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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.


Boris said...

No train system on the planet has a "pay the maximum fare rule and get refunded at the end". It's just a totally ridiculous concept. Even with BART you only pay for exactly what you use.

The paper tickets didn't make you pay and get refunded and relied on the conductor to come around and check your ticket. In fact, they will continue to work that way. Why can't the electronic ones be the same way? You know - like EVERY other train system ever invented.

It's a totally bizarre system that's just designed to cheat it's customers if the forget to tag off (something that's happened to me more then once - particularly when I'm on a train before sunrise and haven't had my coffee.).

Also, I ride the train every day durring rush hour (twice!) and get checked almost every time by a conductor.

Just do it like the paper tickets. It's worked for literally 100 years on every other train system. No need to introduce something new.

Akit said...

Do you research, the Orca Card system in Seattle does this too:

@makfan said...

I've been using 8-ride and eCash rides on Caltrain since before it was renamed Clipper. I have never forgotten to tag off. It has become a habit to tag at both stations.

My complaint is that the fare system doesn't combine passes and eCash to do automatic zone upgrades. I ride to different stations from time to time and instead of it taking a zone 1-3 ride plus eCash when I go all the way to San Jose, it takes eCash for the whole ride. Oh, well...

Boris said...

Ok. Great Akit. You found one system - maybe if you try hard you can find another. That's not the point though - do I have to list the rest of the train systems on the planet? Can't we both acknowledge that this is _not_ the way most places deal with train tickets. Maybe there's a reason people don't use this system.

As a (relevant) aside I'll also point out according the the website you linked to the maximum fare on the orca card is $4.50 while on caltrain it's nearly three times that much $12.50 - a much more significant sum to lose.

Some people may never forget to tagoff (bully to you) but some people will. It penalizes people who are honest and want to pay their share (afterall, you did buy a ticket). It does nothing to stop people from cheating by not buying tickets or avoiding the conductors in other ways. It only catches people who are already being honest.

Finally - public transit should by convenient and easy to use - we need to lure people out of their automobiles - not trick them into paying too much. Charging people 12.50 for a small mistake will drive people away, not towards public transit.

Akit said...

Boris, when people remember to tag-off, they don't get charged $12.50. How can that be a small mistake if they forget? Caltrain has huge stickers near all their train doors reminding them to tag their card off upon exiting.

There's a lot of people in the Bay Area who just doesn't read shit. Yes, I said it; and sooner or later, they will get caught or fuck-up. People who don't read the rules and regulations tend to mess up, even if that means losing money.

What other solution is there to have Clipper on Caltrain? The Bay Area needs a one card system and it's not going to go away. Caltrain is like BART without gates, everyone tags-on, everyone tags-off. Those who fail to do so either gets charged maximum fare or gets their card locked out while they get a scolding from an agency official.

If you have a problem with the expensive fare, you should take your issues to the Caltrain Joint Powers Board, just be aware, they are $30 million in the hole and they'd be laughing at fare cuts at this point.

Mark Taylor said...

The old paper 10 (and now 8 ride) tickets required validation (machine stamp) before boarding. If you failed that, a conductor (or fare inspector) could write a citation for $300. So swiping on and off using the Clipper does not seem so different. Except that if you forget to tag off you get hit with a maximum charge for the ride.

Generally conductors check but not all check the same. Some will tag the card and read the display to confirm the monthly pass (to make sure your in the right zone for it), using an 8-ride ticket or a single ride. One just tags the card and never looks as the display as long as it gives that ping sound (meaning good). Another I see often does not scan; he just asks to see you have a Clipper or paper ticket.

I suspect in light of tight fiscal problems, conductors are being told to check more often. And there is the possibility of sharpies out there trying to use fake Clipper cards to get by. Happened on BART and MUNI if I recall. No doubt conductors are looking for those as well.

Akit said...

I've had enough of arguing with Boris.

Anonymous said...

