"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)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Clipper Increases Minimum Value to $5 to Get New Card - Still Not Enough to Stop Abuse

In Clipper card news today, starting March 1st, in order to get a new Clipper card, the minimum initial e-cash purchase will increase from $2 to $5. The card is free until June 2011, but the MTC won't just freely give out the cards without a minimum value.

Clipper is enforcing this revised policy at all locations where cards are issued (automated machines and retailers).

For those needing to reload e-cash funds to their Clipper card, the policy is being revised that all Muni metro stations (the self-service machines) will increase their minimum Clipper card e-cash reloading minimum from $2 to $5. In-person retailers does not have a minimum requirement, thereby you could add a minimum value of just one penny.

These changes are due to the people who abuse the Clipper card's negative balance policy. A passenger can rip-off taxpayers by getting a card with a very small amount of e-cash on the card, and at the end of the journey (costing more than the balance on the card), throw away the card and get a new one. In BART's case, long distance rides costs a lot, thereby ripping-off the agency; the agency lost $170K in people abusing the Clipper system.

Akit's Opinion
This is not enough to stop the abuse by raising the minimum e-cash to $5 for a new card. Caltrain and BART passengers that ride long distances can still exploit the Clipper card's negative balance by getting a ton of free cards with the minimum balance of $5 required to obtain a card.

If Clipper and the MTC wants to stop the abuse, they need to stop giving out free cards and charge a $5 fee to obtain one, plus a minimum of $10 for it's initial e-cash load or the purchase of a transit pass. The minimum price would then be raised to $15 to get a card.

Why $15? It's simple, no one-way transit ride costs more than $15. Caltrain is the most expensive at $12.50 (SF to Gilroy), and BART's most expensive fare is $10.90 (Pittsburg/Bay Point to SFO Airport), thereby when a passenger's first ride on the new card exceeds $10 and goes negative, it would be a waste of money to throw away the card because of the $5 fee just to obtain the card. But also remember, once the card goes into the red (negative balance), it cannot be used again unless if the value on the card is replenished.

This is only for adult cards as they are distributed without applying or registering for one. Youth and senior Clipper cards have very strict policies as only one card can be issued per person because they are required to apply for a card and are specially encoded with their age to receive proper transit discounts.

I do not understand why the MTC wants to raise the minimum e-cash RELOADING at Muni metro stations to $5 when in-person retailers don't have a minimum reloading requirement. Either have a minimum loading fee at all points of sale or not.

Muni Pass or Clipper E-Cash? Tough Choices

I thought I'd crack the numbers and find out if buying a Muni "M" pass is actually worth the value.

Based on my usage for February, I haven't used my Clipper card enough times to make up the value of the "M" pass at $60. I'm not keeping up with my New Year's resolution of taking Muni more often than driving to work.

I should have just added the $60 spent on a pass and converted it to no expiration e-cash for flexibility.


But while it sounds like an easy choice, there's a lot of pros and cons between buying a Muni pass vs. paying rides with Clipper e-cash:
  • Muni passes are only valid for the specified month for unlimited rides, Clipper e-cash doesn't expire but is limited to a number of rides until the card can be replenished.
  • Muni passes are only valid on Muni (BART for "A" pass), Clipper e-cash is flexible and can be used for any participating transit agency.
  • Muni passes are also good for unlimited Cable Car rides, Clipper e-cash is not accepted and if it was, it would be pretty costly as it's $5 for a ride.
One of the most difficult choices is about encountering those Muni fare inspectors. If you have a Muni pass, you still have to tag your card, but you get that comfort knowing that you don't have to worry about 90 minute transfers that expire, and the inspector's card reader can tell them there is a valid pass, even if the passenger fails to tag when a vehicle card reader is broken.

With e-cash, sure, I'd save money if I spend less than $60 a month on bus rides, but I'd have to be careful to keep an eye on how much time is left on my Muni e-transfer on my Clipper card. Paper transfers are easy to tell when it expires and when you should buy a new one, but Clipper only tells you the expiration when you tag your card to a reader. Since you just can't magically pay for a fresh e-transfer until the current one expires, some may not keep track unless if they are using a stopwatch and able to re-tag their card once the e-transfer expires.

Muni says the transfer must be valid for the journey, but how do they handle that for Clipper cards if an inspector scans a card 91+ minutes after the first scan that issued the e-transfer?

For many people who just pay with e-cash and primarily uses it to go from home to their job (and vice versa), it would not be an issue since it definitely takes less than 90 minutes to get to your final location and the ride back home would be hours after the e-transfer expired.

The e-transfer issue is more towards those who rides leisurely on the weekends. Other agencies doesn't have this problem as they either don't have inspectors, doesn't issue e-transfers, or requires card to be tagged-off. Is there a way Muni can modify their policy to instill confidence in their passengers to ride with e-cash and not get hit with a citation?

My suggestion is for Muni to give a "last ride" when if the e-transfer is less than 30 minutes from expiration, the passenger is given a 30 minute window to complete the trip. This would help close the gap, but not completely as some journeys on Muni can take more than 30 minutes, for example, riding end to end on the 38-Geary.
  • 9:00AM: I board first vehicle and pay $2 in e-cash, and issued an e-transfer to expire at 10:30AM.
  • 10:29AM: I use e-transfer and no e-cash deducted, and Clipper gives me a temporary transfer guaranteeing me a 30 minute protective window set to expire at 10:59AM.
  • 10:45AM: Fare inspectors check my card, and even though my initial transfer expired 15 minutes ago, I can still ride due to the 30 minute policy.
What do you think of this idea? Have a suggestion? Just post it in the comments.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Caltrain Monthly Pass Users - Ready for Clipper?

