"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
"It’s a fantastic blog for any San Franciscan."
"Your blog is always on point, and well researched!" (Nina Decker)
"Everyone's favorite volunteer public policy consultant..." (Eve Batey, SF Appeal)
"You are doing a great job keeping on top of Translink stuff. Keep up the good work!"
(Greg Dewar, N Judah Chronicles)
"...I don't even bother subscribing anywhere else for my local public transportation info. You have it all..."
(Empowered Follower)
"If anyone at City Hall wants to make public transit better for all San Franciscans, it would be wise to follow Akit religiously...
or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Disappointed at Sunday's Japantown Lantern Festival

On Sunday, August 29th, Japantown hosted the Lantern Festival which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Japanese ship the Kanrin Maru to San Francisco Bay.

This event may have been a substitute for the neighborhood's annual Fall Festival where the Peace Plaza was used to for Obon line dancing and programs, however in previous years, the annual event was held in October.

I was excited to visit the place I call "home" to meet all my friends, but I was very disappointed with the event when I arrived to watch the last few hours.

There was several problems with the event that disappointed me and many other people from the community, including one of my friends who is an editor for the Nichi Bei Weekly (formerly known as Nichi Bei Times):
  • Lack of advertising of event.
  • Lack of planning and preparation for event.
  • Lack of participation.
  • Master of ceremonies was a terrible public speaker. Did not give clear instructions to the Obon dancers.
  • Lantern parade was an embarrassment to our honored guests from Japan.
  • Huge gaps in the Obon line dancing. People did not spread-out evenly and refused to follow the chalk lines to make it look orderly.
If the Japantown community wants to host another similar festival like this, keep it at the Peace Plaza. It's more intimate in a smaller venue than literally using an entire city block.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Muni Paper "A" Fast Pass Users - Get Prepared for Clipper Transition

We are just a couple of months away from the major transition of all Muni "A" paper passes being converted to Clipper cards only. This could mean the public and Clipper are well prepared for the big change, or will go totally nuts by being unprepared.

One of my big rules, always be prepared, and that means to get ready early for the big change. If you currently use a paper "A" Fast Pass, now is the time to get that ball rolling.

Here's a list of items you should plan for:
  • Obtain a card now, not later. If by some odd reason your retail location or a giveaway location runs out of the cards days before the November 1st transition, you are screwed.
  • If you use commuter benefits and get your paper pass mailed to you, ask your HR department or appropriate area how to modify your benefits.
  • Not all locations that sell paper passes will convert to selling Clipper based media (I already noticed one in the Castro). Start researching locations where you can add Clipper passes and e-cash. If use paper commuter vouchers, go to Walgreens, they will accept them.
  • Once you get your card, register it immediately. It will definitely be worth the $5 replacement fee if you ever lose your card.
  • Lastly, learn how to use the card properly. I've provided an excellent guide on everything you need to do.
Good luck!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You Can Add Pennies to Your Clipper Card

While most transit agencies fares using the Clipper card is to the nearest quarter (BART is to the nearest nickel), one transit agency stands out from the rest to charge Clipper users fares such as $3.32 and $4.04; that agency is Golden Gate Transit.

Since Golden Gate Transit eliminated pre-paid ticket books and forced all passengers to use Clipper to receive their discount prices, all passengers gets a 20% discount vs. their cash paying counterparts. It's a great deal for commuters to save, but also a great deal for those casual bus riders needing a little fare break from the high prices for the inter county transit agency.

Since their fare table is giving a true discount vs. rounding it to the nearest nickel, you might be wondering, how can I get my Clipper card to be evened-out?

The answer is, in-person vendors.

Vendors like Walgreens have add value machines that looks exactly like credit card terminals and they are able to input any amount of money you want. I wanted to zero-out my old TransLink card for one last ride on BART, so I added $1.60 to the card and took my last ride to empty the card with no remaining balance. At least I can cheer to the fact that I can now use my brand new Clipper card given to me during the launch press conference.

Sorry folks, automated machines can only take bills, and credit cards don't let you put in custom amounts.



If you want to be evil by pulling this stunt off (but I don't encourage it): if you have a card with zero value, you could literally ask the in-person vendor to add one cent to the card and get a one cent ride ($1.25 minimum for Caltrain). Since the rules state the card can go into a negative balance of up to $10, it's absolutely possible to use a new card just once to just rip-off the system. Once again, I do not sanction this practice since the MTC may catch on, and they could just go nuts and decide to cancel the negative balance policy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Muni's EPIC PR FAIL: Screwing-Up Passes to Clipper Dates

After taking a little time to read over my blog postings, I've noticed something totally odd.

