendly feature to allow the regular rider to complete they trip without impediment and then refill they account at a more convenient time. Hong Kong’s system have the same feature.

  • MickV2

    Wai

    No, charging a deposit, or charging for a card, is totally unreasonable.

    Why should the public pay for the privilege of paying for their fare? A muni ride is supposed to be $2, and not a penny more.

    Or at least do what London did with their equivalent of the Clipper card and give a discount on the standard fare for frequent use.

    Given those kinds of unreasonable extortion, I don’t blame anyone for taking advantage of a few free rides on muni.

  • I feel the $8.10 downtown to SFO charge is a complete joke. Many have noted that a family of 4 actually save money by taking a taxi (plus get door to door service).

    I also don’t feel like this article is advocating, in any way, that people take advantage of the system. Actually, it is calling MTC officials out for not providing adequate service. Now, the question becomes, as Disco Burritos said, is the cost of installing add-fare machines (which I think they’ll have to do eventually anyway) more then the cost of lost revenue and wasted cards. I’d have to say the answer is no and the add-fare machines should be installed ASAP.

    Side note, I’ve never been a fan of short use clipper cards. It seems like a waste of money (both for MTC and the user) and resources (the card isn’t only plastic, there is some metal, etc in there).

  • patrick

    “Of course, someone has to pay for the scam and that would be the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation planning body that administers Clipper (though in the end it’s the taxpayer who foots their bill). MTC settles its Clipper debts every day with the transit agencies participating in the program, so BART would have been repaid the cost of my trips from regional funds allocated to the Clipper roll-out.”

    So as far as I’m concerned, it’s not screwing BART or any other transit provider, as they get their money. It’s screwing the MTC, which I am perfectly fine with, since they’ve been screwing me (and every other person in the Bay Area) for years by funneling money to their construction industry buddies on bad projects.

  • Joe C

    @Alex – and I guess that guy who left his back door unlocked deserves to have his stuff stilen for being absent minded, and that women desrves what she gets for dressing like a hooker.

    Yes MTC is a big faceless bureaucracy but it is a public agency that is imperfect like all human endeavors. The public realm has taken an undesreved amount of flack from both “rightous” lefties and “radical” rightists, and certainly is seen as a feeding trough by a lot of private contractors and unions. But for riders who want and need these services, every time someone evades their fare it takes a little bit from each user.

  • mcas

    …But the real scandal is the $8.10 trip to SFO- plus $2.00 for Muni to get to the BART Station.

    While I do my best to reduce my VMTs, I can get a Zipcar for the same price, and it takes 1/3 the time, as long as I have a friend willing to help me out.

  • Clipper could modify their negative balance policy for BART by not allowing the passenger to exit with a negative balance.

    The only obstacle is to either install exitfare machines or modify BART’s existing exitfare machines to handle Clipper transactions.

    But if MTC goes on this route to just target BART, other transit agencies with high prices like Golden Gate Ferry may say that people also cheat the system just like BART passengers. If Vallejo ferry joins Clipper, they could experience the same problem too. They could modify the rules that one must enter the ferry system with a sufficient balance since the terminals all have Clipper automated machines.

  • MrWriteSF

    In a different vein, this is reminiscent of a 50s folk song by The Kingston Trio (other groups may have performed it too) called “M.T.A” or “The Man Who Never Returned” or something like that. It’s supposedly based on a true story about a commuter in Boston who had just enough money to get on a train, but didn’t have an extra nickel to exit when the fares increased during his ride. The lyrics then go on to claim how his wife met his train every day to hand him food through the window; as I got older, I wondered why she just didn’t give him the extra nickel he needed so he could eat…at home…with her? 🙂

    “But did he ever return, NO he never returned
    And his fate is still unlearned (poor ol’ Charlie)
    He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston
    He’s the man who never returned.”

    If Clipper cards didn’t go negative, we’d be riding ‘neath the streets of Frisco (sorry…the lyrics don’t work otherwise).

  • Greg Rodriguez

    If it’s really the MTS that’s getting screwed here (and the taxpayers eventually), why not call the MTC management out on the carpet and let the heads roll? If I were as incompetent as they seem to be at my place of employment, I would be out the door before my chair would get warm.

    It’s time that the transit riders of the bay area to get up off of their collective asses and demand that the management do the their jobs correctly as well as competently.

  • patrick

    @Joe C, the MTC is not doing is designated job, if it were AC transit would be in much better financial situation. It is supposed to coordinate with the various transit agencies, but for the most part it simply de-funds projects not related to BART (such as Dumbarton Rail Bridge) and withholds funds from transit providers (such as AC transit) whenever BART has a funding problem, allowing BART to pursue projects that are actively harmful for transit (such as the Oakland Airport Connector).

