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Thursday, November 12, 2015

MuniMobile Smartphone Payment App is Now Available for Everyone

Contrary to the news media saying next week Monday, the MuniMobile fare payment app is now available for download on the iTunes App store for everyone to use.

If you have an iOS phone, go to the App Store and search for "MuniMobile."  If you are on a computer, click here to go to Apple's iTunes Preview site to read about the application.

Since I don't own an Android, I can't verify if it's available.

As I was a beta tester, I was able to play around with the app and I did buy a couple of single ride fares to try it out.  I didn't encounter any fare inspectors, but all the bus drivers knew what it was and let me through without asking any questions.

The only real odd thing about the app is the Muni logo is backwards when the animated bus passes by from the left to right; the MuniMobile ads posted on the buses show the bus going the other direction with the logo facing correctly.

To learn more about my experiences with the MuniMobile application, visit my other blog entry.

Lastly, if you want a personal recommendation, stick to your Clipper Card; it's the only method to get inter-agency transfer discounts or free Muni rides from Daly City BART.  MuniMobile is better for tourists (especially the Passports on sale), people who rarely ride Muni or wants to pay for their rides with a credit card, and as a backup fare option if you run out of Clipper Card money.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Testing San Francisco MuniMobile Fare App

I haven't posted in over a year as I went into retirement from blogging, but Akit's out of retirement for a special edition blog post!

I was recently selected out of 1,600 applicants to participate in the SFMTA/Muni Mobile Fare App beta testing.  From what I've read around, about 800 people were selected to be Muni's guinea pigs for this project.

This reminds me of the days when I was a pilot tester for TransLink (old name for Clipper).

Let's give you folks who didn't sign up or selected a taste of how this all works.

First of all, you need to have a phone operating on Apple iOS or Android.  Once Muni releases the program to the whole public, you can download it at your application store for free.

When you first use the app, you can choose to register for an account or you can look around the app.  But if you want to buy fares, you must register for an account.

The Ticket Choices
You get to pick a variety of options, including:
1: Basic single fare
2: Single ride on a Cable Car
3: 1, 3 or 7-day Passports (valid on all of Muni, including Cable Cars)

The photo on the right is for adult fares, but you can also select Senior/Disabled/Medicare, Youth, and SF Paratransit options too.

The prices are all the same as paying cash or Clipper, and has no credit card surcharge tacked on.

Once you select the item(s) you want to purchase, you simply use the app to pay and it will direct you to a PayPal site to handle it.  You can choose to pay with your personal credit or debit card, or if you have a balance on your PayPal account, you can use that too.

Use Your Ticket
Once your payment is confirmed, your ticket is stored in the "My Tickets" menu.  Click the ticket you want and it will give you one last chance to back out.  If you want to use the ticket, click "use ticket" and the ticket activates immediately.

If you are using a single fare ticket, you should only activate it when you see the bus or train arriving.  90 minute clock immediately activates, and this will also be your Muni transfer; the driver will not give you a paper transfer.

Once the ticket is activated, it will show an animated screen with blue skies, clouds (or is it Karl the Fog?), Sutro Tower, and the Muni vehicle driving by every so often.  The expiration will show on the top, and the type of ticket purchased on the bottom.

Just show the screen to the driver to verify it's a legitimate fare, take a seat and relax.

If you touch the screen, the background colors will change.  GlobeSherpa who made the application must have done this to prevent people from fraudulently using the app by playing a video clip or showing a screenshot.

If you touch the QR code on the lower right corner, it will show a large QR code that fare inspectors can use to verify your ticket.  I haven't encountered one yet, but who knows if they will carry a device to verify the QR code or not.

You can also close out the app and easily return to the Muni app to restore the ticket.

Expired Ticket
Once it expires, the ticket still looks like it's valid, but it's not when you compare the top time of 7:55PM to the bottom time of 7:54PM (left photo), but once you return back to the main menu by clicking on the left arrow on the top and then restore the ticket, it will definitely say: "EXPIRED" (right photo).  It's an odd quirk, hopefully something that can be fixed.

In Summary
Why you should use this app:
  1. When you don't have cash or your Clipper card on hand, it's an easy way to pay for your Muni fare.
  2. You want to pay for Muni with a credit card.
  3. If you don't want to disclose your credit card info, you can load some funds in your PayPal account and pay for Muni that way.
  4. You can buy Muni passports without visiting one of the few locations in the city for them.
  5. You can buy Cable Car tickets without hassling the conductor.
  6. It's eco friendly because you don't get a paper transfer or receipt in return.
  7. Faster than Clipper because once you pay for the ticket, you can activate it immediately.  If you order something on Clipper via their website, it can take up to five days to activate.
  8. If you activate your single fare ticket after 8:30PM, your expiration will be 5AM the next day (a.k.a. late night transfers).  Clipper cards and those paper tickets at the metro vending machines DON'T give you late night perks, just the lame 90 minutes.

