"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)

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.


eugene said...

Yes, incompetense is a big problem - among muni employees. Cable car operators have never successfully checked my card using the handheld machine. Usually they are satisfied with me telling them that I have a fast pass on my card. And certain bus drivers are still under mistaken assumption that it is ok to demand cash when the card reader is not working and kick the passengers off the bus if they refuse.

So I don't see any harm in holding Muni's feet to the fire a bit regarding this whole project.

hep said...

perhaps you could help with this problem. my boyfriend has a clipper account, and attempted to set his employers info up so they could load the monthly train pass onto it. however there was an error at the end of his signup. when he went back to try again, it says he already has an account but he can't log in and set anything because it can't find his account, even after having his password set. repeated calls lead to him being hung up on, and emails went unanswered after the attempt to reset the password failed. he still has not had this resolved, it's been months. we have been paying a hundred bucks a month for this pass for several months now on our own, because this is currently the only way to get transit costs paid from his company. is there anyone to contact at clipper that is not just the form or customer service email? thanks for any light you can shed on this issue.

Akit said...

Hep: Wow, tough situation you are in. From the sound of this, I'm assuming he is using Clipper Direct versus one of the other benefit companies like Commuter Check or WageWorks because at least other benefit companies are flexible in what they can issue (vouchers, debit card, etc.).

This is a problem I don't have a good answer for, the best I can provide you is this:

If you were to call them, I would ask for a supervisor or a manager if the regular customer service folks can't help or don't have the right answers.

Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Akit, thanks for being an awesome PR folk. NO doubt MTC needs you.

I too love the Clipper program. I"m also pretty sick of people not understanding the policies before they start using the card, and complain about some not-so-major flaw a few days later. The systme is really good if you actually know how to use it, as you probably know. Thank you thank you thank you Akit, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious how other transit agencies using RFID cards handle the proof of payment issue. When everyone has Clipper cards, we'll have to queue up to have the fare inspector read our cards.

Akit said...

Excellent question. Some now use a modified Nokia phone that can either read cards or input the card's serial number for verification. It's cheaper and smaller than the bulky ones Muni's fare inspectors carry.

I guess for now, inspectors will just have to scan cards or start begging for a more faster and efficient way to do so.

Refer to:

amanda said...

I have read and re-read the Clipper instructions. Not everyone who complains is an idiot. The card works fine on Bart and MUNI, but it DOES NOT work on the Cable Car. This a problem that must be addressed. Paying five dollars a pop when I've already purchased a monthly pass is not acceptable, particularly when I get a surely cable car operator that refuses to let me stay on the car if I don't have cash, which is the reason I wanted to use Clipper in the first place. If we don't complain, no one will fix the system. Though Clipper customer service is generally friendly, they have no power to help customers on this issue.

Anonymous said...

You used to be able to purchase Caltrain monthly pass and parking permit in the mail with the option of paying via commuter check AND credit card. Now that option is gone. If you wanted to use your commuter check, you would have to purchase the monthly pass from caltrain office. If you wanted to purchase a monthly parking permit, you would then need to go a separate caltrain machine that will dispense the permit. If you want to set up autoload (for caltrain monthly pass), you're out of luck. Has anyone at caltrain and clipper thought about this? idiots!

Akit said...

Here's more info about Caltrain parking w/Clipper cards:

Have you ever considered a Commuter Check debit card? By using that, you order your Caltrain pass online or by phone.

You can also claim your Commuter Check vouchers at Walgreens locations that handles Clipper transactions. If you have to add on extra funds to cover the gap, you are able to do so.

Anonymous said...

The clipper website won't give you "BAD DEBT" status! It will always show "valid". So, if you update your credit card (my visa was stolen) you are off the system for far more than 72 business hours (BART). The only way you will know if you can use the card again is 1) try it. 2) Call Clipper. I'm sorry, this is brain dead.

MH said...

It's a year later and Clipper still blocks cards for 3-5 business days after you change credit cards. Even CalTrain and Muni monthly passes that have already been paid for are blocked. And on CalTrain you don't even know until it's too late and the conductor kicks you off the train. This is an unacceptable system flaw that even the most knowledgeable and frequent user cannot avoid. BTW, Clipper agents don't even bother to apologize - they just tell you that it's the way the system works.