    MTC needs to be disbanded.

  • Alex

    @Joe I’d like it more to the guy who beat the crap out of you leaving his door(s) unlocked… or expecting me to shed any tears over Alex Fagan’s death. Karmic justice or somesuch.

    That said, I think the MTA (and various transit agencies) should absolutely take corrective action.

    @mike Ahh shades of the Oyster card. They offer a tourist oriented card at Heathrow (and elsewhere I s’pose) alongside the normal Oyster cards. The tourist cards just work out to a worse deal for the rider in nearly every possible situation. I agree that in an ideal world the one use cards should be discontinued. But what about that segment of the population that’s just inclined to lose their cards? The paper cards are cheaper…

  • Given that Matt’s article is on the main page of SFgate, I have a feeling someone will address this problem quite soon or BART will see its fares plummet in the next couple weeks . . .

  • Exactly why it’s a good thing he pointed this out. Fang can take a break from pie-in-the-sky promises and actually do something productive. Hell, he’ll still be funneling money into a contractor’s pocket so shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for him.

  • What a mess this is going to be for MTC and BART to clean-up. I wonder how many people will actually pay attention and rip-off the system, or just be honest and pay their full fare?

    Just like the fare gate controversy on Muni, just a week later, it was a non-news issue.

    Bets on Fang going all out nuclear on Clipper? He went nuts saying TransLink was a joke and his $300K cell phone experiment was worth it; the truth, his cell phone project tanked and Clipper is doing fine.

  • Alex

    I’m curious why this is being painted as a BART-only issue. You get the last ride free on MUNI, probably GGT too.

  • Big Picture Thinker

    Every technology goes through a certain stage of evolution. Using the analogy of mouse and mousetrap, one day the mouse gets the cheese. The next week, the trap gets the mouse. The week after another mouse gets the cheese. Evolve or decline. … When testing new technology at its initial stage, one can discover some very unique undocumented features. …

  • DC also allows negative balances, and it’s fantastic because it doesnt mean you get held up when trying to get to work.

    To avoid fraud, the max fare is $4.50 but the cards cost $5.

    SF has various options:

    Lower the maximum negative balance, maybe to $8.

    Raise the minimum charge to $3.

    Charge $2 to purchase the card….so on day 1, you’re spending $5 (2 sunk, 3 for fares)

  • OriginalPunk77

    Amen, captainfrank.

    But people will always find ways to justify their dishonesty, hence “the MTA deserves what they get”.

    Conscience is a thing of the past.

  • Miguel

    So let me get this straight. MTC, admittedly after spending oodles of taxpayer money, finally produces a system that is supposed to make life easier for transit users (Clipper), and includes a little feature that is supposed to help riders who find themselves accidentally short of credit. And all people can do is a) blab about how to exploit it for their own gain and b) rip into MTC for somehow blowing it. You do realize, don’t you, that if too many people do this, they will just turn off the negative-balance feature. How come no one is thanking MTC for adding this feature in the first place? Because they surely didn’t need to.

  • Excellent point, Miguel. I’ve been blogging on Clipper (TransLink) for a long time but I’m not that comfortable to expose the weaknesses so people can ruin the program. I knew this would be an issue, but once a major media outlet takes the football, they run like hell and shout at the same time.

    Now that thousands have read both this on StreetsBlog and the same exact story on SFGate, it’s ruined for the honest people who only use the negative balance feature and promise to replenish their card with funds.

    There’s no such thing as a free ride anymore. Ripping off the system is a money savings for the scumbag, but it’s not to us taxpayers who keep paying higher fares and taxes to compensate for those who cheat.

  • Alex

    @Miguel: They should have implemented it correctly. Period. If you’ve got a valid credit card linked for autoload, that demonstrates good faith. Allowing free rides on cash only, disposable cards is an asinine idea and a feature that should never have been implemented in the first place. It’s not a benefit unless you consider fare evasion a benefit.

    @Akit: The term for that is security through obscurity. It didn’t work for Boston’s MBTA, and it won’t work for the MTC here. If you (or anyone at the MTC) doesn’t want the system to be so easily abused, don’t design it in such a thoughtless manner.

    As for the turnstiles, newsworthy or not they’re a stupid design. The MTA should have just gone with tag in and out. The paper transfer argument is silly as people with paper transfers are already semi-obligated to get waved past a station agent.