Muni is to end the paper pass program and switch to Clipper only. It is starting with the "A" paper pass and disabled sticker, then the youth & senior pass, and finally the "M" pass.

Strangely, the SFMTA's PR office is giving the public some mixed messages, just like the women I date:

End of Muni Paper Passes
In this one I took a snapshot at the Cable Car booth, it confirms that the SFMTA will be doing the following:
  • "A" and disabled passes must be Clipper by November 2010. Last paper pass/sticker is October.
  • "Y" and "S" passes must be Clipper by February 2011. Last paper pass is January.
  • "M" pass must be Clipper by April 2011. Last paper pass is March.
Even the SFMTA's website supports those dates:
"The existing Muni paper monthly Passes will transition over to the Clipper card. Within the next few months, customers will need a Clipper card (or a TransLink card) to buy monthly Pass.

The last month for each type of paper pass and Regional Transit Connection (RTC) Sticker is as follows:
  • Adult fare Muni/BART “A" Fast Pass and RTC Sticker: October.
  • Senior and Youth monthly passes: January 2011.
  • Adult fare Muni-only “M” Fast Pass: March 2011."

Oddly enough, this press release "fact sheet" the SFMTA provided in late July tells a different story (via Google Docs):
  • "A" and disabled passes must be Clipper by October 2010. Last paper pass/sticker is September.
  • "Y" and "S" passes must be Clipper by January 2011. Last paper pass is December.
  • "M" pass must be Clipper by March 2011. Last paper pass is March.

When you look at the two fliers (cable car booth flier vs. press release), they are all a month off.


So SFMTA PR department, what's the right answer? How about releasing a new flier and admitting to a very serious mistake? Next time, publish a flier that clearly says what month the last paper pass will be issued and the month it's mandatory to use a Clipper card.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cleaning-Up the Clipper Card Mess

The Clipper card is continuing to get punched in the chest and kicked in the shin by the media; plus, the commentators on places like SF Gate are really giving it a heyday, just like today's article.

I don't mind doing some unofficial PR work to help resolve the issues people write about on the comment boards, yet, it's getting really overwhelming with the complaints after complaints about this and that, and not really taking the time to understand the limits and benefits of the program. It always makes me wonder if they really own a card, or just how little they've ever used it.

As one person told me, a lot of those commentators are just idiots. I prefer to think of many SFgate commentators to be writing comments out of their butt instead of thinking about it first from their head.

So why do I help out the Clipper folks? It's because I have a passion for this program to be successful. A lot of you readers know how much material I write about the program, including upcoming changes, major glitches and problems, and how to make it easier to use. I could use some extra money, why not hire me as some kind of consultant or PR person on the streets on select weekends?

Do I write too much about the program?
Eve Batey, one of my big supporters and editor of SF Appeal wrote back to me and she said:
"If you start getting sick of covering TransLink, then yes, you are writing about it too much. Until then, no way -- you are, as you noted, the only one out there who is. The world needs you!"
Good point, the world needs me. I do more PR than Clipper and MTC would do in a decade!

Muni Clipper Ticketing Machine - Civic Center Secondary Gates

Ya know, the most interesting thing is all this bad press is actually good for Clipper.
All transit agencies that uses RFID fare cards went through the same problems we are experiencing right now. The current topic is the growing pains, and in months time, there will be an improvement or a solution to fix the problems that keeps nagging at everyone. Not long ago, Clipper was able to automate the history report process to view it instantly because many argued it took days to get an e-mailed report. If people will wait a few more months, the new ticketing machines at Muni metro stations will be working and will be able to quickly top-off cards, and in less than a year, all BART ticketing machines will also be able to top-off too.

Here's some good old fashioned advice (and I'm going to be blunt):
  • For those who continue to moan that Clipper sucks or this or that doesn't work, take a moment to read the material provided to all new users in the envelope (if you don't have it, the same ones are online). The brochure gives the basic information on how to use the card, and the website has specific ones for each agency. If the information is not helpful, just ask Clipper on Twitter, Facebook, or ask me. My blog is here to educate and inform; I don't like stupid people destroying a program that has good intentions for the community.
  • As one of my professors once said, "incompetence of the law is not an excuse." So is the same for Clipper as incompetence is not a free pass to bitch and moan.
  • Lastly, HOLD THE CARD STEADY. Don't swipe it. Want to be humiliated with the three annoying beeps? Just do the opposite of what I just told you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Clipper and WageWorks - Will the Problems Return September 1st?

We are a week and a half away from the month of September and that means for you Clipper folks who get transit benefits: will it be loaded in a timely manner?

Hmmm... Good question...

If you recall from August 1st's panic, WageWorks users who gets their funds/passes direct to their Clipper account experienced some unfortunate hell for the first few days, and damage control on Clipper's end had to come in and mop up the mess by issuing reimbursements.