Why you may want to avoid this app:
  1. For single rides, you are better off paying cash to the bus or metro operator and getting a paper transfer.  You'll always get a minimum of 90 minutes, but most hand torn paper transfers have much longer expiration, sometimes even four hours.
  2. If you transfer from BART, Golden Gate Ferry, Golden Gate Transit, or SF Bay Ferry to Muni you don't get the 50 cent inter-agency discount with the app, it's only good on the Clipper card.  Make sure to pay for your ferry, BART, or GGT fare with your Clipper card, and use the same card on Muni to get your discounted ride.
  3. If you transfer from Daly City BART to Muni, you get two free rides, one away from the station on the 14R, 28, 28R, 54, and 57, and one going back on the same bus lines within 24 hours, but it's only on Clipper.
  4. They don't sell monthly passes, it's only on Clipper.
  5. Prepaid tickets have an expiration date.  I bought mine on October 23rd, but if I don't use it, it will expire on January 21st.  Not a good idea to hoard those tickets.
  6. You have a smartphone with a lousy battery.  If the battery dies, you can't use the app!
  7. If you have a credit card that gives you a bonus when using it for travel (e.g. 2% on travel vs. the standard 1%), you won't likely get that bonus because it is charged through PayPal.
  8. If you use a pre-tax commuter benefit debit card, it looks like it's not supported on the app.  It's because the credit card processing is done through PayPal which may not be acceptable to the required federal standards for commuter debit cards.  Continue using your debit card on Clipper.
CORRECTION: Commuter benefit debit cards are accepted as per SFMTA's website: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit/munimobile/munimobile-frequently-asked-questions#BuyingTickets

However, do not link a your commuter debit card via your PayPal account.

Suggestions on Improvements:
Muni and GlobeSherpa can do a handful of things to make it better.
  1. Make the expiration easier to read.  A light blue sky background with white letters is hard on people, especially for the operator to read.  White letters is fine, but some black shadow for the letters makes it easier.
  2. I was expecting some more backgrounds in the animation.  Why just Sutro Tower?  Why not Coit Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge?
  3. When a ticket expires, it needs to automatically grey out and the orange bar is shown saying EXPIRED.  It should not be the normal background.
  4. Allow commuter benefit debit cards be accepted to purchase tickets.
  5. Fingerprint scan option to open the app, especially helpful to prevent your kids from accidentally activating your tickets.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Clipper Card on iPhone's Apple Pay Service - Could it Really Happen?

Greetings readers, it's been a while since I've blogged.  I'm still happy and well, but I've been sticking to my public social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram more often.  I thought I'd write a blog entry today because of what's been happening in the news for the past week.

The announcement of the next generation of iPhones, in particular Apple Pay, is really attracting a lot of news these days as the next cool way for people to pay for stuff at their favorite big retailers without pulling out their plastic credit card.  And while the Android platform has been using their NFC chips for a good while to be able to pay with credit cards and read NFC tags, with Apple playing along, that puts a huge chunk of the smartphone market able to now use NFC technology.

But what really intrigues me about the big evolution of NFC to be capable on Apple devices is the opportunity for public transportation to play a role in being a part of it.  Simply put, will the Clipper Card be an option for Apple Pay and Android?