    Given how many times I’ve been bumped from a train on an unannounced short-run, how many times I’ve gotten stuck in the subway for the better part of an hour… I’ve got no sympathy for the MTA.

    After watching the MTC fall all over themselves to fund the OAC, blow millions on rebranding TransClipper, defund maintenance, and the like… I think that any fare evasion you may see as a result of these poorly thought-out policies is going to be a drop in the bucket compared to the money that the MTC has thrown away on useless projects. Fare evasion is, on some level, wrong… but it’s less wrong and less immoral, and typically on a much much smaller scale than the wrongs that the MTC has imposed upon us.

  • Mr Dude

    “He also acknowledged that MTC “wouldn’t be able to answer precisely the question how many people are scamming the system”

    OMG!!

    select * from cards where balance < 0

  • Did Cubic, Inc, a rent-seeking defense-goverment teat-sucking scam outfit, benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of your tax dollars form TransLink(tm)(sm)(c)(r)? Yes.

    Is MTC’s Steve “inexplicably not yet indicted” Heminger still in a position to direct tens of billions of your tax dollars directly into the pockets of the contractors who promote and then build grotesquely inefficient, negative cost-benefit, outright fraudulent, megaproject scams (BART to Millbrae, BART to Santa Clara, Bay Bridge $6bn over budget, HSR to Los Banos, Caldecott Tunnel, Central Subway, Clipper(sm)(r)(c)(tm), FasTrak(c)(r)(sm)(tm), VTA rail, etc etc etc etc etc)? Yes.

    Is somebody else left holding the bag? Yes.

    So … I see no problem here! It’s clearly win-win-win.

    So go out and enjoy your Clipper(c)(sm)(tm)(r) cards and your $30 million worth of Cubic-supplied Muni faregates!

  • @MickV2,

    Deposit is not a charge since it can be refunded. Fastrak has a deposit. Octopus card in HK has a deposit. Clipper create a problem for themselves if they hand out too many cards for free. The smart card is not designed for single use.

    I too advocate for a small discount for clipper users. It is the best grease for the clipper wheel.

  • It’s true that there should be Clipper add-fare machines at every BART station; it is inconvenient to show up to the station, only to find out that you need to add value to ride, and then have to go figure out how to do that before you can come back and ride.

    I don’t see the subject of this article as a dirty little secret; merely a customer service feature so you don’t get trapped inside the system with no legal way to escape. The time of free Clipper cards should soon pass; eventually, I expect they will be on the order of $5 each to purchase, which should do away with the ability of this scam to spread (i.e. a financial dis-incentive to throw away your card, if you ever wish to ride transit with a Clipper card again)…

    Also, I kind of like that there is a way for you to “scam” the system on a one-time, very-difficult-to-repeatedly-undertake basis. Every complicated system needs a back door, so I would advocate of doing away with this feature in order to prevent scamming. Simply charging $5 each for Clipper cards should do the trick (or giving them away free if you buy them pre-loaded with, say, $50 or more).

  • @Garlynn, “or giving them away free if you buy them pre-loaded with, say, $50 or more”

    That’s some creative solution! No need to go ballistic and talk like this is some sort of fatal fault.

  • Alex

    @Garlynn: It’s not hard to duplicate at all. Go into Walgreens, buy a $2 TransClipper card. Use on a > $2 trip, or use on a $2 MUNI trip, then use it for your return MUNI trip. No fuss no muss. Works well if you live or work near a Walgreens.

    In the MUNI instance, it’d be very easy to simply require $2 cash before being granted a transfer. In the BART case they could do something crazy like require the median fare or autoload before allowing entry. Or require registration for the last trip free.

    It’s not *that* complicated…

  • Anon

    I used to do marketing work for MTC and I worked on this, 511 and Fastrak. Have to say they’re just a bunch of self-protecting ineffective state workers with no real clue as to what they’re doing. But boy, they sure act the part. I used to sit in meetings wondering how they got their jobs.

    Here’s what’s worse than this stupid loophole: This program was called Translink. They spent a bunch of money on marketing and advertising, websites and photoshoots. Translink was the name of the original master program. However, due to the ego of some of the MTC administrators, they spent millions of our tax dollars to rebrand it CLIPPER. Why? They wanted to be distinctive from other metro areas offering the same service. Get that? They wanted to differentiate themselves from non-competing entities. WTF? Your tax dollars, hard at work melting glaciers.

  • Brandon

    I dont see why they arent just requiring autoload to get a free Clipper. Wasnt that the way it was most of the time when it was Translink?