I've been a loyal Caltrain rider for nearly 6 years and in general I've had nothing but positive experience but Clipper is a disaster. This Monday I purchased a 8 ride pass for $17 then was told I need to put an additional $1.25 on the card to use it, seems odd but ok. One day later and a second trip to Walgreens its done now its 8 rides for $18.25. After using 3 rides I forgot to tag off. My mistake I'm human. To correct the problem I now need to pony up an additional $10.50 to get back to a positive balance. So for a $17 8-ride pass I'll have to pay $28.75?? Seems like a scam to me. In addition if I want to add value immediately I have to find a Walgreens which is conveniently not close to any of the stations I use. This doesn't seem like the best strategy to maintain or increase ridership.

Akit said...


It's the way it works and at least you are admitting you messed-up by not following the rules.

Clipper doesn't know how far you are going to travel, so it's only fair for the system to charge max fare and refund you appropriately upon leaving the station to be charged correctly (whether it be the proper one-way fare or deduct one 8-ride).

Be careful of calling it a "scam." There's a reason why they provide instructions people must follow and non-compliance has some harsh punishments.

Diego said...

My problem with Clipper is that there is no way to add value at the SJ station nor the Redwood City station, these are not small stations, but major transportation HUBs. As riders of public transportation you cant assume I'm going to drive to a Walgreens and there is no Walgreens walking distance from either of those stations.

Akit said...


I totally agree with you. I'm still scratching my head on why they didn't install some add value machines at key stations.

Unknown said...


I want to point out some idiocy here and hear your responses as you seem to know it all so well.

Not speaking for the day ride or 8 ride ticket systems but speaking solely about the Monthly Pass on Caltrain.

The monthly pass was historically a piece of paper which we kept in our wallet and presented upon request and were cited if the zones did not match. Why should this be different for the ClipperCard? Caltrain has no other means of enforcement on their rail system than provided by the conductors.

Secondly, I have an electronic RFID chip in my card which simply holds a serial number linked to the company database. Why do I have to "activate" this card when I put money on it? The conductors little reader thingamajig has two stages, one - deactivated but upon inspection into the card via their wifi link they can see I have paid for a monthly pass for zone 2-3 and two, activated, which means I actually remembered to tag on and off ONCE this month. Also I have to keep additional money on my card remain activated. BULL!

Remember I am only talking about monthly passes.

I understand the need to TAG ON and OFF for day and 8 ride passes but for Monthly this is stupid.

There is no increase level of enforcement to a monthly pass by having us tag on and tag off ONCE to prove where I am going? For pete's sake here if I am so dishonest why don't I just tag on and tag off once and then go right back to my dishonest ways which the card has no additional benefit to enforce.

Yes they have taken my money, yes it has been fault of my not REMEMBERING how to follow their broken *** rules about activating my monthly pass but I believe this is in part to the fact I have been riding the train commute day for 7 years and am not habitually trained for this tag on tag off thing. Its not fair to assume I will get used to either since they only require it once a month.

Come on people. The system is correct for day riders and 8 riders but for monthly this is the most ridiculous system I have ever seen. Ever piece of logic seems flawed given the current state of Caltrain.

Long and short. Unless Caltrain puts in gates to enter / exit the stations they will be forever bound to the enforcement of rules provided by the conductors on the trains.

Unknown said...

Oh and don't forget to mention it takes 3-5 business days to process adding any fare to a card but they can take your money immediately?

RFID is completely linked to the database. Ask a conductor to tell you the status of your card one day and he can tell you everything you want to know not just whether it is activated or not!

Akit said...

Hi Dustin,

Regarding the RFID card, the Clipper card contains more than just your serial number, it also contains memory to know how much e-cash you have, what your valid passes are, ridebooks, etc. When you purchase e-cash or other fare media to a Clipper card, the card is updated with that information.

This means, Clipper card readers do not have a constant connection to a server and only gets updates about once or twice a day.

The reason why you tag-on and off on your first day of travel for the new month is because when you do the two steps, your monthly caltrain pass is now loaded in your Clipper card's memory chip, and it also means you do not need to tag-on and off on the remaining days of the month because when a conductor scans your card, it will tell him/her what zones you are covered under for the month.

Lastly, for an explanation about the Clipper card's memory and the 3-5 day policy, watch the flash animation from Clipper's website:

Unknown said...

