MTC Confident on Civil Rights Policies, Clipper Card Rollout Begins

clipper_BART_lake_Merritt.jpgThe Clipper Card readers at the Lake Merritt BART Station. Photos: Matthew Roth.

One development lost in the media feeding frenzy around the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) denying BART’s request of $70 million for the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) was a letter the FTA sent to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area’s planning body, initiating a review of its civil rights policies [PDF].

In the February 3rd letter, FTA Office of Civil Rights Director Cheryl Hershey argued that MTC relied on BART’s assurances that it had conducted proper equity and fare analysis for the OAC, but there wasn’t evidence the MTC had a mechanism in place to check the veracity of BART’s claims. Given that the FTA subsequently found BART’s civil rights policies inadequate, the federal agency wanted MTC to produce documentation to explain its policy on civil rights adherence by fiscal subrecipients like BART.

Hershey noted that despite public testimony by Bob Allen of Urban Habitat at an MTC meeting on July 8, 2009 and a subsequent letter warning of BART’s "failure to produce the required equity analysis for this project," the MTC proceeded with support for the OAC.

In the letter, Hershey wrote:

As you are aware, BART is a subrecipient of the MTC, and, therefore, MTC is responsible for ensuring its subrecipients comply with Title VI, the DOT Title VI regulations, and FTA Circular 4702.1A. Your agency is responsible for documenting a process that ensures that all MTC subrecipients are in compliance with the reporting requirements of FTA C 4702.1A

The fact that BART has not conducted the necessary service equity analysis for the OAC project or fare equity analysis raises concerns that your agency does not have procedures in place to monitor its suprecipients.

MTC responded to the FTA’s investigation a month later [PDF] with a long list of subrecipients for FTA grants and made the crucial argument that many categories of FTA funds that go through the MTC, including the $70 million of stimulus funds in question for the OAC, go to recipient agencies (as opposed to "subrecipient") that have to assume responsibility for complying with FTA civil rights guidelines on their own.

At the MTC Commission monthly meeting today, MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger told Streetsblog he stood by his interpretation of the FTA guidelines for the OAC money and a number of other categories, though he said the FTA has yet to respond to the MTC’s letter and the review is still open.

"We haven’t heard back from them," said Heminger. "So I think the ball is in their court."

transit_headways_small.jpgClick to enlarge. Map of transit headway, where blue is an increase in dealy between routes and red is a decrease. Image: MTC.

Transit Sustainability Project and the Clipper Card

Heminger also updated his commissioners at the meeting on the launch of the Transit Sustainability Project, a regional study to determine how the MTC could promote the consolidation of transit service among the 26 Bay Area transit operators and make existing service more cost-efficient.

Heminger called the project a "big deal" and noted that the transit agencies he’d met with were not exactly thrilled with the study.

"I think
it’s fair to say there is a fair amount of nervousness among the transit
operators and a fair amount of defensiveness," Heminger told his commissioners.

Heminger also pointed to a new map the MTC compiled that shows transit headways from 2006-2009, where service to customers had declined particularly acutely in the East Bay. The data didn’t reflect the last year, as agencies like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, recently instituted 10 percent cuts.

"What we have found
collectively is that we’re on an unsustainable path and the purpose is
to put these agencies on a stable footing," said Heminger, comparing transit service to an accordion, with increases during good economic times, decreases during bad. "That doesn’t do the agencies or their
customers much good."


The other notable item on the MTC’s agenda was an update on the transition from Translink to the newly branded Clipper card, a payment card used on any transit operator participating in the program, which includes most of the larger operators in the Bay Area. SamTrans and the Valley Transportation Authority are the notable agencies that have yet to adopt the cards, though both are moving in that direction.

MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler told Streetsblog the rationale for re-branding the cards had to do with how "technological" the word "TransLink" sounds.

"Many of these cards around the world are kind of whimsically named," said Rentschler, noting the analogous card in London is called the Oyster, in Hong Kong the Octopus and in Seattle the Orca. "Clipper kind of emerged because it has an association with the Bay Area, not just because of the Clipper ships but because of the Clipper planes," said Rentschler.

The overall transition to a replicable smart card across the agencies cost $1.8 million, according to Rentschler, of which the late transition to "Clipper" was $500,000. The cards will be activated on June 16th and some operators, such as BART, had already adopted the new branding in some stations.

The only concern Rentschler had with the new logo was that there are only eight triangles and there are nine counties in the Bay Area. Rentschler wouldn’t speculate which county had been left out.