    Its not meant to be a one time use card anyway…

  • m

    Let me rephrase my comment above:
    What was the goal of this article? Do you want the MTC to change something? If so, what? Make it harder for people to use translink cards?

    How does this article help promote transit or livable streets in general?

    (I’ll compare this with, say, Akit’s site, which lists issues but generally from the perspective of ‘how can we make it easier to use transit’.)

  • @m Good question to ask. My big problem with this story is how much the major media has gone nuts with it. KTVU and KGO has now spread the word to thousands more. It makes me wonder what is the line between going too far vs. just enough information (news media ethics).

  • david

    Okay, let people think they’ll get a free ride and MTC can give them one after tons of people grab free Clipper cards. Then in a month or so, changes the rules. Most people will have gotten and gotten accustomed to using Clipper and will use it as intended. The few that take advantage will then stop getting free rides.

    I’m not pleased with MTC in general, but a systemwide translink type card does need to be done, they needed to do that and at least it’s finally happening. Points subtracted for not doing it well however.

    For me, I signed up for Clipper (to replace EZ Rider) in hopes of using that one card on MUNI and Caltrain as well. The concept is a winner with me since I loved using EZ Rider on BART, which with Autoload means I don’t have to think about tickets or fares for the most part –I can focus on where I’m going while I’m in the stations or riding the trains.

  • Paul McGregor

    You might want to check with folks in DC to see how they are adapting their Add Fare machines. Washington Metro just recently changed their policy to require patrons to add fare for cards that are negative before they can get out. So yes, it can be done.

  • Paul McGregor

    Also, when Washington Metro did make the announcement about no more negative cards, the reaction from the public was not positive because their Add Fare machines only take cash so people will have to carry cash with them. Hopefully they can adapt the machines to take credit/debit cards like the main machines do. It would also require that people have to do more to track their cards too and become more aware of when they have to recharge their cards.

  • Tom West

    You should only be able to go negative if the balance was positive (e.g. you have $1 on the card, but need to make a $2 trip). If the balance is zero or negative, you can’t use it until you top up.

    As for the lack of top-up facilites: allow top-ups on any bus (maybe only up to $10 or $20). After all, a bus handles cash anyway, so it’s no extra work.

  • Paul McGregor

    @Tom Yes you describe it the way it works but the problem for BART and Caltrain is the amount that goes negative. All you have to do is put a dollar on the card and go negative $5 or more.

    I think one way to at least address this problem is not to give out the cards for free. Make everyone pay for the cards. Other places that use smartcards not only have you pay for the card but also require you to have either a pass or some ecash on the card as well. When it was starting up, I could see the need to give cards away but I think that time has passed.

    Let’s get off this MTC bashing because it is a problem with smartcards in other places too and they are taking steps to address it. Again, I point to Washington DC area that has a similar fare collection system to BART. This is an evoloving project and hopefully corrections will be made as the remaining agencies come on board.

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The BART Board of Directors had a heated discussion today about most things Clipper, from the large number of EZ Rider customers who have yet to transition to the universal smart card, to the ease with which customers can scam Clipper cards on BART and other operators. Despite a more visible outreach and marketing campaign […]

Clipper Card Transition for Bay Area Transit is Now Official

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MTC Commission Chair Scott Haggerty announcing the launch of the Clipper Card. Photos: Matthew Roth. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which sets the Bay Area’s regional transportation and land use policies, officially announced the transition from the Translink card to the newly branded Clipper smart card for transit trips today. The new blue card with eight […]

With Clipper Card Change, Some Communities Bemoan Lack of Outreach

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FTA Regional Director Lesley Rogers, SFMTA CEO Nat Ford, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Appointment to the MTC, Jon Rubin, at a press conference in the Civic Center Muni Metro station. Photos: Matthew Roth. With the roll-out of the Bay Area-wide Clipper smart card, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the many transit operators adopting […]

Clipper Card Upgrade Could Bring Seamless Regional Travel, Or Not

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The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will soon renew its contract for Clipper, the Bay Area’s “all-in-one transit card.” Transit advocates are urging MTC to use the opportunity to create a more seamless fare system, and remove barriers that could allow Clipper payments on both the region’s transit agencies and “first-and-last-mile” trip services. Transit riders can currently […]
Image: MTC website

Clipper Update and the Potential to Rationalize Fares

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Yesterday evening, at the San Francisco Transit Rider’s new digs on Folsom Street in downtown, Sara Barz of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Arielle Fleisher, with the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), gave presentations about the move to replace the Clipper fare-collection system with a new generation of technology […]