Hello Akit,

I understand what the cards hold but I am speaking from what is needed. If you never touch your card to the reader at the station (or you are waiting for the 3-5 day period) a conductor can still take your card, scan it and look at your account and verify you have a unactivated but paid for monthly ticket on your card. My point to this is that it is crap I should have to wait to "activate" or even do anything when this information is clearly available.

As a monthly pass holder carrying a new age RFID chip in my back pocket which identifies me with a system based on a unique identifying number I should not have to do anything at all other than pay my money and present my card when asked. The conductors checking device has already proven that there is flaw in the system as I refused to pay for my day ride ticket because I paid for my monthly pass and it was not "activated" yet after we got into the whole debate which I am presenting now.

** Side Note ** Even though the conductors can show you outright that you are paid for and have a monthly pass on your account (IE I did not TAG ON or OFF because I was stuck in the 3-5 waiting period) they will threaten to site you because it is not "activated."

Clipper states that the reason they ask for a monthly pass holder to tag on and off at the first of the month is to "Thwart dishonesty of riders by forcing us to show we in fact paid for the right zones!" As Penn and Teller would say "Bull****!" What good does this do? I can still continue to get on the train everyday thereafter and do the same dishonest act of traveling outside of my zones while still bound by the current, pre-existing form of enforcement of a conductor checking my pass. There is no additional level of enforcement being provided.

So in all honesty I too I feel this is a scam. I am a stubborn man Akit and although I respect your explanations I still have no ability to accept the flaw in logic and functionality of the system. Clipper / Caltrain has taken an additional $150+ worth of money from me since I started using this card back in Nov. of 2010 whether it be from having to buy day passes waiting for activations, forgetting to tag off and losing my $9.50 or whatever or lastly because I had to spend my personal/company time to go to Walgreen's to add fare or so on to make sure my card is "activated."

Akit, your post is about learning how to use clippercard. I respectfully disagree 150% with any of your statements about the card but only in regard to how the monthly pass works now. This is the most flawed system I have ever experienced in my life. I have also lives in Seattle and got to experience their transit system which was at the time just fine the way it was.

I am in a constant battle for someone to point a proper flaw in my debate stance because I do wish to extinguish this constance hatred I have for the clippercard. I am learning and becoming beaten into the ways of the clippercard, I am even to the point where I no longer care of about the possible 10$ a month I am going to have to waste to keep my sanity when I forget to tag off at the first of the month because I am typing emails and doing work which distracts me from this task.

I digress

Akit said...

You are entitled to your opinion, and I'm just stating the facts and reiterating the rules and policies currently set forth by the program. Caltrain stands out as the most complex for rules and policies governing Clipper while other agencies have much less difficulty.

One suggestion, if you plan to buy your next monthly pass, make sure to place your order a week in advance so you don't have to worry about this 3-5 day advance period. Even better, autoload makes it simpler, but you still need to tag-on and off at your designated zones for your first trip of the new month.

If you have concerns or issues with this, I suggest you get in contact with Clipper customer service, Caltrain, and/or write to the MTC.

Skeptic said...

Here are a couple of questions:
1) Jason lives in Palo Alto and works either in San Francisco or San Jose. He buys a zone 1-4 Caltrain pass but never actually travels from zone 1 to 4. How can he tag on at one end and tag off at the other?

2) I live in Palo Alto, work in Millbrae, and have a pied-a-terre in San Francisco. I get a zone 2-3 pass and use zone extenders to make up the difference. What should I do if I wake up in San Francisco on the first of the month? I can buy the zone extender, but my monthly pass isn't validated and I don't want to tag it in zone 1 and get charged for a one-way ticket.

3) I travel a lot and need a monthly pass only a few times a year. It looks to me like I have to remember to visit the Clipper site on the 25th and 5th of every month to enable and disable "autoload" on the Clipper site to achieve this. Is that right?

Clipper works great for BART and Muni. But as the comments on this site explain, its use with Caltrain creates many situations where well-intentioned customers are exposed to criminal citation and $300 fines while doing their best to comply with an incoherent if not downright stupid system.

Caltrain should continue to sell paper monthly passes since they have to maintain the ticket machines anyway.

Akit said...


