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Posts from the "Clipper Card" Category

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BART Board Members Criticize Clipper Transition at Meeting

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 in the works, there are still 40,000 active EZ Rider accounts and 7,000 daily boardings with the card. Several board members feared a scenario where a flood of last minute Clipper adopters try to beat the deadline, overwhelming stations agents and customer service representatives with the burden of refunding so many EZ Rider accounts.

Adding to the challenge, BART currently has different cut-off dates for using EZ Rider for transit and parking. On December 8th, BART customers will be able to pay for parking with Clipper and on December 15th they will no longer be able to use the EZ Rider card, but there is no cut-off date yet for parking.

“It’s going to create a lot of confusion for passengers. I think there are going to be an enormous amount of questions,” said BART Board Vice President Bob Franklin, who explained that having numerous different deadlines for cutting off EZ Rider usage for transit but no deadline for parking would only increase confusion. Though he said some of the problem could be chalked up to procrastination on the part of customers, he argued BART and MTC could improve the outreach and be clearer with deadlines.

“I’m a big believer in this card, I want to honor our commitment to MTC,” he said. But, he argued, “There is going to be a crunch. That’s my concern, that we can’t deliver by December 15th.”

“I think it hurts the acceptance of the card,” he added.

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BART Phasing Out EZ Rider Passes in Switch to Clipper

Image: BART

Image: BART

As transit operators across the Bay Area transition to the Clipper card, one of the bigger challenges each faces is communicating the timeline to their most loyal customers, those who buy high value and monthly passes.

The deadline to transition to Clipper for the  50,000 BART riders who have used EZ Rider cards for transit trips over the past few years has already been pushed back by more than two months, to mid-December, and now BART is concerned the 41,000 remaining EZ Rider account holders will experience an unpleasant surprise when the system is turned off next month.

“We are worried what the impact is going to be on our customers,” said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson. “We’ve tried and tried to gently encourage them to switch over to Clipper because the deadline is coming.”

Though originally slated for October 1st, the transition was delayed due to “concerns pertaining to Clipper system features and technical readiness,” according to a document [pdf] prepared by BART general manager Dorothy Dugger for the board of directors. Directors were expected to discuss the progress of the transition at a board meeting today, but that meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum.

“Significant progress has been made on key issues pertaining to the EZ Rider/Clipper transition,” Dugger writes, noting that 9,000 EZ Rider customers have already canceled their accounts, presumably in the transition to Clipper. Though there are still 41,000 EZ Rider accounts open, that doesn’t mean all of those customers don’t also have a Clipper card.

“BART High Value Discount product auto load sign-ups have increased from 5,700 in June to 26,000 in September, an indicator that the Clipper High Value Discount product is gaining in acceptance as a substitute for EZ Rider,” writes Dugger. “Some of these 26,000 HVD auto load Clipper users may also still have an EZ Rider account open.”

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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.

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Mandatory Switch from Muni Paper Passes to Clipper Card Begins Soon

Flickr photo: Agent Akit

Flickr photo: AgentAkit

As Bay Area transit agencies transition from paper passes to the Clipper smart card, operators like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, are hoping their most loyal customers take the switch in stride. To this end, the SFMTA started selling its November Muni A Fast Passes and disability Regional Transit Connection (RTC) passes online this weekend, and the agency is working overtime with targeted outreach to familiarize the nearly 50,000 A Pass and RTC users how to load their re-usable Clipper cards before the November 1st deadline, when those paper passes will no longer be accepted for Muni service.

“We have more than 40,000 customers who use the “A” pass and more than 7,000 who use the RTC stickers, so it’s critical that they make this transition as early as possible,” SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford said in a release.

Even before the mandatory switch for A Pass and RTC holders, Muni customers have increasingly adopted Clipper on their own accord. When MTC officially announced the transition from Translink to Clipper on June 16th, Muni realized only 20,000 average weekday boardings using the smart card. As of October 8th, Muni had 108,000 average weekday boardings, a five-fold increase and half of total Bay Area Clipper usage. Of the slightly more than 40,000 current A Pass users, roughly one third already use Clipper. RTC pass holders will automatically be given Clipper-compatible cards when they renew, either online or in person at vendors or SFMTA customer service centers.