I'm a little wary of the still murky relationship between both organizations ever since the Clipper board mentioned it in their minutes from their April meeting.

We'll see... or the PR department will be trying to patch up the next leaky ship.

Last note: Sorry for the delay in posting a new entry. It's been quite busy at work and I've been coming home exhausted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Muni Fare Inspectors Should Stop Writing $75 Tickets

You might think I'm crazy by what you read in the title of this blog post, but let me assure you, I'm perfectly sane.

Not long ago, Muni's fare inspectors returned to the task of doing saturation raids on vehicles after alleged complaints the inspectors were insensitive and possibly targeting certain minorities. The saturation tactic is simple, have a group of inspectors raid a vehicle at a stop and check everyone on the vehicle for valid proof of payment. Once the vehicle is done, the next vehicle arrives and they go through the cycle again. For those who fail to show proof, the violator leaves the vehicle and receives a ticket of $75 for the violation.

If people don't pay their "fare share," race or ethnicity is never an excuse for not paying for that bus ride. The agency has to target bus lines that is heavily abused with fare evaders, so if the line is heavily used by a minority group and the bus line has a bad reputation, crying out race/ethnicity is a the sole reason is just pure dumb.

Surely, the inspectors have gained a bad rap in the past years, from photographer Troy Holden encountering inspector #32, to a YouTube video of an inspector harassing a passenger filming on a train. I don't always like them either, but at least they help the agency to collect the revenue, especially with the heavy inspector presence after ballgames at AT&T Park with the thousands of people going home.


It made me think about the fare inspectors...

I know the force does not issue enough tickets to cover their entire salaries ($9,844.64 average in tickets vs. a salary of at least $52K a year). In one point of view, Muni spends too much on inspectors that writes out so few tickets, and that means a waste of money. In another point of view, Muni invests into fare inspectors so they help generate more farebox revenue by preventing illegal boarding of vehicles and not paying their share of the price of a pass or single ride.

I have an idea... what if the fare inspectors don't issue tickets for fare evasion?

Here's the reasoning behind it:
The fare evasion ticket is $75. Sure, it sounds a little expensive for us in the general public, but when you have to also think about all the labor that is involved in it:
  1. The time it takes for the inspector to issue the ticket.
  2. The people at the SFMTA office must process every handwritten ticket.
  3. If the fine is paid at the SFMTA in-person office, the time and salary must be taken into account to process the money; if paid in check, the check cashing fees of the bank as well.
  4. If the fine is paid online via the SFMTA website, there is a nice surcharge just for the service.
  5. If the fine is paid through the mail, the cost and salary of the person(s) who must process the payment and update their databases.
  6. If the case must be appealed, the time and salary of the appeals officer.
  7. If the ticket must go to collections, the cost of using the collections agency.
  8. Lastly, the cost of having the armored trucks and the armed guards to haul the sacks of money and checks to the bank.
If you think about how many steps and financial cost to process a $75 ticket, do you think it's really worth the SFMTA's value? In my opinion, the answer is no. Government workers get some really nice benefits packages, from kick-ass healthcare to pension plans; and the money comes from us taxpayers. So basically, a SFMTA employee's salary is just tacking on another 40-70 cents to every dollar earned.

Muni Metro

If fare inspectors didn't issue tickets for fare evasion, what will they resort to? The answer is: ejection from the vehicle.

If a saturation raid finds fare evaders, they kick them off the vehicle and make sure that the next vehicle they board, they pay the farebox for their ride. For those inspectors who ride in pairs in vehicles in motion on the streets, the fare evader is kicked-off to the next available stop while the passenger has fun waiting for another vehicle in 20 minutes.

What this does is saves the SFMTA a lot of resources. I've already mentioned the cost of issuing and processing a $75 ticket, but also realize the fare inspector tickets are processed like parking tickets. For those who appeal their parking tickets, you know the many months it takes to get a decision, and by dramatically reducing the contested fare evasion tickets, this reduces the parking appeal backlog.

For the fare inspector force, they are able to be on more vehicles and conduct more inspections. If writing a ticket takes five to fifteen minutes (depending on hostile the person is), that's wasted time for the inspector to be roaming up and down the lines they are assigned to find more evaders and kick them off the bus. Also, with a uniformed presence, they can also help prevent some of the other bad stuff that goes on, like the graffiti that costs us taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The SFMTA used to issue fare evasion tickets by treating them like traffic violations. Each citation required the person to appear in court, and that put a major strain on the justice system already flooded with other cases that are much more serious than evading a bus fare. The city passed a new law by decriminalizing fare evasion and making it the same as a parking ticket. Maybe it's time to realize that by even making a fare evasion ticket decriminalized still messes-up the system that has to process all those $75 tickets.

