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Friday, July 2, 2010

Problem with Muni 3-Day Grace Period for Clipper Cards?


I received an e-mail tip from one of my blog readers mentioning he/she is having issues with his/her TransLink/Clipper card with regards to Muni's 3-day grace period and BART privileges as per Muni's "A" adult fast pass.

The person stated he/she has received automatic adding of his Muni "A" pass through Commuter Check and the commuter benefits company has informed the Clipper folks with ample time for the pass to be loaded on the card.

However, for the past few months since the person has had an "A" pass on his/her electronic farecard, and stated he/she has been experiencing issues during the first three days of each new month. Since Muni "A" fast pass users can use BART within San Francisco, the person argues when the new month arrives, his/her rides on BART are deducting from the e-cash purse, instead of utilizing the new monthly pass that was automatically added. The writer informed Clipper about this problem, but has yet to receive any appropriate answers to resolve the issue.

For example: Let us assume I have a June "A" pass, and my commuter benefits company automatically adds the July "A" pass to my Clipper card.
  • When it is June 30th, I ride BART within San Francisco and no e-cash is deducted due to my June "A" pass.
  • When it is July 1st, the new July "A" pass is supposed to cover me for free local BART rides, but instead, it is deducting $1.75 per ride.
  • When it is July 4th, I am not charged e-cash for local BART rides because the July "A" pass is in effect.
This is a really odd situation. I've noticed other people voicing similar issues, and wonder why their e-cash purse is being deducted during the first three days of the month instead of honoring the new "A" pass added to the account (that is, assuming the user has their new passes automatically loaded).

My understanding of how Clipper operates is it must exactly mimic fare, pass, and transfer policies just like people who pay in cash, buy tickets, and/or utilize paper passes. If I always buy paper "A" passes, I know I'm supposed to use the new month's paper pass for BART during the first three days of the month, as the agency does not recognize Muni's 3-day grace period for the previous month's paper pass.

Last October, I wrote a blog entry explaining how the Muni pass expiration policy works:
  1. I am on reoccurring purchase of monthly Muni pass for Clipper.
  2. On June 30th, I'm still using my June Clipper e-pass.
  3. From July 1st to 3rd, tagging my card on a Muni reader still shows the June pass (expiration June 30th), but the system recognizes it as OK to ride due to the 3-day grace period.
  4. On July 4th, Clipper reader on Muni now says pass expires on July 31st.
I was also informed by the TransLink representative last October the first three days of the month will not affect BART rides with the "A" pass. I cannot prove this one sentence statement is true and correct because I don't commute on BART (this was prior to the creation of the "M" pass).

--------------------

I would like for you readers who have Muni "A" passes on your TransLink/Clipper card, automatic loading of the passes, and utilizes the free local BART access: please leave a comment on my blog if you have been experiencing similar problems like one of my readers did. You can remain anonymous on the comment board on Akit's Complaint Department's blog.

If a Clipper representative or public relations officer from the MTC or SFMTA is reading this, I would like to hear your official statement if there is an alleged "A" pass glitch problem or just a unique problem for one or just a few people. If it is true, what ways are Clipper and Cubic Transportation Systems going to resolve it and how can users get reimbursed for the e-cash purse deductions when they have a valid "A" pass for the new month?


Everybody remember:
Muni paper "A" passes must be Clipper only starting November 1, 2010 and if there is a serious glitch regarding BART access, this needs to be addressed and resolved quickly prior to the change. Would Clipper like to hassle with just a small handful of complaints or wait until the passes go full-blown electronic and receive thousands of phone calls and e-mails?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have the traditional Fast Pass ($70) on Autoload and if I only ride Muni during the grace period, the current month's Fast Pass shows up on the 4th. If I ride BART during the grace period, it will trigger the current month's Fast Pass before the grace period is over and it doesn't take cash out of my account.

Anonymous said...

Akit: we'll confirm the business rules and then get back to you.

- Clipper staff

Clipper Staff said...

Akit: I have confirmed the software business rules, and the system should NOT be deducting e-cash when a Fast Pass customer rides BART in SF during the 3-day grace period AND the customer has loaded next month's pass to the card. A few thoughts in response to the anecdotes from customers (in no particular order):

1) Customer rode outside of SF, where the Fast Pass is not valid
2) Customer had not loaded the next month's pass (not an issue if customer has Autoload, where new pass should be triggered automatically when customer rides BART)
3) If customer is manually adding pass via website/phone each month, customer may have initiated the transaction before end of month, but pass has not been added to the card yet (as you know, adding value through web/phone is not instantaneous), so the SFMTA transactions are leveraging the grace period, but the BART transactions are deducting from e-cash because the new Fast Pass is not yet on the card
4) If customer is adding value through WageWorks or Commuter Check Direct, in the past, there have been occasional delays in adding value to those cards at the start of the month, so the new pass may not have reached the card yet (this problem has been addressed through process improvements) which means the card is leveraging the grace period for the SFMTA transactions, but not for the BART transactions
5) Certainly it is always possible that something is just wrong with the card, the reader, or some other unique bug.

