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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Get Your Calculators - Clipper Just Got More Expensive

Last Friday, the Operations Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (or what I like to call, the defacto Clipper Board of Directors) had their monthly meeting to discuss about updates about Clipper, amending existing contracts, and change orders to increase funding for the program.

Item three of their agenda contains a memorandum from the Executive Director. Here's the highlights:
  • As we all know, November was the big transition of Muni's "A" paper pass to Clipper (40,000 users). This is the biggest transition to date for the program and a month prior to the November switch, 40% of pass users already converted.
  • Clipper has faced a big challenge in advertising and promoting to people with limited English proficiency (LEP). SF Supervisor Chiu was the one who lit a fire under Clipper's butt on the issue.
  • Due to the lack of promoting to LEP communities, the Executive Director asked the Operations Committee to approve $500,000 (yep, half a million) for customer education and in-person outreach with Swirl Marketing. MTC and Clipper have already spent $900,000 and another $1,000,000 on marketing, but that budget included MTC's other services like FasTrak and 511 as well. Amazingly: "This amendment will bring the total contract amount to $16,398,475" (ouch).
  • The MTC also proposed to amend a contract with Booz Allen Hamilton, a company that provides "technical oversight of the Clipper Contractor and coordination with transit operators and other consultants." The amount to amend: $950,000. The total contract with Booz Allen Hamilton would be $5,507,988 (if passed by the committee).
  • It seems the demand for Clipper cards has skyrocketed and the MTC underestimated the demand by a a few million dollars. In a previous posting, I mentioned Clipper spent $1 million for 475,000 cards ($2.11 each), now Clipper wants to change the contract with Cubic by spending an extra $4 million to get nearly two million (actually it's 1.9 million cards, but those government folks thinks two million is a nice round number) additional cards in stock to meet demand.
  • The Clipper employment program and customer service needs a boost as well with $1.05 million more on top of their existing contract with Cubic.
  • Since VTA wants to adapt their ticketing machines to add Clipper value, that's another $550,000 in the bucket.
  • The MTC wants to add a third in-person customer service center (the first two will be in SF) by placing one in Oakland. That'll cost $400,000.
If my math is correct, these contract changes, procurements, and/or adjustments is: $7,450,000.

I'd better pray this investment is going to pay off dividends in the coming years.

In other meeting news, the BART Board of Directors is meeting this week and will talk about the transition of EZ Rider card users to Clipper. Unfortunately, last week's meeting on the 10th was abruptly canceled, but I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the General Manager's memorandum before the webmaster deleted the agenda's PDF file. The PDF file I got is a lot more extensive than the presentation now being shown on the current agenda on page 16.

Here's the highlights:
  • December 15th is the deadline for EZ Rider users to transition to Clipper. So if you have that EZ Rider card and try to use it on the day after... sorry!
  • For those who carry two cards: One for EZ Rider parking and the Clipper card for transit, a solution has been found to make it one card for both parking fees and transit fares.
  • There was an increase in the tagging error rate, up 1.7% from 5% reported in last July's meeting. This is due to a major increase from 14,000 trips to 45,000 trips every weekday. The cause of the increase in read errors is due to the inexperience of new users.
  • At its peak, EZ Rider had 50,000 users, but the Clipper transition has reduced it to now 9,000 still using the EZ Rider card.
  • Clipper increased their telephone customer service staff from 22 to 52 to meet demand of the transition of paper passes from other agencies.
  • In the month of September, Clipper has processed over 4,000,000 "fee generating transactions." Another way to think about it, a 400% increase in just six months.


Anonymous said...

Do not blame the increase of tagging errors on inexperienced users. Clipper was not designed with a user friendly interface. Users only need to tag the card, but the response is so slow that users think it's not working and remove the card before the transaction is completed.

The fact that you via your blog, and Clipper people in the metro stations have to teach users how to use the card is already a good indicator that the Clipper system is not user friendly or intuitive to use. If Clipper system were intuitive and user friendly, then you would not have to repeatedly emphasize tagging vice swiping and reporting user error.

And then we have the craptacular gates that do not tell the remaining balance on the card and designed to close in between users attempting to exit the Metro system. In many cases, the gates are closing on people right as they get to the gate. Users are, instead, exiting via the emergency swing gate. The Clipper system is being forcefully deployed with little benefit. Hundreds (thousands?) of users exiting through the emergency gate is a pretty good indicator that the metro gates are broken or poorly designed.

Look at EZ-Rider users and compare it to Clipper. One Clipper user take as much time as 3 EZ-Rider users. Why would anyone want to give up their EZ-Rider for inferior (slower) Clipper system if they were not forced to do so?

IMO, Clipper is designed to work against transit users by slowing them down through entry and exit (if using Metro).

The only selling point for Clipper, really, is that (casual) users do not have to figure out the fare for various transit systems. Frequent users will already know the fares and system or have their prepaid tickets.

Akit said...

Anonymous: The tagging error information on this blog posting is from the BART documents and not from my own opinions.

I agree the tagging process is slow and the process to do so is annoying. It's based on the equipment they bought, they got ERG equipment, the same stuff used in Hong Kong where people have to hold their card longer than other company products like Cubic's.

To add:
EZ Rider card users got into BART quick because it was a Cubic card product with a Cubic gate. Clipper was originally owned by ERG until Cubic bought it, so they had to configure it to be able to work properly between the two products; thereby resulting in a slower read on BART gates.

It's like those kids toys where one has to hammer the proper size item into the hole, Clipper is trying to hammer the square peg (ERG equipment) into the round hole (Cubic BART equipment), but to make everything work, Cubic had to shave the edges to make it just fit.

Anonymous said...

The language issue is apparent if you ride the buses that serve Chinatown and Russian Hill.

Yesterday morning I was on a packed 30-Stockton. People boarded from the front and back at Kearny street. Those in front tagged their cards or paid cash, but not all who boarded in the back tagged their cards. In fact, I saw an old man, in his 60-70s, board through the back and show his Clipper Card to the driver as though it were a Fast Pass.

Before the A pass went Clipper only, I heard a group of Latina housekeepers talking about the transition on the 45. They had the misconception that trips to the East Bay on Bart & bus would cost them more. They also thought that the A pass was being eliminated and would have to pay $2 each way.