Muni Cable Car Fail

I have to admit, my idea is not perfect. It won't work well on the Muni metro system in the underground portions because if the inspector is stationed at a exit and the passenger is to leave the system, the inspector can't really kick the passenger out of the paid area, the passenger is about to leave the system. In this case, the inspector would issue a $75 ticket.

Tell me your thoughts about this idea. Have I gone nuts?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Muni Publishes Service Restoration Schedule

Service restoration... not the two words you'd typically hear from Muni, but here it comes folks. Muni is not giving full restoration to the messed-up cuts they've done, but will do some half-assed restoration job that still has some of us passengers fuming.

It's not a full blown restoration for my favorite bus line, the 18-46th Avenue. The administrative clowns still forces the line to drive through Balboa instead of the 38-Geary doing the job, and still doesn't make sense on why they just won't kill-off the Fort Miley route since the hospital is just one block from the 38L-Geary Limited stop at 42nd Avenue.

The 18 will instead have their restoration be more frequency (more like an extra bus on the road). During mid-day weekday service, it is currently operating at 25 minute frequencies, but will now be changed to 20 minute frequencies. If the 18 was to return to it's true normal service, it should also include 15 minute frequencies (now 20 minutes) on rush hours, and weekends every 20 minutes (now 25 minutes).

For those of you suffering through the slow(est) commuting on the M-Ocean View and K-Ingleside bus shuttles due to the St. Francis Circle construction project, there's some good news. Muni will restore rail service starting September 4th. Sorry L-Taraval passengers, but your reign of increased frequencies and two-car trains on weekends will sadly come to an end.

Review the frequency schedule and more information. But note, there's no word about a time schedule, not just yet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who Created This Stupid Muni Ad on Fare Evasion?

Muni is on some kind of crazy campaign to remind people to pay their "fare share" or get a nice $75 fine. They plan to return to the classic "saturation raids" starting Thursday.

When I look at this Muni advertisement on the buses and on their website, I can't understand why the fare inspectors are citing a SEA LION!

A sea lion for crying out loud. Do they carry passes or transfers? No; nor do they ride the worst transit system in the nation. Plus, why a creature whose primary transit is on the water? Can't it be someone like SFMTA chief Nat Ford getting caught without payment?

What's next? Write a ticket to a pigeon for eating on the bus? Whoever created this ad should be fired for incompetence.

Photo from SFMTA website.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Surviving the 2010 Outside Lands Festival

It's that time of the year again when the Outside Lands festival returns to conquer Golden Gate Park with music, traffic, and everything else in between.

Akit's Complaint Department is here to give you all the tips you need to make it an easier weekend for all of the Sunset and Richmond district residents who has to put up with this stuff.


First of all, Outside Lands will NOT be starting this Friday and having a three day music orgy. This year's event will only be on Saturday, August 14th and Sunday, August 15th. This is a big relief for those who commute on Muni to and from downtown on weekdays.

Second, for neighbors who live near Golden Gate Park, you should have received a letter from the event organizers. It's hard to identify as they mailed it to "Resident" and the return address says "Outside Lands" in very small print. If not, click here to read the same info on their site.

Target Help Fail

Important Phone Numbers:
  • (415) 752-2098: Outside Land's community hotline will be manned on Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 11PM if you care to bitch and moan at the event organizers. Be warned, this is not a government agency and thereby not responsible for maintaining public records of phone calls.
  • (415) 831-2774: SF's Park and Rec's office will have signs available for residents who want to tell people to not block their driveways.
  • (415) 553-0123: The non-emergency line of the police if people start getting out of line. Call 911 if it's a really bad problem.
  • (415) 553-1200: Department of Parking and Traffic's hotline if you want to report illegal parking, including blocked driveways.
  • (415) 554-7410: Supervisor Eric Mar's office for the Richmond (District 1). Highly likely nobody will answer the phone on the weekend.
  • (415) 554-7460: Supervisor Carmen Chu's office for the Outer Sunset (District 4). Also unlikely to answer phones over weekend.
  • 311 or (415) 701-2311: San Francisco 311; the all in one place to get answers and file complaints; manned by some of the most incompetent idiots in San Francisco.
Don't fart on Muni

Transit Information:
Outside Lands is offering private shuttle buses for the second year in a row to drive people to the event and back. The three pick-up locations are: Marina Square, Daly City BART, and 22nd Street Caltrain. For the locals who don't want to go to the concert, Daly City BART's parking lot won't fill-up because it's illegal to park in their garage and ride the shuttle to the concert, it's only for BART passengers only.