One big change coming for Caltrain monthly pass users is the mandatory transition to Clipper starting with the March pass. You can now pre-purchase your pass now at in-person retailers or automated machines, or purchase it online as soon as you can to not become a victim of the five day policy. If you don't have a card, you can get one for free at in-person retailers or request one online.

Some pointers before you think the card is some kind of miracle that will be perfect every time you use it...
  1. There are not many locations along the Caltrain corridor with in-person Clipper retailers. There are no add value machines at stations. If you frequently go to the 4th and King station, there's a Walgreens next door that can help you add value. Consider the autoload program as an alternative.
  2. The card must have at least $1.25 in e-cash value. It might not make sense to you, but trust me, if you have less than this amount, you are in trouble.
  3. On the first day of use for the new month, you must tag your card at the starting station and tag the card at your ending station. This will program your card as a valid pass.
  4. Once the card has been activated on its first trip, you don't need to tag-on and tag-off at your start and end stations. Show the inspector the card and his/her reader will tell him/her what zones you are allowed to travel.
  5. For riding further than your designated zones, purchase a paper upgrade ticket and show it to the inspector upon request.
  6. When purchasing a Muni pass add-on, you can do so when you do you purchase your pass.
  7. Transfer agreements are honored with VTA and Samtrans when you have a pass with two zones or more on your Clipper card. Just tag your card on the bus or light rail platform reader.
  8. Monthly parking permits can be purchased at Caltrain paper ticketing machines. You'll need your Clipper card serial number for the system to verify you purchased a valid pass.
That's the basics. If you want a comparison on the transition from paper to electronic passes, click here. For more tips about properly using Clipper on Caltrain, click here.

(Sorry for the delay in posting, it's been quite a busy week and I've been coming home exhausted.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Clipper Card Reader Meltdowns: It's Not New KGO-TV, Akit Has Known for FOUR MONTHS

Today, I'm not going to roast Clipper and MTC, I'm going to deep fry them to a crisp.

On Thursday evening, KGO-TV did a "uFixIt" report asking why are the Clipper card readers continuously beeping like crazy. The MTC said they have a software patch that will solve the problem and promises to get all the card readers updated the next day (Friday).

Everyone thinks this is a new problem... NO IT'S NOT!

Four months ago (October 13, 2010), I posted a blog entry asking why are the Clipper card readers going on a beeping frenzy. Not long later, a Clipper representative explained why by leaving a comment and promised a fix in November. In December, I questioned why Clipper and the MTC failed to fix the problem because the card readers continue to go on a meltdown.

If you read this correctly, the Clipper folks said on my blog they'd have a resolution sometime in November 2010.

Now it's been four months since my first posting and did Clipper and MTC resolved it? Can someone please find me a dunce cap so I can put it on Clipper and MTC's heads?

It is so frustrating to hear that when KGO-TV reported this, the problem would be fixed in a mere 24-hours. Really? 24-hours? You promise a TV station that you'll get it fixed in 24 hours, but you don't listen to someone who has been providing feedback, asking tough questions, and doing helpful free P.R. for you for years?

I know Clipper and the MTC reads my blog, and I'm going to bet they knew a major ass whipping would be coming from this blog post today. It's humiliating to hear the problem can be fixed in just one day, while I've been told promises of a resolution back in October.


There's also a second level of frustration. I wonder if KGO did their homework and realized that Akit has been reporting on this problem for a long time now, and even if they didn't mention about the Complaint Department, they could at least acknowledge that this issue has been known months ago and with no resolution. The way it was reported sounded like this was something relatively new.

It makes me wonder how much power a TV station has to change something with such fast turnaround time; but for a blogger, I don't have so much power to sway. I work hard on this blog to make changes, and I've had that moment of fame when the SF Examiner applauded me for my efforts for Muni to fill-in the gap of service for the 38L and 38-Geary bus lines.

It's discouraging that I write a lot about Clipper and I know a heck of a lot more than many of those customer service agents, but that doesn't stop me from doing a fun hobby. Just like Rocky, "Eye of the Tiger", I'll still be fighting no matter what.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Clipper Accepted on VTA Today

Starting today (February 16th), you can now use your Clipper card on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority or better known as VTA.

While VTA is now participating in this program, they offer the standard benefits to their passengers with one exception, no day passes (for now). One of the best benefits of VTA joining Clipper is great inter-agency transfers with Samtrans, Caltrain, AC Transit, Dumbarton Express, and BART. To read more about the inter-agency transfers, click here.

Here's a few tips:
  1. All passengers must tag their Clipper card on the vehicle or the light rail platform. This is regardless if you have e-cash, valid pass, or valid inter-agency transfer. Click here to learn how to properly tag your card and minimize delays.
  2. Light rail customers have two hours to complete their journey. Fare inspectors have card readers and can verify it.
  3. Light rail customers needing to transfer to another train to complete their journey should NOT tag their card on the platform reader of their transfer station. This will result in being charged for a second ride.
  4. If you ride an express and have only partial credentials to ride (e.g. local fare credit for inter-agency transfer or a non-express pass), you need to have ample e-cash to make-up for the difference. For example, if I have a two+ zone Caltrain pass, I get a local fare credit, but riding an express bus will also deduct $2 from my Clipper card to make-up the cost difference. You can't pay the cost difference in cash.
  5. While Clipper is getting more in-person vendors to be able to add Clipper value, there are limited locations to add value in-person. Consider autoload as an option or mark your calendar for occasional visits to load funds. You can also do it online or by phone, but be warned of the "five day rule."