Here's the pros if the Clipper Card was available as an option for people to scan their phone to a Clipper Card reader:
  1. No more carrying a plastic Clipper Card in your wallet.  Just put your phone to the reader to handle your fare/pass transaction.
  2. Be able to instantly view your card's balance, transfers with the time it expires, and your passes.
  3. Be able to instantly view your ride history, and have instant proof of payment on hand for fare inspectors.
  4. Using the Clipper Card app, be able to add card value or buy passes using a linked credit card with instant available use, without the horrible five day waiting period currently in use for people who buy online for their plastic card.  Read about the five day rule here.
  5. Also, using the Clipper Card app, people can also purchase day passes like for Muni.  Muni does sell the passports for Clipper, but people still prefer the scratch-off ones or buying it from the Cable Car conductor.
  6. Also, there could be an option for people to not use a Clipper Card, and instead use a registered credit/debit card to make their one-time transit fare payment.  It might be a cool perk for those with pre-tax commuter benefit debit cards to simply tap their phone and just deduct the balance from the card; no more need to load the money to a Clipper card, just touch and pay.
But there are some cons:
  1. It may not be possible to have Clipper do this.  The Clipper Card system itself was one of the first smartcard systems ever in the United States, and as of today, the system is outdated when compared to other agencies using smartcards.  When Clipper first started, it started as the TransLink card program which the MTC awarded a contract to ERG, a leader in smartcard technology for transit systems.  But many years later, Cubic, a titan in the transit technology market, bought out ERG and took over its contracts, including TransLink/Clipper.  The folks at Cubic had an uphill battle to get their products to properly function with the thousands of ERG cards and technology in use, such as the BART and Muni fare gates (Cubic products).  Cubic had to take the right route, they couldn't remove the ERG products already wired and installed and start from scratch (that would cost a ton of money), so they made a hybrid system so both ERG products and Cubic products work together.  Since the Clipper system is outdated, it may not be able to take mobile phone payments. 
  2. If the above is true, we may have to wait until 2019-2020 for the next generation of Clipper Card technology to have the features.  The expected end of life for the currently installed technology is to end roughly around 2019 and that's when the contract with Cubic is to expire.  The Metropolitan Transportation Commission intends to put in the next generation of Clipper by starting from absolute scratch, instead of preserving the old infrastructure.  A simple way of thinking is, the MTC may be able to save money by delaying smart phone implementation until the 2nd generation system is functional.  Click here to read about the second generation of Clipper plans.

Akit's Opinions:
In my opinion, I wish the Clipper Card was available as a smartphone function to just tap the phone to a card reader to ride public transit, or even just allowing people to use a linked credit card to just tap and pay for their rides would be wonderful.  Also, with the ability to order passes or load more cash value from your phone means your virtual card on your phone will have instant available use of your pass or funds, without the terrifying five day waiting period or running to your Walgreens or train station to load-up.

But looking at all of the cons, this may be something the MTC may not want to pursue, especially if the Clipper Card program is to be in a coffin by 2019 and a new program will be functional by then.  The technology being used today is outdated but functions as expected.

If there has to be a compromise, here's my recommendation:
I feel this may be an opportunity for Clipper to work with Apple and Google to allow Clipper card users to get an app that utilizes a plastic Clipper card and an NFC capable phone to let people scan their card to read their ride history and review their balances on their card (currently, the FareBot 3rd party app for Android can do this).  This may also be an opportunity for people to order their passes, add cash value, etc. on their phone, and tag their card to their phone to update the card's data with the new information so people can instantly use the card with the new information.

What's your thoughts on this?  Leave a comment.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New Change to BART to Muni Transfer Policy using Clipper Cards

Clipper Monster Reader FAIL

If you use your Clipper card to transfer from a San Francisco BART station to a Muni vehicle or metro, there's a change in policy regarding the transfer rule.

The old rule:
When exiting BART from any station between Embarcadero and Balboa Park, you have one hour to transfer to Muni.  When tagging the same card you exited with BART and use it on Muni, you get a 25 cent discount on your Muni ride.  When you are ready to take your next ride on Muni (after the Muni 90 minute transfer expires and its less than 24 hours from the time you exited BART), your next Muni fare transaction is 25 cents off.  This is the exact policy just like when BART stations issued paper discount transfers which gave the same benefit.

The new rule:
When exiting BART from any station between Embarcadero and Balboa Park, you have one hour to transfer to Muni.  When tagging the same card you exited with BART and use it on Muni, you get a 50 cent discount.  There is no discount for a second ride.

Note: This policy is not valid if you have a Muni monthly pass.  It must pay in Clipper e-cash funds.  As always, if you have a Muni monthly pass on your card, Clipper always seeks the best deal, instead of yanking $1.50 out of your pool of funds.

Also, this policy is not in use at the Daly City BART station.  Passengers still get a free ride on any Muni line that serves Daly City BART.

How did I notice the change?
When I go to baseball games at AT&T Park, I have to take BART and Muni metro to and from the park.  I noticed when I tagged my card on the Clipper card reader to get back after the game, I had to pay full fare.  When I got home, I reviewed my Clipper card records online and found out that there was that change in transfer policy.

Akit's Opinions:
It's a simple change that makes it more simplified for Clipper card users.  Instead of wondering if the return ride 25 cent discount works, you just get the full 50 cents off in the first Muni ride away from BART.  I like it.

Reference to policy: https://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/muni/fares.do

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Caught & Confronted Foul Mouthed Town Car Driver Stealing Taxicab Fares (VIDEO)

Earlier today, I confronted a towncar driver who was trying to sell to tourists a $3 ride to downtown.  If you watched the video above, the confrontation went ugly and I hoped he realized that he's going to be out of a job very soon and face a $5,000 fine.  I intend to report this to the California Public Utilities Commission and SFMTA enforcement.