Here's the answers:
1: One of the quirky things about this is, for the monthly pass, the first trip for the first day of the new travel month must be activated by tagging-on at the designated start zone and off at the designated end zone (e.g. I have a zone 1-3 pass, I must tag-on at 1 or 3, and off at the other zone to be valid). Once that trip is completed, your card is encoded with the designated travel zones and you don't need to tag again until the first day of travel for the next month.

2: Good question, and I'm not sure what to do in that situation.

3: You could switch autoload on and off frequently (I don't recommend it). I'd suggest just keeping autoload off and just purchase your ridebooks or passes by going to a designated Clipper vendor, automated machine, or purchase it online.

brainpercy said...

>> 1: One of the quirky things about this is, for the monthly pass, the first trip for the first day of the new travel month must be activated by tagging-on at the designated start zone and off at the designated end zone (e.g. I have a zone 1-3 pass, I must tag-on at 1 or 3, and off at the other zone to be valid). Once that trip is completed, your card is encoded with the designated travel zones and you don't need to tag again until the first day of travel for the next month.

Akit, do you know why we can't just tag on and immediately cancel the ride at the same station? Isn't the point of tagging in the first place just so that the pass is added to the card? The tagging off at the other end is just to make sure we don't get charged. Seems like it's totally unnecessary to do the tag, charge and deduct scheme...other than it means some people will forget to tag off and clipper/caltrain get extra revenue. What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

>> 1: One of the quirky things about this is, for the monthly pass, the first trip for the first day of the new travel month must be activated by tagging-on at the designated start zone and off at the designated end zone (e.g. I have a zone 1-3 pass, I must tag-on at 1 or 3, and off at the other zone to be valid). Once that trip is completed, your card is encoded with the designated travel zones and you don't need to tag again until the first day of travel for the next month.

Akit, do you know why we can't just tag on and immediately cancel the ride at the same station? Isn't the point of tagging in the first place just so that the pass is added to the card? The tagging off at the other end is just to make sure we don't get charged. Seems like it's totally unnecessary to do the tag, charge and deduct scheme...other than it means some people will forget to tag off and clipper/caltrain get extra revenue. What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

Clipper just seems like a mess from a useability point of view. Those who devised it were clearly thinking of making it easy to manage not easy to use. Who cares about criminalizing customers who got confused over some arcane aspect of clipper card use?

The promise is laudible, easy to use, no worries about carrying money for exact fares, but having different rules in each system is something only banks could dream up. And having to tag on & off the exact route you want to travel for a monthly pass is just insane, and open to error (if I understood your explanation).

I really resent your depiction of users who get caught as stupid, lazy who didn't read the 'rules'. In this case the rules seem designed to create confusion. They are not written in plain English.

So as you say, give it a few months, you'll either be lucky and understand how it works, or a convicted felon, by the end of it.

These mass-user payment systems should be instinctive to use. Anything else is a failing, not on the user's part, but by the system operators who failed to create a useable system.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is inconvenient to need to go to Walgreens. I signed up for Auto-load and I imagine this works well if you have a set commute routine.

I also use Clipper for VTA and have found the extra step I need of tagging on each time I board to a destination less convenient.

Additionally yesterday I scanned my Clipper pass in a VTA bus and had the bus driver tell me I had "no funds" based on the machine feedback. I was quite annoyed as I had read about the $1.25 minimum required of funds and so had put an extra $40 on my card to avoid stress if I had made a human error.

I was feeling nervous that day and the bus driver was unfriendly. I think when I first swiped it it did say okay to April 30 but then I reswiped it quickly again and then started to get the unfriendly machine sounds and red light.

I tried it three times later on different buses and it worked fine. It seems that double swiping causes a misread.

Anonymous said...

This comment has to do with monthly passes for caltrain.

I just called clipper card to verify this because it's not really made clear anywhere I've looked online.

The same rules apply to monthly passes in terms of purchasing. You need to purchase the monthly pass by the 9th of the month you're intending to use the monthly pass (that much is sort of clear). There's an extra step with the clipper card; you also have to activate (which means you have to travel) by the 9th of the month for the monthly pass to be valid.

That's inconvenient for some use-cases. Let's say you travel frequently enough on the caltrain to warrant a monthly pass, but you only plan to do so after the 9th of a given month.