As many earlier news reports have said, this completes the connection of all major Bay Area transit agencies to have a one card system. It makes it simpler for customers to have multiple passes and tickets loaded onto one single card, and no fumbling for dollar bills and exact pocket change to pay for fares.

I believe VTA is one of the most generous transit agencies in the Bay Area with their inter-agency agreements, and with further expansion of the Clipper program and more agencies joining the consortium, people will appreciate the easy transferring from one agency to another.

We all can agree that expansion of Clipper to the smaller agencies like Vallejo/BayLink, County Connection, WestCat, and Union City will be vital to making the entire system work as one. But surely we should try to get private transit agencies like the Blue and Gold Fleet's commuter service to Tiburon to also join the consortium too.

Lastly, I think many of us can also agree there are a few bugs and downsides to Clipper. A recent KTVU report says Caltrain conductors experience issues half the time, and there's the occasional Tweet I encounter of people confused of the rules or having card issues. I may not have all the answers and some changes takes the power of a transit agency's Board of Directors, but I still have faith this program will be successful.

How soon until I can pay for snacks with my Clipper card at my local 7-11? I feel the need for a Slurpee.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Golden Gate Ferry to Automate Ticket Sales

Golden Gate Ferry is in the beginning stages to automate the ticketing system at all its locations by utilizing self-service ticketing machines able to handle Clipper cards and plans to have it ready for full public use sometime this year.

At the SF Ferry Terminal, work has already been done to remove the self-service Clipper add value machines and they plan to install twelve self-service ticketing machines (six at SF, four at Larkspur, and two at Sausalito) in March. They've also installed new Clipper card readers at the Sausalito terminal just beyond the metal security gates.

In the end, the four million dollar investment split by "Regional Measure Two" funds us voters approved, and the other half from the Bridge District will be paying for this entire process. They estimate the cost savings at $6.2 million in ten years, and $2.6 million in its first five. Sadly, this would also drop out seven full-time positions at Golden Gate Ferry as they don't need to have people staff the ticketing booth and the sales counter on-board the Sausalito ferry.


Akit's Analysis & Opinion:
But while Golden Gate is going through with this process, are they really going to save millions in a matter of just five years? I have my doubts about this.

The interesting situation is the prices they charge for one-way rides on the the ferry system:
  • Cash paying adults pay $8.25 regardless of what ferry is taken.
  • Clipper card adults pay $4.85 for the Sausalito ferry (41.2% discount versus cash).
  • Clipper card adults pay $5.70 for the Larkspur ferry (30.9% discount versus cash).
As you have noticed, Clipper card customers pay drastically less than their cash paying counterparts and that's because they dropped the commuter ticket books in favor of all passengers with electronic farecards gets the discount automatically. No transit agency in the Bay Area offers a 30% to 41% discount, and not even BART is close with their high value tickets. The people who pay the $8.25 cash fare are typically tourists and people without Clipper cards on a leisurely visit, and most of the time the higher income comes from the weekend cruises.

If Golden Gate Ferry follows through and installs these automated machines, I'm betting they may lose money in fare revenue because while the machines can sell full price single and round-trip rides, those machines will also be selling Clipper cards (as per their website: first paragraph, second to last sentence). By offering more ease to get Clipper cards and spreading the publicly known "secret" about the steep discounts, would automation be truly beneficial to the agency?

If tourists and occasional riders are smart, they'll buy a new free plastic Clipper card with just enough e-cash value for a round trip on the Sausalito ferry, save $6.80, and dump the plastic card (valued at $2.11) in the trash. Even if Clipper charged a $5 new card issuance fee on top of the ferry fare (as early as June 2011), people will still save $1.80 on their boat fare.

Muni might also lose some money too as more people can take advantage of the inter-agency transfer agreement allows Clipper card only passengers exiting Golden Gate Ferry a 50 cent discount on their next Muni ride within one hour.

I'm not against the Golden Gate's plans to automate and add more Clipper add value locations (though it would be sad some people may lose their jobs); but if they are going to have automated machines that can spit out new Clipper cards and charge up to 40 percent less than paying the single ride fare, why not just lower the cash only fare to the same fare Clipper card customers pay every single day? It only seems fair.

I wonder how many tourists today realized they could get a free Clipper card at the Golden Gate Ferry or Bay Crossings booths, add less than $10, and save a ton of money? Even a tour company realized the massive cost savings and ordered a bulk of Clipper/TransLink cards to give to every single person in their group tours that visits Sausalito every weekend.

I don't know how Golden Gate Ferry can offer such deep discounts, but it is totally worth the savings to take a leisurely ride to Sausalito and spend the savings on a nice lunch. Since Golden Gate offered this automatic discount program for nearly a decade (GGT and GGF was one of the first agencies under TransLink/Clipper), I wonder if they actually had an increase in ridership to make-up for the discounted rides, and eliminating the production and distribution of their ticketing books.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Clipper's New Customer Service Locations are Hard to Find

Since I had about 45 minutes until the next Sausalito ferry departed at the Ferry Building, I decided to find the Clipper card customer service locations that recently opened up at the Embarcadero station and Bay Crossings booth inside the Ferry Building.

