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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 #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:
- Telephone ordering.
- Online ordering.
- 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.