Taxicabs will be heavily used and abused, so be wary that if you depend on a taxi, you might not get one this weekend. Warning, watch out for price gouging by legal cab drivers, and never ride an illegal taxi or livery car. (Tips from the Taxicab Commission).

As usual, the cheap concertgoers will take advantage of Muni, which means more pain for us residents trying to get somewhere. Here's some tips I provided last year (modified due to certain lines not running on weekends):

Avoid the following Muni lines (in no particular order):
  • 5-Fulton **SEVERE IMPACT**
  • 71-Haight/Noriega
  • 29-Sunset
  • N-Judah **SEVERE IMPACT**
Alternate lines to ride:
  • 6-Parnassus (inner Sunset residents)
  • 18-46th Avenue (outer Sunset & Richmond residents, in exchange for the 29-Sunset)
  • 31-Balboa (Richmond district residents)
  • 38-Geary (everyday) and 38L-Geary Limited (doesn't operate on Sundays)
  • 43-Masonic

Driving around the event from hell:
The same park roads will be shut-down from last year. Here's my driving tips from last year's event:

If you must drive, definitely stay away from these East-West direction streets.
  • Fulton
  • Cabrillo
  • Balboa (maybe)
  • Lincoln
  • Irving (it's always crowded with the merchants on those blocks from 25th Avenue to 19th Avenue)
  • Judah
If you are trying to go North-South, you can still drive through:
  • 19th Avenue (GG Park South) via Crossover Drive to North entrances 25th Avenue and Park Presidio. EXPECT DELAYS.
  • Great Highway, but do expect traffic delays as the Sunset Blvd. road entrance to Golden Gate Park will be shut down and forced to used Great Highway at Lincoln.
  • Stanyan (east edge of GG Park)
Parking Idiot on Clement Street (1 of 2)

Other Information:
  • If you live near the event site and park your car on the street, park it on Friday night and don't move your car until Monday morning. Once you move your car, don't expect to find a space in your area.
  • If you need to take care of any required business like grocery shopping, get it done as early as you can.
  • For information about park access and details on park road closures, click here.
The best alternative:
If you want to have free entertainment without paying tons of money to Outside Lands, why not join me this weekend in SF's Japantown for the annual Nihonmachi Street Fair? Free music, great food, and lion dancing.

Japantown Fall Festival - Ribbon Cutting

Lastly... Your rights as a San Francisco citizen during Outside Lands:
  1. You have the right to complain to your district supervisor, police department, mayor's office, or any other appropriate city agency.
  2. You have the right to have your complaint heard by a competent individual and you shall expect a response within a timely manner.
  3. If you need help, call 311. If you believe the information they provided to you sounds incorrect or unhelpful, either hang-up and call again, or demand a supervisor. If they refuse to take complaints on certain matters regarding the event, keep cramming it down their throats until the report is filed.
  4. Any comments, suggestions and complaints filed with a city agency, including SFPD, DPT, and 311 are considered public records under the Sunshine Ordinance. Calling Outside Land's hotline may not be considered as "part of the record."
  5. If you notice limo or towncar drivers trying to pick-up passengers "on-demand," this is illegal under San Francisco law. Take down their plate and their unique chauffeur vehicle number on their rear bumper and call 311.
  6. If you still hear concert music beyond 10PM, the end of the day's event, report it to your city supervisor and police department.
  7. If you notice something shady going on in your neighborhood, don't sit on it, and give the cops a call.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Photos of the New Muni Fare Gates

Muni is in the process of installing new metro fare gates and ticketing machines. I was able to photograph two stations with major installations happening.

Some background:
Muni's current fare gates have been in existence for over 25 years (basically, since the metro system was born) and they are getting old. The machines can jam on occasion, and a lot of people take their sweet time shoving $2 worth of coins into the machine just to enter the system. The machines are not dollar bill friendly and the station agents encourage customers to use their change machines to get the dollar coins, or rip-off BART's ticketing machines for quarters. The machines are so old, you might find one on the electronic screen that says "ASS or $2.00."

The New Fare Gates:
Muni is finally giving the old fare gates the heave-ho and welcoming a new generation of fare gates. Since Muni is transitioning to Clipper, so does the new fare gates taking advantage of the RFID card technology. The gates will not accept coins and will accept Clipper cards and Muni's "limited use" paper Clipper cards. The gates have also been fitted with temporary card swipe devices because while the gates will be eventually in service, certain paper Muni passes will still be in use until April 2011.

Muni New Faregates - Civic Center Station Secondary GatesMuni New Faregates - Civic Center Station Secondary Gates

Instead of the classic turnstile we have been used to, they now have doors that open both ways. There is also a wide gate for disabled, those with baby carriages and luggage.