I thought this would be an easy find, but it wasn't.

Looking around the mezzanine level of the Embarcadero station shows no signage of where it is located and everything was not open for business (it was a Saturday). I wasn't sure if the new location was at the 511 kiosk near the east BART & Muni gates, the "My Transit Plus" booth, or next door to Peet's coffee.

At the Ferry Building, the new location is supposed to be at the Bay Crossings booth. If you are not looking closely, you might not notice the specific location can even provide the more advanced services than what Walgreens or a self-service machine can provide.


But something just doesn't feel right about this. I was under the assumption these new locations would have some obvious signage telling people about what services they can provide and have their own dedicated booth/service locations at Ferry Terminal and Embarcadero Station. Instead, it's more like hide and seek.

Embarcadero's is hard to identify with zero signage pointing the where it is and it's unknown what their operating hours are.

Bay Crossings is more like a "super" retailer where Clipper contracts to them to provide the additional services than just issuing adult cards and adding value. They use their chalkboards to tell people about it, but it's still hidden away between all the magazines, newspapers, and other goodies they sell. I wasn't even sure if the lady behind the counter was even trained to handle this.

Lastly, these locations are not even on Clipper's retailers map. I challenge Clipper and the MTC to do better.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maximize Clipper Card Inter-Agency Transfers & Discounts

Some people are curious of why they are getting a 25 cent discount on their Muni rides when using their Clipper card. Some say it's a glitch, while others thinks it's an exploit.

To tell you the truth, it's neither. It's all about automatic discounts with the Clipper card.

For the longest time, transit agencies have inter-agency agreements and this means for qualifying customers meeting certain criteria, they can either get a free transit ride on another agency, a local fare credit, or a discount. With the Clipper card in place, inter-agency transfers are even easier as you don't need to get a paper transfer from a machine and you always get the best discount available.


The current agencies operating under Clipper (Muni, BART, AC Transit, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit & Ferry, Samtrans, and coming soon, VTA) all have inter-agency agreements with one or multiple agencies. This blog entry will explain how the agreements work.

Remember the general rules: You must use the same Clipper card to get the benefits, and if you have a pass on your Clipper card for the transferring agency, it overrides the discount.

Reminder: VTA won't be accepting Clipper until February 16th.

BART & Muni Discounts (All SF stations)
  • When exiting BART within San Francisco, board any Muni vehicle or enter the metro within one hour, and receive a 25 cent discount on your ride. A Muni pass overrides this discount.
  • Once you activate your $1.75 discount going away from BART, you are entitled to a 25 cent discount within 24 hours on your return trip to BART.
  • Interestingly, since Clipper readers on Muni doesn't know what line or direction it is operating, even if you ride a different bus within 24 hours and it doesn't go to BART or you exit before you reach the BART station, you still get the 25 cent discount. If you have ever read your Clipper history report online, it doesn't mention which Muni line you rode (it says "MTA NONE") while taking BART or Caltrain will say what station you entered and exited.
BART & Muni Free Ride (Daly City Station)
  • For passengers exiting at Daly City station, they are entitled to a free Muni ride on the 54, 28, or 28L away from the station. The Clipper card will be encoded upon exiting BART and transferring to the Muni bus will not deduct the e-cash purse, but will give the OK to enter as the ride is free as long as you board the bus within one hour.
  • The return trip to Daly City BART is free on the 28 and 54, as long as you use it within 24 hours.
  • But... once again, the system is a little bit dumb. Muni Clipper readers don't know what line it is, so if you take another bus on your way to somewhere, your next ride is also free. It doesn't matter if you ride 28 or 54 back to BART, Clipper takes advantage of the best deal available for the passenger.
Golden Gate Ferry & Muni
  • Upon exiting the SF Golden Gate Ferry terminal, you get 50 cents off to take Muni within one hour.
  • When returning on Muni to Golden Gate Ferry, you get 50 cents off your Muni fare back to Golden Gate Ferry within 24 hours of your initial exit from Golden Gate Ferry.
  • Updates: Just take Muni and transfer to Golden Gate Ferry and receive a 50 cent discount on the ferry ride. When riding Golden Gate Ferry, transfer to Muni and get a 50 cent discount on the Muni ride. There is no more 24-hour policy.
Golden Gate Transit & Muni
  • When transferring from a Muni vehicle to Golden Gate Transit, the passenger receives a 50 cent discount on their Golden Gate Transit fare.
  • When transferring from Golden Gate Transit to Muni, the passenger receives a 50 cent discount on their Muni fare.
Caltrain Monthly Pass on Samtrans & VTA
  • Caltrain monthly pass users must have at least two zones on their Clipper card to use the inter-agency benefit.
  • When riding Samtrans, tagging the card gives a local fare credit (on almost all routes, it's a free ride).
  • When riding VTA, it is free rides on all local and light rail routes. When riding an express bus, it is a $2 discount (for adults, an express ride will deduct only $2 from your e-cash fund).
Samtrans & VTA
  • For those with VTA monthly passes wanting a local fare credit for Samtrans, you need to board VTA first to activate the discount, and when transferring to Samtrans in Palo Alto, tag the card on the Samtrans bus to receive the discount.
  • The procedures are reversed for those with Samtrans monthly passes to get a local fare credit for VTA.
  • To get the local fare credit for the transferring agency, you need to do it within two hours of boarding your "home" agency.
  • The transferring must be done within the confines of Palo Alto (e.g. the transit center).
AC Transit (including Dumbarton Express) & BART to VTA
  • AC Transit and Dumbarton Express passengers transferring to VTA receives a local fare credit within two hours of boarding an AC Transit/Dumbarton vehicle.
  • BART passengers transferring to VTA at Fremont station receives a $2 discount upon boarding VTA within one hour. Your e-cash purse will deduct $2 instead of the full $4 fare.
  • There is no discount for returning on VTA to AC Transit, Dumbarton, and BART. Discount only valid when exiting the other agencies and boarding VTA.
BART to AC Transit
  • Upon exiting BART and boarding an AC Transit bus within one hour, you receive a 25 cent discount off your e-cash fare for AC Transit local buses.
  • When returning on a local AC Transit bus to BART within 24 hours of exiting BART, you get a 25 cents off your AC Transit ride.