But before I get to the laws about this, I also found out this mean asshole's vehicle isn't even legal!  Here, take a look:

The TCP number listed as per the PUC means it's not legal, so we have a dirty vehicle with a driver who steals fares.

The Laws:
The law about towncars and limos is they cannot do on-demand or solicit for rides.  Only licensed taxicabs are allowed to do this.  Towncars and limos are limited to prearranged rides (e.g. appointments).  In San Francisco, this means only licensed San Francisco taxicabs can pick-up passengers without reservation and on-demand.

Limo and towncar drivers who solicits for rides are doing a lot of things wrong:
(1) They steal work from legitimate taxicab drivers.
(2) As it's not a taxi, the drivers may not be subject to the scrutiny the City and County of San Francisco enforces on cabs and their drivers, such as background checks, testing them on the city map, frequent vehicle inspections, inspecting taxi meters, and liability insurance.  A few years back, I had a towncar pull over and passengers yell at me: "do you know where Nob Hill is?"  I responded: "You should fire that driver."
(3) Limo and towncar drivers have been known to rip-off passengers by advertising a cheap ride, then jacking the fare or dropping passengers off in some not so nice areas.  I've never heard of a $3 and even a $5 fare from Fisherman's Wharf to downtown before.
(4) They take advantage of tourists who doesn't know the laws, BUT I DO.

Why did I record and confront that driver?  Here's why:
A week ago, I was waiting at that exact location for a F-Market trolley, but they were taking forever to show-up.  During that time, two limos pulled over in front of the stop, opened their door and solicited a "$5" fare to downtown.

The first vehicle driver, I asked him: "Are you aware of the MTA laws about soliciting?"  He knew he just got caught by a local resident who knows the laws.  He apologized, got back in his car, and apologized again at me.  Since he was playing nice, I told him I wouldn't report him.

The second vehicle driver, I said nothing.  Instead, I decided to take a photo of his vehicle and record about 15 seconds of material while he took about five passengers.  At that point, I decided to take a few minutes at home to report it to the SFMTA, and an inspector contacted me a day later for a copy of the photo and video.  I'm expecting the inspector's case to be a slam dunk and a fat $5,000 fine.  See video and photo:

Today's lesson!
Today's lesson, don't get cheated by illegal operators.  I have a new found respect for cab drivers who do follow the laws and have the right to take on-demand rides.   The cab drivers have to make a living, and I hope the PUC and the cops find that illegally operating towncar and that foul mouthed driver, and tow it away.

I KNOW MY RIGHTS.  FEAR ME you illegally operating towncars and limos.

Friday, April 4, 2014

End of the Clipper Card in 2019? It's Not a Joke

BART Gate & Clipper Card

I got a little clue that the MTC wants to move to the next generation of Clipper card when I read a tweet from the folks from VTA.  I decided to dig around the meeting agenda documents available online to the public from the MTC website.

So it's actually true, the contact for Cubic, parent operator of the Clipper Card program, is going to expire in November 2019, that's roughly five years and seven months away.  At this time, committees of the MTC are in regular discussions about the next generation of fare payment technology for the Bay Area, and while there's no definite answer, there's some hints on what is going to happen after late 2019:

The setup currently used for the Clipper Card/TransLink system is from the late 90s and within the next five years, the equipment will be reaching the end of its life.  The equipment being used right now originally came from ERG, an Australian company originally contracted to do the TransLink/Clipper system; but Cubic purchased ERG and since the network was already established, Cubic had to work with old equipment that's not their own to make it work (it's like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, it won't fit unless you shave the edges down to make it fit).

The MTC admits that trying to integrate the next generation system into the existing infrastructure would be too expensive and risky.  This would mean the next generation fare system may have to start from absolute scratch; this is one of the reasons why they are planning so far in advance for this.

The MTC also mentioned during their planning timeline to learn the lessons from the past to make sure it's a much smoother process.  I remember being part of the TransLink pilot program with very few transit agencies participating and limited usage, and it took many years to finally get all major transit agencies to join and be fully integrated.

Lastly, this second generation of fare payment may also bring in new technologies to improve the customer experience.  We all know about the headaches and limitations of Clipper, including the 3-5 day wait when buying online.  New technologies may allow us to pay for rides with a smartphone or even with credit cards with RFID chips installed.