The New Ticketing Machines:
Since the fare gates will not accept coins, the metro stations must have ticketing machines, similar to BART's ticketing machines. Clipper card users can check on their balance, add e-cash, and add passes (including those from other agencies). For the casual passenger, they can purchase a brand new plastic Clipper card or purchase Muni fare with a paper "limited use" Clipper card.

Muni Clipper Ticketing Machine - Civic Center Secondary GatesMuni Clipper Ticketing Machine - Civic Center Secondary Gates

The "limited use" Clipper card is going to be a unique feature for Muni metro. There will be no more spitting out of transfers from the fare gates; passengers will get a paper version of a Clipper card with the rights and privileges that cash paying customers get, such as 90 minute transfers. The big disadvantages of the paper card is it will cost $0.25 for every "limited use" ticket issued, can only be used on Muni, and the lifespan of the card is 90 days (OK to reload funds).

Currently, the gates and ticketing machines are not yet ready for public use. You can find the new gates and ticketing machines at Civic Center secondary/east gates, and just the ticketing machines at Powell Station (both entrances).

To view all the photos, click here or watch the slideshow below:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Clipper Card: Easy Ways to Buy Passes & E-Cash without Hassles

In light of all the hell Clipper is going through, from thousands of angry WageWorks customers not getting their e-passes in time, to Clipper & MTC's public relations crew cleaning up the mess; I'm going to give you ways get your passes and e-cash funds to work every time.

I have little trust in letting my commuter benefits company transfer funds to Clipper
I've had issues with automatic loading, from being added late to just that funny feeling in my stomach that something is going to go wrong. So, I decided to just go to other ways of adding my passes and e-cash with the feeling of instant satisfaction. Once the people lose the trust in automatic loading (whether it be a glitch or fighting between two agencies), they want to find ways that adding value is available instantly on the card.

If you use commuter benefits:
Are you able to change your orders? Certain companies lets you do this over the phone or online. If you cannot make a change to your order yourself, ask your employer (sometimes the HR office) if there are other options you can take other than automatic loading of Clipper e-cash or passes.

After years of experience with Clipper and TransLink and trying various methods, here's the easiest ways to greatly reduce the risk going through another round of hell next month:
  1. Mail order paper passes, that is, if you still can. Good old paper passes are familiar to drivers and fare inspectors. Just be careful of deadline dates the transit agencies set for elimination of paper passes.
  2. Commuter paper vouchers is an easy option; they arrive in the mail about ten days before the new month starts, and you just claim them at most Clipper in-person locations like a local Walgreens. Since the vendor add value machines can add value and passes instantly w/out delay, it also includes a receipt as immediate proof that your passes and/or e-cash was added. If you order a monthly pass days before the new month starts, the pass information is held in the card until the first day of the month when it is activated.
  3. Commuter benefit debit cards is another option if you frequent locations where automated add value machines are located (e.g. all Muni metro stations, Golden Gate Ferry terminal, and Temporary Transbay Terminal). Automated add value machines are just like in-person vendors where adding passes and e-cash is added immediately to the card without the 72-hour delay (or some wild glitch happening again like earlier this month). For Commuter check users, value is added to your personalized debit card about 10-15 days prior to the new month. Warning! Clipper's policy on all debit cards is there is a $2 temporary authorization check for every purchase; the commuter debit card must have at least an extra $2 on it to successfully purchase a pass or e-cash (example: $60 pass must have $62 on card). You'll get the $2 refunded as soon as the payment clears.
UPDATE: The new Muni ticketing machines at all metro stations can issue new Clipper cards for no charge as long as you add a minimum of $2 or buy any pass. If you have an existing Clipper card, you can use these machines to buy passes for all agencies participating in Clipper, and/or add e-cash. These machines still accept cash, credit, debit, and commuter benefit debit cards. But... it will also accept coins too. The old Clipper add value machines have been deactivated and removed from metro stations so they can be installed at Caltrain stations. BART stations should eventually be able to add Clipper card value sometime in early 2011.

UPDATE #2: Commuter benefit debit cards can't be used at most in-person locations such as Walgreens or your favorite local grocery store. The rules are very strict and complex (refer to Commuter Check Card's website). If you don't want to get into trouble, only use the card on automated machines, transit agency ticketing offices, online, or train station ticket vendors like "My Transit Plus" at BART stations.

--End of Update--

In a simple summary, just avoid the three transactions:
  1. Telephone ordering.
  2. Online ordering.
  3. Automatic transfer of funds from the commuter benefits company to Clipper.