That's not terribly hard within the confines of a normal commute (two trips per day). Take May 2011. Let's say you're going to travel every weekday starting on the 10th. The 10th through the 31st (inclusive) constitute 16 weekdays or 32 trips. Based on the current caltrain fares, you'll want a monthly pass, if only for convenience (versus the $4.75 you'd save over buying 4 8-rides).

At some point (between the 1st and 9th) you now need to make a trip between the two zones just to tag-on/tag-off so your monthly pass is activated. Presumably you'll also need to make the trip back.

In that situation, you now have to invest what's probably a couple of hours (given the caltrain timetable; I, for instance, will need to go from San Francisco to Palo Alto and back again) just to activate the monthly pass, in addition to everything else.

As a comparison of things to remember to do once a month:

Paper ticket (old system, no longer supported):
- remember to purchase a new monthly pass.
- stick it in your wallet.

Clipper card (new system):
- remember to purchase a new monthly pass.
- remember to travel before the 9th of that month.
- potentially spend a few extra hours riding the caltrain there-and-back to activate.
- remember to tag-on the first time you travel.
- remember to tag-off the first time you travel.

Handily, the clipper card has saved me from having to remember to stick my new paper monthly pass into my wallet. With my credit card. Which I just used to pay for said ticket. Hmm.

This seems a bit complicated and potentially a bit of a waste of time. I recognise that mine is a corner-case, but I have to say that I preferred the old system of purchasing a paper ticket once a month -- it just seemed easier.

I suppose this puts me in agreement with Dustin.

brainpercy said...

I tried tagging on and then immediately canceling the trip by tagging again in order to activate the monthly pass. The first tag seemed to do the trick, and the immediate re-tag means I don't run the risk of a $10.50 charge (I'm getting on mid-Peninsula so can't get the $12.50 charge).

Why doesn't Clipper/Caltrain suggest this method? I posted on their facebook page and am getting ignored. I think this demonstrates that they really are intentionally trying to set up the system so that when we make mistakes that we get overcharged.

I still have yet to actually verify with a Caltrain employee that my monthly pass is properly activated, so do this at your own risk till someone verifies! But then spread the word!

Akit, any comment?

Louis said...

"I tried tagging on and then immediately canceling the trip by tagging again in order to activate the monthly pass."

I believe this only works if you're buying the pass through your work.

Anonymous said...

I added a caltrain monthly at Walgreens, the cashier made a mistake on the zones, 1-2 instead of 2-3. I immediately called clipper (< 10 minutes) and told them, they told me to have Walgreens fix the problem but then Walgreens refused (I had both receipts and card in hand). The cashier said they are not allowed to alter/fix a transaction, even when _they_ make a mistake. Why is the clipper backend system so inflexible? After three calls to clipper customer service they finally said they would fix the problem but I would have to ?wait?, and until then pay your $9 and change for a ticket. So my monthly pass is now +$9, if the card isn't working by tomorrow then the cost of my monthly is more... What gives? B.t.w. clipper sucks, and I hope the citizens of the Bay Area turn on it and make it go away. Clipper is monopolistic; once you kill the "competition/alternative", screw the customer because there's no where else to...

Anonymous said...

Akit, you're way off base here...

Confusing rules are the symptom of a poorly designed system.

Assuming your customers are stupid and blaming them for not understanding a poorly implemented system is the first step in going out of business.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that, Anonymous.

Blaming the customer is bad business. We DO have other options, you know.

Just bought my first month pass on Clipper and am now considering going back to driving.....gggrrrrr

Anonymous said...

I have been riding Caltrain for 14 years and buying monthly passes every month for the last 5 years.

My experience with Translink/Clipper has included:
-Duplicated monthly charges
-Failed auto loads
-Three promised refunds that never manifested, these were refunded via my credit card company.

Recently decided to go to 8-ride and yes, after all these years on monthly passes, forgot to tag off (it happens to best of us). Now I have a locked card with 7 rides left. Will I call Clipper CS again? No, I am going to call my credit card CS to cancel the transaction.

Between drunk giants fans and Clipper headaches the train has lost its appeal for me.

Anonymous said...