The SFMTA began deploying customer service ambassadors in August along with the Clipper street teams that have been providing information and customer service since the end of 2008 in Muni Metro stations. According to the SFMTA, since December 2008, the Muni Clipper street teams have distributed more than 70,000 adult cards and accepted more than 20,000 seniors and youth applications [sample Clipper outreach schedule pdf here for this week]. The SFMTA also noted it has undertaken an aggressive internal campaign to inform SFMTA employees, especially frontline Muni personnel, of the Clipper transition and how to assist customers. This campaign includes an orientation and multiple update videos as well as in-person training, of note after Muni operators on cable cars had reportedly been unable to work hand-held Clipper card readers.

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Despite Cost, Clipper Card Promises Convenience

Photo: Matthew Roth

Photo: Matthew Roth

As the Bay Area’s larger transit agencies transition away from paper passes to the universal fare payment smart card, Clipper, transit operators and planners insist the card will lead to greater convenience and simplicity, which they hope will increase ridership and enhance the attractiveness of transit. At its simplest, in theory, a transit passenger would pair a credit card with Clipper, set it to auto-fill whenever the balance on the card goes below a set dollar amount and never again have to consider how to pay or when to pay for a transit trip.

Despite these hopes, transit advocates and neighborhood groups have decried problems with Clipper’s early outreach and implementation, and they fear the complete roll-out of the program will be mired further.

“The promise of electronic payment technology is huge. I’m really happy to see it moving forward, but the implementation so far is pathetic,” said Dave Snyder of the Muni Transit Riders Union.

Snyder said there were already too many problems with unreliable readers, which he said degrades the public’s perception of the transit operators and the program in general. He said even when Clipper works perfectly, it will be slower than flashing Fast Passes to Muni operators, so transit delays could increase if the readers malfunction. He argued that all-door boarding would help address potential delay.

Despite those concerns, and considering the large capital expenditures and net annual expense to operators participating in Clipper, representatives from various transit operators believed Clipper would prove, on balance, to be superior to the current array of fare instruments at each individual operator and would hopefully entice new riders to the systems.

“For a lot of people, their life is just going to be a lot better. That’s the win,” said Randy Rentschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the regional transportation planning entity administering Clipper.

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With Clipper Card Change, Some Communities Bemoan Lack of Outreach

Nat_announce.jpgFTA 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 the card are promising the public a more convenient way to pay for transit rides across numerous counties and agencies, from BART to Muni, AC Transit to Caltrain. As the MTC and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, begin to make it easier for some to acquire and learn to use the new smart cards, they need to do better outreach to communities like San Francisco's Chinatown, say community groups there who argue the Clipper transition has many people confused and frustrated.

At a press event yesterday, the SFMTA announced the installation of a number of fare gates and vending machines compatible with Clipper, starting with the Civic Center Muni Metro Station. Every Muni Metro station will have the new fare gates and vending machines by the end of October, or 100 fare gates (including 19 for passengers with disabilities) and 40 vending machines in total.

SFMTA CEO Nat Ford hailed the installation as a much needed step to replace fare gates that were nearly 30 years old. Ford described the new gates as though they were being welcomed into the SFMTA family.

"These new gates will hopefully be here in the next 25 to 30 years serving those folks who need public transportation services here in the city, getting to and from their loved ones, getting to their jobs, getting an eduction," said Ford. "We don't look at these fare gates as steel and rubber and labels, we really look at them as instruments to help people achieve their dreams."

Ford also credited his regional and federal partners for helping the $30.1 million fare equipment project by directing $11 million of federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year.

"This project had been sitting here on the shelf and we were able to fast forward this project through our partnerships with the MTC and the Clipper program and through federal stimulus dollars that were presented to us by President Obama's recovery program," said Ford.

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