For those who do not use commuter benefits but still uses a Clipper card, just stick to buying passes and adding e-cash at an in-person vendor or automated machines. Here's what each service accepts:
  • In-person vendor: Cash, and sometimes checks and credit cards.
  • Automated machines: Cash, debit, and credit cards.

A friendly PSA: Protect the Threat of Theft

Lastly, with the influx of thousands of new cardholders and over two million transactions per month (as per KPIX), there is the potential risk that someone can skim your card's data and rip-off your account. Clipper cards don't have magnetic stripes that can be ripped-off by a tampered ATM machine, they use RFID technology and criminals can use off the shelf devices to steal your data from a distance (that's right, picking pockets has turned 21st century).

I found a company called Identity Stronghold that sells RFID resistant sleeves, wallets, and badge holders. I bought a badge holder that can protect or dramatically reduce the risk of my card being skimmed from thieves, but I can easily let a Clipper reader scan it by squeezing the top of the holder to allow the card to be read for that brief moment. With shipping, it was less than $15, but a small investment to prevent spending hours of hell with customer service and losing a lot of money.

I can't guarantee it will work. I tried the badge holder with my work's proximity card (a really old system in place for nearly a decade) and it was able to read it, but it had to be within half an inch from the reader. Removing the card or squeezing the tabs increased the range to five inches.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Update: There was TWO Problems with Clipper

Well, I guess my little break from writing about Clipper is over...

I just noticed a fresh posting on Facebook by the Clipper folks:
"Update on two recent system problems: 1) Customers who order value online or over the phone should now be able to tag their cards at a BART fare gate and receive the value; if you still have a problem, try tagging the card at a Muni reader or insert the card in an Add Value Machine; 2) Customers who added value for August through WageWorks should receive value today, tomorrow or Friday at the latest."
I knew about the WageWorks-Clipper problems, but BART gates not being able to add funds is a new one for me.

Just wait until November when all Muni "A" pass and disabled sticker passengers are forced to go Clipper only. That'll get interesting; that is, if Clipper can shake-out the bugs really soon.

What Annoys Akit - Inconsiderate Shoppers at Costco

I'm going to take a break today from the Muni and Clipper entries and talk about one of my annoyances, idiots at Costco.

I got the motivation to write about this one today from "The Poop" parenting blog on SFgate, and I was reading about the author's experiences at Costco when the free sample tables are out there giving away food to try.

Free samples, one of the features of going to Costco. That little piece of pizza, or a sample of their bagels; sure, they are tasty, but it doesn't beat that $1.50 hot dog.

I hardly ever go for samples because I'm only there to get in and out as quickly as possible. I've got my shopping list and coupons in hand before entering to zoom down the aisles to grab what I need and find the shortest checkout line.

When the samples are going out, that's when it gets nasty. There are a bunch of inconsiderate people who wait in line for a sample and leave their unattended shopping cart in the middle of the thoroughfare or aisles, thereby blocking others who want to just pass by and continue shopping.

Gees, a little taste of an item a person will unlikely buy, and being an asshole at the same time by blocking the aisle. At least move your cart away from the sample tables.

I haven't done it yet, I sometimes feel like grabbing their unattended cart and moving it far away just as punishment. I'd bet those I'd snatch would not even know their cart is missing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Happy First Anniversary Clipper & BART!

Today is Clipper's first anniversary on the BART system. Let's pop a cork of champagne in celebration!

A Little History
During TransLink's pilot program (almost ten years ago), BART only accepted it at very limited stations, including all downtown SF stations, and select stations in the East Bay. Once the pilot ended, BART's participation ended and it wasn't until several years later that the ball started rolling on TransLink's return to BART.

Before BART allowed Clipper (TransLink) cards to be used on a full-time basis in 2009, the two organizations were fighting it out. Before Clipper was managed by Cubic, it was owned by ERG. On the other side, BART's fare gates was purchased from its rival company, Cubic. ERG and Cubic was battling it out to see if the Clipper/TL technology can work on the Cubic gates. Instead, BART does a big about face with the EZ Rider card (a Cubic piece of technology) and James Fang's stupid adventure with cell phone payment (that ultimately failed and wasted $350,000).

It wasn't until ERG gave-up and sold their contract for Clipper/TL to Cubic that the ball started rolling. It took a while, but Cubic was able to make the ERG cards work on the BART gates.

The Big Day
On August 3, 2009, BART formally welcomed the Clipper (TransLink) card on a "limited" basis for its customers, but did allow anyone with a card, regardless of participation in the trial w/BART or not, to use it.

Eleven days after the first day of usage, I produced a short video on my blog showing how it works. The video was so successful that the Clipper folks on Facebook was referring people to my video.