Clipper sucks and it is simply painful. Life is not easier with this system, only more confusing. And, settling any issue requires the torturous phone calls, where you must type in your serial number only to be asked to repeat it afterwards and verify who you are, listen to painful menu options, then wait on hold. All this just for riding the train. I had a problem with my card (no surprise, forgot to tag off) and called. The problem was fixed with 3 phone calls and lots of hold time. Paper tickets please return, but alas there is no chance of this.

Eventually we will all have radio chips implanted into us and load our money into our chips. Then every time we get on/off the train a signal will be sent somewhere documenting the event and payment will be deducted. We will probably not need conductors or any personnel on the train since it will be remote controlled. This is the dismal image of our future.

Anonymous said...


Clipper card is a horrible system. It's not about training people. It's about creating a system for the user that is as easy as the one the user is used too, which has not happen.

At the end of the day. I am a customer. At the end of the day, may patronage supports your system. At the end of the day you need to remember that and not treat me like some dog.

In the the latest debacle, I wasn't paying attention and thought I tagged off. Turns out I didn't, but instead of Clipper taking a ride off my card and leaving me with my remaining rides, they have to refund me and leave me at a negative balance.

A system that can not handle a simple error that most likely would not happen with the old system is not an improvement.

The thing is, I was not paying attention when i tagged off so I didn't hear anything (music playing) and I'm not looking because I'm fixing something on my bike. Again, not a dog. So I don't stand in a line diligently looking to see if my card has been taken. Asking me to do so is actually an insult to me as well.

Anyhow since I'm not looking, even if I didn't think I tagged off but did. I get penalized for putting my card to the reader to see since I get a ride deducted.

Learning to use my Clipper card is not the answer,having a system in place that accounts for the normality of human error and is customer-centric is way better.

I trully hope Caltrain keeps losing money via Clipper card, maybe then they'll think about all of their customers (not just the silicon valley and obedient conservative types) before changing their system.

Oliver said...

One key difference between Clipper and almost all other fair systems I've ever used is the near impossibility of checking your balance.
* On BART the remaining balance is printed on the card.
* On MUNI your paper ticket is human readable.
* On other municipalities' transit systems with RFID tickets there are lots of check balance stations or add fair terminals so you can check your balance without hunting down a conductor.

Now with Clipper on CalTrain there is no option for checking balance or paying for transit at the platform - and that is simply poor planning on the part of Clipper and CalTrain.

The monthly CalTrain Clipper card is great, all the others leave a lot to be desired and none of it is obvious to occasional riders.

Anonymous said...


I have looked everywhere for this info and can't find it.

HOW LONG DO YOU HAVE TO TAG OFF before the system thinks you are making a new ride?

If you forget to tag off and need to go back, do you have 15 mins, an hour or what?

Seems like this is practical info that needs to be available

Akit said...

Four hours from initial tag-on to tag-off.

Nix said...

AKIT, what is the point of being so callous and dismissive in this post? "It's your own fault" ... "A lot of people whined" ... Most of these people you are talking about are long-time paying customers who have been hurt by an unaccommodating system.

If you make the simple and incredibly easy mistake of forgetting on the first of the month to tag your Clipper card, the second you step on the train (which you do every other day of the month without incident or question) you are liable to be hit with a citation greater than that speeding ticket, greater than running a stop sign, greater than using a cellphone while driving, greater than a number of infractions that endanger the public.

And this fine is said to be in the service of deterring illegal ridership, but who it seems to penalize most regularly (every single first Monday of the month, I see at least two riders cited or thrown off on my train car alone) are customers happy to give their money over. Most of them have in fact paid, some with well over a $100 just waiting in their account for the company take it. But because of this goofy "Tag on, Tag off" system on a simple monthly pass, these riders are considered law breakers.