Customers should report problems to customer service with as much detail as possible; posting this kind of problem with as much detail as possible on facebook.com/bayareaclipper is also invited.

- Clipper staff

EMo said...

I had this problem June 1-3 and can assure Clipper Staff that it was not due to #1, 2, or 3. I get my pass via Wageworks so it is possible that it was not credited on time (#4). However, since the July pass happened to reload on the 4th, it seems more likely that the system was set up to wait until the grace period expired before loading the new pass. The system should be set up to load all passes on the 1st on each month since that would work fine for both Muni and BART, but I can imagine how that could be a problem if the readers or the accounting department cannot deal with folks having two valid Fastpasses on the card at the same time.

I am not sure if this was fixed for July as I have not had an opportunity to ride BART within the city yet this month. I would also be interested to hear if others are still having this problem.

mikesonn said...

I ride Caltrain and have a monthly pass. On July 1st, I tagged on/off in the morning like I was told. However, in the afternoon my pass was not activated. I think what happened is that the grace period is still in effect for the morning of the first business day of the next month so tagging on/off only activated the grace period, it did not start the new monthly pass.

Luckily I had a nice conductor and she didn't hassle me too much, but this should be addressed as well.

EMo said...

I have noticed that while the Clipper web site says my "A" Fastpass expires on July 31, the readers on the bus show that it expires Aug 3. That is probably how they deal with the 3-day grace period on Muni but that also may be what is causing the problem with using the A pass on BART. My guess is that their system will not load the next month's pass until the previous pass expires. Hopefully they have found or will found a way to make the passes reload earlier so that this is no longer a problem. It is still not clear to me if they fixed this for July reload so I may have to wait until August 1 to know for sure.

When I spoke to Translink customer service about this in June, they seemed to see it as Muni's problem and not a problem with their system. They also did not seem to appreciate what a problem this will be for Fastpass users, which suggests to me that they never really understood how the grace period works in the first place.

David said...

Here's the scoop. I had a long conversation yesterday with the Clipper managers at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Their Clipper program has a fundamental flaw. It will only activate 1 product/day on the BART system. So for example on 6/28 I activated a card and purchased a $70 Fast Pass and $20 of cash credit (for use outside of SF). I first used the card for BART travel to and from work on 7/2. The system let me into BART, but charged me 1.75 each way because the cash account activated, but the Fast Pass didn't.

The MTC geeks told me that they have known about the problem for a long time, but they don't plan to do anything to fix the problem or re-connect people with their money unless they complain. Nice huh?

I have an exceptionally low threshold for e-commerce fraud like this. It took me more than 45 minutes to get my 3.50 refund from the private company that runs Clipper, Cubic Corporation. MTC is banking on 3/4 of its Clipper customers not noticing these charges to cash balances and the rest of us giving up by their delays and obstructions in obtaining refunds and not demanding that these flaws be fixed.

The local transit agencies like Muni and Bart tell me that they are being forced into Clipper by MTC even though its got these big problems.

I sent a Public Records Act request to MTC today to obtain the documentation about what they knew and when they knew it. I copied all the MTC Commissioners.
When the documentation is received I'll get it out.

I urge everyone to got to the Metropolitan Commission Website and contact management and the Commissioners about these unethical business practices.

http://www.mtc.ca.gov/

Akit said...

David: This is some interesting stuff. When you get the docs, don't forget to share it with the world.

You might want to address this to the MTC commissioners. As for the next Clipper/TransLink board meeting, that won't happen for at least another month or two.

Akit said...

Let me revise that, address the MTC commissioners at the public board meeting.

EMo said...

It is almost August which means it is time to see if Clipper has fixed the grace period problem yet. Based on the advice posted on the Clipper web site, it sounds like my Fastpass will not reload until the 4th again:

"For customers using Autoload, please make sure you have tagged your card after the grace period for the previous month expires (after the 3rd day of the month) to be sure your new pass is loaded onto your card."

http://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/muni/index.do

This suggests that my A pass will not reload until the 4th and that I will be paying to ride BART for the first 3 days of the month for the third month in a row. But I'm trying to be opimistic so we'll see...

EMo said...

As expected (see my July 27 post above and earlier posts on this subject), my August "A" Fastpass did not reload when I tried to ride BART to Glen Park this morning , so I had to pay cash again.

It seems like my company will continue to donate to BART the first 3 days of each month for the foreseeable future since Clipper does not seem to be able to or interested in fixing this problem. I tried to educate them about how the grace period works numerous times in May and June but the exact same thing (card not reloading until the 4th) is still happening. At the time, they seemed to think it was a problem between BART and Muni (i.e., Muni should not have a grace period since BART does not have one) and not a problem with their system.

Anonymous said...

I don't have automatic reload set up yet but I have a Muni Fast pass (no Bart) on my card for November 2010.
Will I still be able to use the 3 day grace period?

Akit said...

Answer: Yes, you still get the 3-day grace period.