These inter-agency discounts are different or was omitted from Clipper:

Caltrain & Muni
  • While not exactly an inter-agency transfer agreement, monthly Caltrain pass users can also purchase the Muni monthly pass add-on for a discounted price of $55.
  • This does not include BART rides in SF and Cable Cars.
Samtrans & Muni
  • The Samtrans website about Clipper does not mention about the $55 Muni pass that can be purchased when purchasing a monthly Samtrans pass.
  • For now, you can still buy the paper Samtrans pass and pay the extra $55 fee for the Muni sticker.
Golden Gate Transit & AC Transit
  • The Golden Gate Transit website does not mention if a Clipper e-transfer is applicable. They explicitly only mention paper transfers. Can a GGT and/or AC Transit representative clarify this?
  • This won't be active on Clipper for a long time until they get the other smaller agencies like WestCat to join the Clipper consortium.

I believe I covered all inter-agency transfers with agencies that are participating in the Clipper card program. If I missed one, leave me a comment.

If you attempt to use an inter-agency benefit and for some reason it didn't work, I suggest contacting Clipper customer service to get it resolved as soon as possible.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Clipper In-Person Customer Service Centers

Had one of those rough days with the Clipper card when you accidentally broke it? Don't want to wait a couple of weeks for a new senior or youth card? Want to purchase Clipper e-cash, e-passes, and e-tickets with a transit benefit voucher or debit card?

You are now in luck, Clipper opened-up two new in-person customer service centers.

I found out about this on Clipper's Facebook page when someone asked about where these service locations are, and I asked about what services they provide.

The Clipper rep said the the new locations are located:
  • One is at the Embarcadero station's mezzanine level (ticketing and faregate level), and the second one is at the Ferry Building's Bay Crossing booth. Both locations are now open.

The services they provide:
  1. Obtain a senior or youth Clipper card. You will need to complete an application and show proof of age. For youth who uses Clipper and needs monthly AC Transit passes, you need to register at AC Transit's ticketing office.
  2. Obtain an adult Clipper card. No application and proof of age required. But you may be required to add a minimum e-cash value to obtain a card.
  3. Replace damaged cards. This can only be done if your Clipper card is registered, in-hand with you, and not a youth card issued by AC Transit.
  4. Replace defective cards.
  5. Transfer card value from the classic TransLink card to a new Clipper Card.
  6. Add Clipper value to cards. They can also accept transit benefit vouchers and benefit debit cards.
  7. Get brochures about Clipper and its participating transit agencies.

A few items to point out about the service centers:
  • Like I mentioned earlier, if you are having problems with a youth card issued by AC Transit (it has a photo on it), these customer service locations can't help you.
  • They can't issue refunds. Contact customer service by phone.
  • They accept more forms of payment than in-person retailers and self-service machines, especially for those using commuter benefits.
  • For now, they cannot replace lost or stolen cards. They plan to make that service available in the future.
  • They can't issue or replace RTC disabled ID cards (with Clipper technology on the card). That service is handled by transit agency ticketing offices or a separate transit agency office.

Caltrain's Website Referring to My Blog?

Since I keep track of my blog stats on a daily basis, I noticed an odd referral link to my recent posting about people taking responsibility to use Caltrain properly with their Clipper card.

Who? It's Caltrain.

It's normal for me to find other bloggers and news sites referring to my material, but it's really rare and for a transit agency to do it. They linked it on their Clipper page.

I thought it was strange that Clipper reps on Facebook and Twitter was referring to my 72 hour article, but it's interesting to see that my work is being recognized by a public agency. Maybe I should be flattered Caltrain is referring to my blog post.

Maybe there's a future in public relations for me... just um, if I represented Caltrain and someone does something stupid, I'd be saying things like "that idiot shouldn't have run on the escalator" and "I pity the fool, who didn't pay their ticket." That's right, no sugar coating for me.

In more news, VTA will be joining Clipper next week on Wednesday. For you Caltrain monthly pass users with a minimum two zone coverage, this means you can ride local VTA routes all you want for free, and a partial fare credit for express buses. VTA produced three YouTube videos about using Clipper. Click here to see them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Caltrain Passengers - Learn to Use Clipper Correctly

I'm noticing on the Twitter feeds I keep tabs, and there's a bunch of you who keep whining about how Clipper on Caltrain just sucks.