For its first year, the program has been quite successful. Reliability with the system was quite good, and recent survey results showed that 88% likes the card, and over 90% would recommend it to a friend. Cubic also made improvements on their card readers on the BART gates by installing an improved card reader that can scan faster; when combined with the new software updates, the card readers are even quicker to read for quicker entry.

Still, BART can improve just a little bit more with the Clipper card:
  • One issue is the high value tickets. Clipper only allows the high value tickets to be purchased using the autoload program; there is no option to go to an automated machine or a vendor to buy one.
  • The BART ticketing machines are not able to add value to Clipper cards, but the Clipper board says they should be ready by next year to do it. Once BART gets their machines working, there will be tons of more places to easily add value w/out scouring for a Walgreens.
In the end, Clipper works great on BART. I haven't had any major issues yet.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Clipper and WageWorks - Not a Happy Relationship

The Clipper and Wageworks folks are not on happy terms today...

Here's an announcement from Clipper on Facebook:
"We have experienced an issue processing the Wage Works Transit Benefit orders for the month of August. The issue has been identified and we are working towards a resolution. Your order may be available beginning Tuesday morning, August 3rd but may take an additional 2-3 days depending on the transit system your ride. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused and we thank you for your patience."
Big surprise? Maybe for some, but not for me.

Here's the reason why it's not a surprise for me, Clipper and WageWorks have been at odds with each other. On Friday, June 25th, I reported that an upcoming Clipper board meeting on Monday, June 28th was going to address the problems between the two organizations. Here's what I stated:
"WageWorks and Clipper are not on happy terms when it comes to contract terms for peoples' WageWorks account funds being transferred to a Clipper account. The problem is being worked on by both sides, and affects approximately 5,000 people. If all else fails, Clipper will inform customers affected."
It looks like the war between the two has started.

For those who use WageWorks or literally any other commuter benefits company: ask for a debit card. I've used automatic transfer of funds from Commuter Check and Clipper, and they've sometimes didn't post my funds it until it was too late. Using a special debit card allows you to use the automated add value machines for instant funding of the card (no more 72 hour delays).

Clipper Pass Accumulator - Could it Work on Bay Area's Transit?

It's that time in the month again to buy those transit passes, from the Muni Fast Pass to that Caltrain monthly pass. For those who commutes on a regular basis, you already know the savings you get by riding literally every single day round-trip.

But how about those occasional passengers who frequently either just make it over the savings barrier or comes out in a loss? I have that issue myself, I commute half-time on Muni while the other half is spent driving (usually to get groceries and grab dinner after work). Crunching the numbers shows that I hardly ever make the savings barrier, and the only times I do so is if I take the Cable Cars a few times during the month.

For those who don't ride enough to make-up the value of a pass, it's simply just paying cash for their transit rides.

Could the future of the Clipper card involve the idea of a "pass accumulator" program? I mentioned this before from reviewing meeting notes posted online from the MTC that the consortium wants to consider this type of idea.

Here's how a "pass accumulator" works:
  1. The passenger uses their e-cash purse, just like paying dollar bills and coins for a single ride.
  2. When the e-cash transactions reaches a certain threshold within a specified period (e.g. calendar month), future rides is not deducted from the e-cash purse (free ride), thereby the passenger 'earned' the pass.
  3. Once the specified period ends, the system starts all over again.
Sure, it sounds really simple: Spend enough, and get the rest of the rides free.

There are some pros and cons to the pass accumulator. Many of the pros are for the consumer while the cons are all from the transit agencies.

  1. Passengers do not have to pre-purchase passes anymore, they just add e-cash as needed.
  2. Passengers don't have to think if a buying a pass is worth the value or not.
  3. Mid to light use passengers will prefer to pay in Clipper e-cash funds because they know they can't spend more than a certain amount within a certain period.
  4. Faster boarding of vehicles because more are using the Clipper card than paying cash (as per #3). This also means a faster ride.
  5. Less usage of the cash/change fareboxes means less maintenance on the equipment and less people needed to count cash and change (savings for transit agency).
  1. Transit agencies could argue that they make more money off those passengers who buy passes and do not make-up for its value.
  2. Unions can argue that their farebox maintenance and cash counting jobs will disappear because of the dominance of electronic transactions.
  3. Not all transit agencies will cooperate, mainly because they don't sell passes (Golden Gate Transit & Ferry and BART) or their passes are incompatible with the concept (AC Transit's 31 day pass).
Akit's take: I believe transit agencies should accept the pass accumulator program, and especially Muni. Muni operates slow, and runs frequently late. If Muni accepts the pass accumulator program, more will use the Clipper card to pay. For the time it takes to insert two one dollar bills into a machine and get a transfer, at least three Clipper cardholders can complete their transactions.

What's your view about pass accumulation? Do you think this can work?