Simple methods could be implemented to avoid this. An email activation system would curtail a great deal of the errors. A no-refunds policy would technically curtail ALL of these issues (although the backend of customer service might not justify the change... then again, how many refunds have you received in all the Clipper customer service error requests you've attempted?) Better e.readers for Conductors, allowing tagging and fare purchase, would be an option, as would on-board tagging terminals (with obvious costs for both.) With modern technology, it's =fairly easy to purchase a ticket on the internet on a phone, so allowing a regular customer to buy a ticket and avoid a fine would be a graceful option (but seeing as how Caltrain cannot patrol its gateways and thus must install a proof-of-payment system, this would obviously be easily exploitable... though again, many of the riders I have seen cited, including myself, are recognized by the Conductor as regular passengers while they're writing the ticket.) They could of course offer the option of the paper tickets like everybody has been begging and begging for, but we both know that's never going to happen again...

And what would be the incentive for Caltrain to add policies to its system? It depends -- if that $350 goes straight into the system and the cost of tying up the court is paid for, the greed of a desperate business might be hard to fight; if not, that's one reason. I've also seen several of these citation/ejection encounters get hostile -- never physical, but the threat of danger in creating an escalated situation (you'd have to be stupid to do it, but Giants fans aren't always in their right minds after a game) might be another. With a no-refunds policy, you have guaranteed, countable funds each term (with a WageWorks payment, Clipper does not touch that money until you tag, so I think it's different from an auto-payment.) And just simply for the drop in customer service calls and time lost in Conductors dealing with court requests and bad-mouthing of arcane and embarrassing policies that blight the good name of the service, surely the PR good should be worth something.

I don't think it's "whining" to harp on this issue, especially when these are regularly paying customers asking for what seems to be not much change. Even a simple email pre-board tag-on system would I believe eliminate a huge percentage of these errors and would at least show SOME progress towards dealing with a problem I have regularly seen complained about since at least 2009.

Anonymous said...

I read the first few comments, but not everything beyond. Sorry if this has already been mentioned.

I don't agree that clipper is a 'scam', but I agree that it is a little inconvenient for passengers.

If you remember to tag off - great. But sometimes you forget (like I did today). I had not used clipper for a long time (a year) and had been using paper tickets the last few times. So today when I used clipper, I forgot to tag off. There goes 12.75. It's also easy to forget when you're riding your bike and have a bunch of things to think about.

Their system makes sense given the structure of the station, but it would be nice to have a clipper terminal near all the platform exits, so that you see it while you're leaving.

Not all stations have a single point of exit though, so that makes it hard as well.

BART works because you have to go through the turnstile to enter or leave the station. Caltrain might need something like that.

Aside from all this, its much cheaper for me to drive to work every day (Mountain view to San Carlos) than take the train. Sad but true.

Anonymous said...

Cal train from san jose to ATT Park is disgusting. Last night there were under 21 yrs olds with empty large bottles of alcohol on the ride up to the park. 9/6/13 and on the home they were all smoking the vaporized fake electronic cigarettes. About 1% supervision. This sucks. Jerry Hill's office sucks. Jackie Speier's office sucks. People dont care. It IS legal to drink going up but WHY. Ask yourself why. Open bottles. Underage riders using the F word every word not every other word. I HATE to even type it but I am TIRED of hearing FUCK DUDE every single word when I have our family with us.

Anybody who is in charge does not care. People NOT in charge dont care. People dont care.


Unknown said...

What am I to I do after forgetting to tag off? (It's easy to do. I'm focussed on where to go next, Clipper terminals aren't at all the exits, they don't stand out, and people aren't flocking to them.)

One of the FAQ pages says I have 4 hours from "tag on" to tag off, but how can I tell when tapping will/did "tag on" vs. "tag off"? The display briefly flashes "Travel OK" in either case (if the scratched up display is readable).

If I come back later for the return trip, should I tag at the original side of the tracks, then cross and tag again? Or tag once or twice in the return direction? Will tapping "tag off" or "tag off + on" or does it depend on exactly how long it's been?

An FAQ says the terminal makes a different tone for "tag on" vs. "tag off", but the web site has an audio sample for only one of them, and I haven't noticed any difference on the occasions I remembered to tag off.

Asking the Clipper customer support line, all they could say was, "It's smart about figuring out whether you're tagging on or off" and "Don't forget to tag off." No help at all.

Unknown said...

Thanks :) you saved me $6 today! Forgot to tag off, Caltrain is a 5 min drive from my place, didn't remember I didn't tag off until 3 hours later... But made it within 4!