Listen folks, it's your own fault if you don't pay attention to the rules, and especially the rule about always tagging-on and off to be charged properly (oh boy, here comes the hate mail...). The system may be new and its a learning curve for all, but if you pay attention to the policies noted on Caltrain and Clipper's websites, or grabbed a brochure made by Clipper, you'll understand how it all works.

A lot of people whined about tagging their card on Muni and always getting the "three beeps of death," but that's because they didn't hold the card steady to the reader. A few months later, no complaints because people know the proper technique.

It's all about time, give it a couple of months and you'll get the hang of it.


The most frequent complaint is failure to tag-off, and it results in being charged the maximum fare. There's a reason for being charged max fare upon tagging-on: the system does not know when you are going to exit, thereby tagging-off is required to tell the system that you are entitled to a proper refund so you are properly charged for your travel.

Nearly a decade ago, TransLink (prior to rebranding as Clipper) was on Caltrain, and passengers had to press the appropriate zone button on the reader prior to tagging their card; once card is tagged, the proper fare was charged for that coverage and no tagging-off was required. But this easily sets up Caltrain for financial loss because people could just press a zone that's the cheapest and gamble on not getting caught by a conductor or inspector. In my past experiences on Caltrain with an electronic fare card, no conductor ever conducted an inspection, while some others just looked at it and said okay without scanning it. The max fare system works well because even if fare inspection doesn't happen on a frequent basis, there's much less risk to Caltrain from being ripped-off by passengers. We all know how bad Caltrain's financial condition is right now, and they want to reduce the risk of fare evasion as much as they can.

Think about this: Imagine if BART did not have fare gates; their fare structure is similar to Caltrain, and the tag-on and off procedure is necessary in order for the system to properly calculate the correct fare. The only way this can work is the card must be charged the maximum fare, but when tagging-off, the fare is properly refunded so you technically paid the correct amount for your journey.

The same goes for Golden Gate Transit. They operate on a zone system and the Clipper readers are connected with GPS units to know when it enters another zone. When a passenger tags their card on boarding, the maximum fare is charged, and when exiting, the refund is issued so the passenger pays their proper fare. It would be a waste Golden Gate Transit's time to have their drivers push buttons all day long for passengers saying they want to exit at this stop or zone when it's easily simplified with a tag-off procedure.

This is in no way compared to agencies with a flat fare system, like Muni. Tagging once means you can ride where ever you want and no tagging-off is required.


So here's the "rules" I'm talking about so we are on the same page. This does not explain how to purchase e-cash, monthly passes, or 8-rides.

Step-by-step instructions for e-cash (single ride) and 8-ride ticket customers:
  1. Card must have at least $1.25 in value. If you have less than that, your ride is denied, even if you have an 8-ride on the card. Why? The card has a max negative balance of $10, and Caltrain from end to end costs more than $10.
  2. Tag the card at your starting station. Green light or green & yellow light means OK. Your card will deduct the maximum fare, and the card may go into the negative balance.
  3. When an inspector asks to review the card, hand the card and the inspector's reader will say "YES."
  4. At your end station, tag the card to get your money back from when you tagged-on. If 8-ride, full refund and one ride deducted. If I am doing e-cash only, refund is partial so you are properly charged for the fare zones you covered (if my card deducted $10 on entry, and a two zone ride is $2, I would be refunded $8 at my end station).
Step-by-step for monthly pass users:
  1. On the first day of travel for the new month, you must tag your card at your starting zone.
  2. During that first day of travel, card must have at least $1.25 in value. If you have less than that, you are denied a ride.
  3. Tag the card at your starting station. Green light or green & yellow light means OK. Your card will deduct the maximum fare, and the card may go into the negative balance.
  4. At your end station, tag the card to get a full refund, and the card will be encoded as a pass for the zones you are covering.
  5. On subsequent rides during the valid month, you DO NOT need to tag the card at the beginning and end. Fare inspector readers will note the zones you are covering. If riding beyond your designated zone, purchase a paper zone upgrade at a vending machine.
WARNING: If you tag-on at a reader and get the red light and three rapid beeps, DO NOT board Caltrain; if you do, you will risk being kicked-off and/or a citation for fare evasion (your card is NOT VALID FOR TRAVEL!!!). Pay for a paper ticket and call Clipper for help.

For a comparison about Caltrain paper tickets & passes versus Clipper, click here.
For the best guide around on how to use Clipper, click here.

Best wishes and enjoy your weekend.

February's Clipper Card Updates: BART Ticket Machines & SFMTA Parking

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Operations Committee will be meeting on Wednesday, February 9th at 11AM and they will be talking about money being spent on the Clipper card program.

Facts and Updates You Should Know:
  • For the week ending January 21st, the "average weekday transaction volume was 355,750."
  • Muni is still sticking to their threat to end the paper "M" pass and be Clipper only starting with the April 2011 pass.
  • BART is now testing their ticketing vending machines. They expect it to be fully operational at all BART ticketing machines at the end of March 2011.
  • Golden Gate Ferry will be starting testing of Clipper card only ticketing machines this month. Not sure what this exactly means.

