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Monday, August 17, 2009

Caltrain accepts Translink - Free E-Cash for New Sign-ups

Today is the first day for the Translink program to allow users to use Caltrain with their green colored cards.

What does this mean for the public? You can now ride many major transit agencies to get around the Bay Area: Muni, AC Transit (with Dumbarton Express), Golden Gate Transit & Ferry, BART, and Caltrain.

Still, the other big players such as Samtrans, VTA, and the other ferry companies needs to join the club, but also the little guys like Vallejo Transit.

How you can participate:
  1. If you do not have a Translink card, sign-up with the Caltrain program and get yourself a free card ($5 value) and $12.50 in free e-cash. You heard me, free money to ride public transit.
  2. If you have an existing card, you can sign-up with Caltrain to partake in surveys and such. But the website does not mention about the $12.50 free e-cash incentive, neither does it say that you won't get it.
  3. Hidden away in the FAQ section of the Translink website is anyone with a Translink card can use Caltrain, regardless if you sign-up to participate in surveys. This is the same arrangement BART is doing, where only select people take surveys, but allows anyone with the card to use the system.

Here's some of the unique rules about using your Translink card on Caltrain:
  1. You must tag-on at your boarding platform, and tag-off at the exiting platform. Failure to tag-on will be caught by the conductor and your ass is getting a citation. Failure to tag-off (if you tagged-on) will charge the maximum one-way fare for Caltrain).
  2. You must have a minimum of $1.25 on your Translink card when tagging-on, regardless of the distance/zones you travel. The maximum the card can go into a negative balance is $10.00, and since $11.25 is the maximum fare on Caltrain, that's why you need to have that $1.25.
  3. Adding more e-cash is not easy; only three Caltrain stations have the addfare machines and must be done in-person. Best suggestions: Autoload program, and automatic loading of transit benefits on monthly basis. You can do phone and web loading, but remember the 72-hour rule.
  4. There's a new "15-minute rule" for Caltrain. If you tag-on at your starting station, but decide to cancel your trip within 15 minutes, just tag your card at the same reader and your money will be fully refunded. After 15 minutes, if you tag-off, you are charged a one zone fare. My suggestion, tag your card within 15 minutes of your train's scheduled arrival, if you hear an announcement that there was a suicide or delay, you can tag-off and find an alternate way to get to your destination.
  5. Lastly, since this is technically in "testing," remember, that if Translink fails to work, get yourself a paper ticket. Caltrain won't give away free rides (they are broke!).
Since I was part of the pilot program in 2002, Caltrain had limited stops you can visit, and passengers had to press the appropriate zone button on the reader to get charged the correct fare. It all worked fine, and this is especially true because the platform card readers are highly reliable and always-on (just like the ones for Golden Gate Ferry), versus the miniature ones used on buses.

Have fun!


Yokota Fritz said...

How do the conductors know you swiped the card? Do they carry readers on them?

And for daily riders, can Translink be the same cost (or cheaper) than a monthly pass?

(I supposed I should read the PDF before asking these questions...)

Yokota Fritz said...

...and as I suspected, my questions were answered by the FAQ, so never mind :-)

murphstahoe said...

I asked Dangerous Bob - he has a reader. I was going to show him my translink card to see if he would scan it, then show my pass as a backup if he actually tried.

My question - how do you actually "load" a monthly pass onto the translink card? Of course, I won't actually do this, because with a paper pass I can use SamTrans and VTA (free) - without one what am I supposed to do?

Akit said...

On that PDF document, there's something that mentions a window of where the cardholder must purchase the Caltrain monthly pass.

It's similar to BART Plus, the ticket machines will only issue out the "A" ticket and "B" ticket during a certain time period.

murphstahoe said...

I understand WHEN - I just don't understand HOW. Right now, I go to the ticket machine, put in my credit card and a pass pops out.

If I go on the first and tag on with translink, then tag off when I get off - did I just buy a monthly pass, or did I buy a one way ticket?

Akit said...

From reading the PDF document, if you paid Translink (in whatever method) for the new month's pass, when you tag your card for the appropriate zones on the first train ride for the new month, your pass is then set and there's no need to tag-on and off for the rest of the month.

Say I bought a September pass for zones one and two today. On the day my first journey starts on the new month, I tag my card before boarding, and tag at my exit point within the appropriate zones. My card is now valid for the two zones for September, and I don't need to tag anymore, unless there's a change within my journey.

They also mention, if you plan to go further than what zones you are qualified to journey, you should buy a paper zone upgrade.

Mike said...

I used it today in eCash mode and it worked great. Even better, when you board later trains, it only deducts $7.75 (4-zone fare). It knows that there is no more Gilroy service at this hour so it doesn't charge you for zones 5 and 6. (Of course, this confused me at first--I thought maybe I didn't tag off properly or something).

The ability to cancel your fare is wonderful. It's also great that if I am going to miss the Millbrae connection to BART by 1 minute, I can stay on the train to 4th & King without worry of being fined.