To read the full MTC documents about the planned project, visit: http://apps.mtc.ca.gov/meeting_packet_documents/agenda_2196/Agenda_Item_3.pdf and start on page 14.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why the SFPD are Doing Muni Fare Inspections Improperly and Citing Innocent People

This morning, I was reading an article written by Jessica Kwong for the SF Examiner about a Muni passenger who was written a ticket by a San Francisco Police Department officer for not paying their Muni fare with their Clipper card.

The article stated the passenger boarded the F-Market streetcar and used his Clipper card to tag at the entry.  Ten minutes later, a SFPD officer asked for proof of payment from the passenger and tagged the passenger's Clipper card at the vehicle's card reader to verify.  The card was rejected and the passenger was issued a $200+ citation for fare evasion.  However, the passenger retrieved his Clipper card records from the Clipper Card website and it showed he did pay the fare.  The passenger intends to contest the citation in court next week.

The news reporter also got statements from SFPD officials and SFMTA/Muni basically stating that a police officer tagging a customer's card on a vehicle card reader is sufficient enough and there's no problems with it.

However, with my expertise on writing about the Clipper Card for numerous years, there's some serious flaws with having police officers and fare inspectors to verify a passenger's card use by tagging a card reader.  Here's why:
  1. When a passenger boards a Muni vehicle and tags their Clipper card upon entry, the card reader will immediately verify the transaction with a green light and single beep.  The screen will also show the type of transaction completed ($2 fare deducted, transfer being used, or valid pass).
  2. Once the card is tagged, it cannot be tagged again on the same vehicle reader; this rule is called "passback."  This is a standard rule used on all electronic transit fare cards to prevent a passenger from using the card for valid entry, and "passing back" the card to their friend or family member to tag the card again so they can score a free ride.
  3. The "passback" is removed after a certain set amount of time for those who ride the same bus again for a return trip (for example, if I board a 6-Parnassus bus at 1PM, have lunch, and board same exact bus at 2:15PM, the passback is eliminated and tagging my card won't result in a rejection).
  4. When a passenger transfers to another vehicle, the card is perfectly okay to tag and get the green light to enter.  This is because they are boarding a new vehicle, even if they tag card on bus #1 at 1PM, and board/tag bus #2 at 1:10PM.
PROPER FARE INSPECTION: When a police officer or fare inspector uses a handheld card reader that is issued by Clipper, it will read the card and verify if the card was tagged or not by showing a "YES" or "NO" on the screen, followed a confirmation sound of "ding" or "buzz."  If it says no, inspectors can immediately review the card use history clicking on a few screens on their reader to check if there's a valid pass and the last several times the card was used.  If it all checks-out fine after the secondary card history check, all is well; but if it shows passenger failed to pay, a ticket is issued.

IMPROPER FARE INSPECTION: If a police officer or fare inspector verifies use by tagging the card to a Clipper card reader, it will either give a single beep/green light confirmation or red light/error confirmation.  The single beep/green is because the "passback" was eliminated after the set window ended, but a red/error sound means the "PASSBACK" IS STILL ACTIVE.  Cops and fare inspectors SHOULD NOT use this method of inspection because if they get the red light, and are ignorant to realize "passback" is active, the passenger gets a citation and have to waste their time at a court hearing to fight the charge.

As for the statement from SFMTA's Paul Rose saying there's "no concerns" about law enforcement officers verifying via the vehicle's card readers, he is half-correct and half-wrong.  Here's why:
  1. Correct statement: This can only happen in the Muni metro.  Only if a passenger tags their card upon entry to a subway station's fare gate, and a police officer verifies by tagging the card on a train's card reader, it will give the green light.  The rules state when a Muni passenger tags their card upon entry via a faregate, it is not necessary to tag their card on the vehicle card reader when they board the train; but if a passenger tags their card in the vehicle (after tagging card to enter the metro station) and a police officer checks the card, say 10 minutes after on the vehicle card reader, it will result in a red light/denied message and is subject to a ticket, even though they have tagged their card lawfully at a Muni fare gate.
  2. Incorrect statement: There is a serious concern if a police officer verifies a passenger's Clipper card at the vehicle card reader because the "passback" may still be active on the card.  Reason for this explained earlier in this blog entry.

Akit's Opinions:
In summary, if we assume the passenger does have proof from the Clipper Card website saying he did tag his Clipper card and was cited by a police officer, he should be found not guilty or have his case dismissed on the grounds that the officer improperly issued the ticket.

Due to the poor judgment of the police and SFMTA, and improper procedures to verify Clipper card use, strict policies needs to be written-up to prevent this from happening again.

Fare inspections SHOULD NEVER be verifying card use by using a vehicle's card reader because of the "passback" policy.  ALWAYS use the handheld card reader.