Money Being Spent:
The Operations Committee intends to spend $1.077 million on three items...
  1. $250,000 on a P.R. firm that is subcontracted by Swirl Marketing and Booz Allen Hamilton. This firm will be focusing on public relations work regarding the Muni transition from paper passes to Clipper, and educating youth, disabled and seniors.
  2. $250,000 to another P.R. firm subcontracted by the same contractors. This firm will be doing general public relations for BART, Caltrain, and VTA, and a secondary focus towards limited English proficiency, youth, seniors, and disabled.
  3. $577,000 for the SFMTA's pilot parking program. This funding is not from state taxpayers, but is a grant from the USDOT (the feds). The funding will help cover five city owned garages so payment can be made with a Clipper card, project management, testing, and training.

Akit's Opinion:
  • This meeting agenda doesn't have a lot of material to talk about. I usually expect I'd see some more insight on what the heck is going on with the boatload of Caltrain complaints, and upcoming big projects.
  • It's good to see the BART ticketing machines should be ready in less than two months. This means tons more locations for transit passengers to add Clipper value and it's instantly available for usage.
  • Does it really cost $500,000 to educate the public about the Clipper card program? Hell, I'm educating people on my blog for FREE. Pay me a decent salary with full benefits, and I'll be a one man wrecking P.R. crew.
  • As for paying parking garages with the blue card, not a bad idea. I wonder how they'll handle folks with commuter benefits who wants to park for leisure purposes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

An Extra $24.50 in Four Days on Nine Giants Ballgames I Want - Dynamic Pricing is Evil

I'm really frustrated with the SF Giants and their dynamic ticketing system. I did a comparison of the pricing lists I printed from January 31st and today, February 3rd.

Just last night, I used the January 31st list to pick nine single games I can attend that was a good balance of cost and still get to see the bitter rivalry against the Dodgers. Using the pricing sheets, I compared just how much the prices have changed, and it's drastic.

I'm going to list the 9 games I picked by telling your the price listed on January 31st and February 3rd, and the cost difference:
  1. $18.25, $18.50; +$0.50
  2. $27.00, $31.75; +$4.75
  3. $16.00, $18.50; +$2.50
  4. $20.00, $20.00; zero
  5. $38.00, $45.50; +$7.50
  6. $27.00, $31.25; +$4.25
  7. $23.00, $23.50; +$0.50
  8. $27.00, $31.25; +$4.25
  9. $18.00, $18.25; +$0.25
  • In a matter of a few days, the extra money I have to pay to buy tickets is: $24.50.
  • Another way to look at this, the January 31st total: $214.25, February 3rd total: $238.75; a 10.26% INCREASE.

There's a lot of problems with this cost increase punching a hole out of my wallet:
  1. The dynamic pricing system truly works when the Giants knows who is pitching, the weather, popularity of the opposing team, how the Giants rank in ERA, National League, and other numerical factors, and some others. But here's the problem, the season hasn't even started for the Giants and they have already jacked-up the price. We don't know who is going to pitch in the sixth regular home game, or what place the Giants will be in the standings.
  2. The new price list I retrieved was updated today, prior to the start of the pre-sale of tickets for people with Visa cards. What factors caused the Giants to raise the price of tickets when the regular season hasn't even started? Did Brian Wilson's visit to the George Lopez show jack-up the need to see him pitch? Or is it the gimp (a.k.a. "The Machine)?
  3. Nearly all of the games I chose went up in price, except for just one.
  4. The dynamic pricing list shows a lot of opportunities to just pay a few quarters more and you can get a better seat in the View Box level versus paying for View Reserved Infield.
I'm wondering how much more I'm going to have to pay before tickets go on sale starting February 5th at 9AM. For those who wants to beat the surcharges by buying in person, you'd better review the pricing list before lining up this Saturday for tickets at the ballpark.

What's next, raise the price of garlic fries on the "dynamic fries" system? How about raising the price of a cup of beer when the weather is hot?

What will it take for the Giants to kill dynamic pricing?

Buying Giants 2011 Tickets - World Series Title a Curse on Ticket Prices?

UPDATE: I compared the price list I printed on 1/31 to today (2/3) and the games I chose to purchase tickets all went up in price, AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC DIDN'T EVEN GET A SHOT AT PURCHASING UNTIL SATURDAY AT 9AM! This is highway robbery. Read more from a more recent post.

(Original Post)
I've been a San Francisco Giants fan all my life as I've been living in one of the most gorgeous cities in the world my entire life. As a fan, I carry a fun collection of items, from orange Giants logo neckties, a hat with tons of pins I've collected throughout the years, Giants jacket and jersey, and so many more great items and photos I've taken.

I'm proud our team won the World Series title in 2010 and our city will be cherishing it forever, but I feel there's a big curse placed on all of us for earning the title of "champions."

That curse, overpriced 2011 Giants tickets.

History about Giants Ticket Pricing
In 2010, the San Francisco Giants imposed the "Dynamic Pricing" ticketing system on all seats where tickets was based on an algorithm (for you non math folks, a demand system) where ticket prices would vary every day and would go up or down based on factors like opposing team, day or night, weekday or weekend, pitcher, giveaway, winning streak, and other factors. The dynamic pricing system gave the power to the SF Giants to change the pricing of tickets at any moment.

Prior to 2010, Giants tickets was always sold on a rigid pricing schedule. At least a few years ago, all single game tickets cost the same, regardless if it was a rival team or one that was easy to defeat. In 2009, the Giants decided to experiment with a modified version of dynamic pricing by charging fans a slightly higher price for tickets for "feature games" and "premium games." Those teams that are doing well or was the big bad rivals of the Giants (e.g. Dodgers). Interestingly, the Giants still have their 2009 pricing list online.