  • Probably Solano County 🙂

    Used to think the translink switchover was a bad idea, a waste of money. Now I think it was a good idea, but probably still a bad use of funds. What can I say, it is a beautiful shade of blue! 😉

  • MG

    The Clipper cards definitely look better than the old Translink, but will they work any better? One of the major complaints I’ve had with Translink is that sometimes it takes so long for the card reader to OK the card. I usually have to hold the card there flat on the reader a good 1-2 seconds, whereas other smart cards (most notably Smartrip in DC) seem to have a much stronger chip which registers almost instantly, many times without even making full contact with the reader.

    Also, I find Muni’s current paper transfer system one major disincentive to making the switch to a smart card. Translink will only allow you 90 minutes of transfer time (which is what it’s supposed to be anyway). How many people here can honestly say that they don’t enjoy those [more than] generous paper transfers frequently given out on Muni buses and the F-line? I remember one time I boarded at 2pm and got a transfer that was good until 9pm. 7 hours of rides for only $2? That’s literally a day pass. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but the casual rider will take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to use the Clipper Card.

  • Oliver

    I’m still waiting till I can use TL on Samtrans to get around in my own county, otherwise I’ll spend the majority of my time in the city; there’s better bike infastructure anyway.

  • david vartanoff

    Clipper, schlipper, where’s the missing bus? MG is spot on about paper transfers. And then there is the policy (at least on AC) is
    “What happens if the card reader can’t read my card for some reason?
    It’s a good idea to keep a little extra cash on hand in the event that your card doesn’t work. Unfortunately, transit agencies cannot give free rides when a TransLink card doesn’t work.”
    When the farebox is broken no fares are collected, when the TL reader screws up, IMHO, if I have presented a known to have value card (some of us carry the receipt showing monthly pass value for this purpose) I should NOT have to pay extra cash.
    Some drivers get it and wave you on, others presume you are a scam artist and threaten to call the cops. If AC, Muni or whichever wants us to use a cashless system, they have to honor it on the same basis as cash.

  • MG: I can give you some insight on the transition to Clipper. My blog, Akit’s Complaint Department keeps aware of the MTC’s meetings (and occasionally, Muni and BART) about the TransLink/Clipper program and here’s what I know:

    1: The old controversy about TransLink is it used a rival company known as ERG known for its great reputation with Hong Kong’s Octopus card. ERG was having problems getting BART to play along because BART’s current fleet of fare gates are made by their rival, Cubic, the makers of the EZ Rider Card. Once the dust settled and ERG was bought out by Cubic, it seems the transition to Clipper will work better on BART.

    2: TransLink officials admitted to BART that due to the compatibility of the ERG based TransLink card, it works three times slower than an EZ Rider card (refer to the rivalry between ERG and Cubic). The improvements that have been completed is the round circular bumps on BART’s gates (as seen on this blog) with a stronger RFID signal for “less than ideal tags.”

    3: The new Clipper cards will not have the gold chip (that’s my understanding). This means a lot of money is being spent to upgrade the slot loading add value machines to one of those contactless sensor pads.

    4: Lastly, the MTC claims the new Clipper card will be quicker to respond. Since the Clipper card will be Cubic’s brand, expect a quicker response for BART faregates, but I’m not personally sure about all the other card readers on vehicles as they are ERG types.

  • AS

    How about if you purchase a monthly Muni pass and the card reader is not working? This is what happens to me, I am a monthly Muni pass customer. Yesterday, when I get on Muni bus, the clipper readers was not working. Although I often find the machine is off, usually the bus driver will let us pass. This time, the driver ask me to pay, which I heavily objected because I have already paid my monthly pass. After I submitted a complaint, a representative from SFMTA called saying that the driver is doing his job based on the cardholder agreement stated on Par 3.4 “If, for any reason, the Card is not accepted for fare payment on a participating Service Provider, the Cardholder may be asked by the Service Provider to pay the fare in cash.” First of all, the malfunction on the card reader (Clipper’s) is not the cardholder (customer) fault. Second, I see many card readers not functioning on the buses, How much more shall monthly pass’ customers need to pay extra everytime the machine is not functioning? What’s the use of purchasing monthly pass ?

  • citygal

    Clipper? So far nothing but LOTS of problems. Check your account online pretty often because as a regular user I can tell you that they are averaging approx. $17 a month overcharges. Very, very poor customer service and as of yet have not seen a refund despite many, many calls. I am very concerned about Clipper becoming the primary payment method in the Bay Area. They are totally ripping people off.

  • bingemich

    In the 30 ride days that I have been using my Translink/Clipper card, they have overcharged me on 14 days. That’s a 46% error rate. If you don’t go online and check your account weekly, you must have money to burn. To make matters worse, Clipper has the worst customer service I have ever experienced this side of Mumbai.


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