In my opinion, the dynamic pricing schedule is more of a way to rake in more money while the rigid pricing schedule made it easy for us fans to know how much we can spend in our own personal budgets. Based on the 2010 tickets I purchased, I noticed all the ticket prices go up from just a few dollars to double the cost of what I purchased. I was smart to buy my tickets early to get the best deal, but others who buy spontaneously gets penalized with much higher ticket prices for the same section I'd be sitting in.

Stupid Long Security Line - AT&T Park

But now that our team is the world champions, the fame and glory comes at a heavy price to us, the fans. Just today, the Giants allowed fans with Visa cards to purchase tickets two days prior to the sale of single game tickets to the general public. Due to dynamic pricing, some ticket prices have jumped to drastic levels, even for games against our rivals, the LA Dodgers.

Here's a comparison of ticket prices for Giants vs. Dodgers home games:
  • 2011 dynamic pricing for View Reserved Infield: From $31.25 to $45.50 (as of 2/3/11). Average ticket price is $35.94 (using the mean average).
  • 2009 "premium game" pricing for same section: $32.00 for all SF/LA games.

Would you pay $45 to see the Dodgers? Hell no. I wished the Giants disbanded this awful dynamic pricing system and just set-up the old fashioned rigid schedule so everyone can get a fair shot at buying tickets. Baseball tickets is not an airplane flight where the person next to you paid $20 less and the one in front of you paid an extra $30.


Here's some pro tips to good ticket prices:
  • Stubhub is the legal scalping marketplace, but you will pay a surcharge. Many season ticketholders want to sell their tickets to games they can't make it to, so you benefit with lower prices and extra perks like parking included.
  • Buying at AT&T Park waives all surcharges, except if you use the automated machines at the park, you'll pay a one time 50 cent fee regardless if you buy one or 50 tickets.
  • Costco is still selling the Giants ticket vouchers. $62 for two view reserved infield tickets to any game (except opening day and night), and includes $20 for day-of-game food and souvenir purchasing ($10 per ticket). If you can find a game valued at more than $21 per ticket for the same section, you save money. If you can find a game valued at $31 or more, the day-of-game food/gift benefit is literally free.

It's Getting Really Bad: Illegal Dumping

A lot of us know the Richmond and Sunset districts have a major issue with illegal dumping. While it is not hazardous materials or waste from a construction job, people are think it's OK to dump their large bulky items on the street and expect someone to magically pick it up and take it home.

In reality, that's a bunch of bullshit. Nobody wants to take a soiled mattress or this dirty couch I photographed next to a bus stop on 33rd and Geary.

There's also those people who thinks it is OK to dump their home garbage in one of those city garbage cans. It's so obvious because you find garbage bags or grocery bags crammed in the city street trash cans or laying next to them.

Yesterday, I took the 18-46th Avenue to SF State and I noticed illegal dumping six times along the route:
  1. Full queen mattress set with box spring and mattress pad.
  2. Queen mattress only.
  3. An overfilled city garbage can with multiple grocery bags.
  4. A couch.
  5. Some kind of furniture I can't identify.
  6. A wooden computer chair.
People who illegally dump wastes our city's money. Recology will not pick-up random bulky items on the street and not likely pick-up home garbage bags laying next to city owned trash cans; this becomes the responsibility of DPW's fleet of trucks to clean-up our streets at an additional expense to us taxpayers. Since every apartment landlord and homeowner in this city has to have trash service, trash and bulky pickup is covered as part of your basic trash service. There is no excuse for illegally dumping your home garbage in city trash cans or your furniture on the streets. For some items, they can be dropped off at certain hardware shops around the city so there's no hazards like motor oil going down the city drains.


An update to a previous blog post about illegal dumping: I asked the city to put a no dumping sign near a problematic area in my neighborhood. They placed the signage at the exact location I told them and every single time I pass by there, the corner was clean with no bulky items or crap laying there.

Want to find legal ways to get rid of your junk and how to get your neighborhood clean? Click here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Clipper Card Changes for the Month of February: Caltrain and VTA

February is going to be a big month for Clipper with the end of paper media for many Caltrain users, and the induction of VTA to the family.

For those of you taking Caltrain, yesterday was the last day to purchase paper 8-ride tickets (valid for 60 days). Today, 8-ride tickets are only sold on the Clipper card. Please remember, there are no Clipper self service machines at the stations to help you purchase 8-rides; you need to visit an in-person vendor, or if commuting to downtown SF, a Muni metro station ticketing machine. You can also register for autoload or purchase your 8-rides online (with up to a five day waiting period).

Also, this is the last month for passengers to purchase a paper monthly Caltrain pass. Starting with the March 2011 pass, it must be purchased on a Clipper card.

To learn how the Caltrain transition to Clipper works, click here. If you do not have a Clipper card, the time to start getting one is NOW. You can get one at any in-person vendor that can add Clipper value, a Muni metro ticketing machine, or get one via snail mail by ordering online.

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
VTA will be going live with Clipper starting February 16th. If you jumped the gun and purchased a February Caltrain pass with a minimum two zone coverage on your Clipper card, you can't use that inter-agency benefit until VTA's first day of Clipper acceptance. To learn how VTA works with Clipper, including how the inter-agency benefit works for Caltrain pass users, click here.


Lastly, before you all start bragging that Clipper sucks, or you think you've been ripped off, I suggest reading this guide I made that will provide you the information you need to have a good relationship with Clipper.