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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.


murphstahoe said...

No. Clipper Sucks.

The concept of Clipper does not suck. But the implementatiion of Clipper actually sucks. I'm not talking about the limitations that can't really be worked around.

Q - "Why are there 8 ride passes on Caltrain"

A - "Because the 10 rides didn't work well with the validators".

Q - "What's a validator?"

A - "You punched your paper ticket in it"

Q - "What's a paper ticket?"

A - "ummm"

Q - "Why was there a 10 ride ticket?"

A - "So people could buy volume tickets at a discount"

Q - "Why not just buy high value tickets like BART?"

A - "Because the conductor needed to see on your paper tickets what zones you were going to and from"

Q - "What's a paper ticket?"

A - "ummm"

Q - "Why the zones? Why not distance based fares like BART?"

A - "Because then we'd need 27 spots on the paper ticket for the conductor to punch"

Q - "What's a paper ticket?"

A - "ummm...."

Q - "If the fares were distance based, for example, SF to SSF could be $2.10, and SF to San Bruno could be $2.20, and so on"

A - "Then the conductors would have to carry dimes for change when they sell you a paper ticket on board"

Q - "You can buy this thing called a 'paper ticket' from the conductor on board?"

A - "umm...."

Anonymous said...

What happens if the Clipper card is not loaded on the 1st of the month? I set up an accounts for my employees, the Clipper agency took out the funds on 1/15, but not one of them received either their Muni Fast passes or their cash funds for Bart ON 2/1. This is my first month doing this and it did not work and I have justifiably angry employees on my hands. No one, needless to say, is returning calls from customer service over at Clipper.

Akit said...

The big question I need to ask you, did your employees attempt tagging their card to a Clipper reader today?

The online and phone system will not reflect any new cash balance or passes until the card is tagged to a card reader to load the balance.

If they did and the new balance and/or pass was not activated, you need to work with Clipper and the commuter benefit company to settle it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Fast Pass users did use their Clippers today, but the reader said either Expired on Jan 31 or Good thru Feb 3 (depending on the reader). However, my original account rep did get back to me (once I thought about contacting her rather than the normal customer service folks - still waiting for that call back!). The BART cash uploads did not go through, and she admitted it was a mistake on their end and she will address the problem. The Muni FAST Passes did process (or so she said). She said the problem was that the various readers may not have been updated, thus not seeing the new passes. She said to have the employees check out their Clippers at one the the stationary Value Added readers or at Walgreens to verify. I am having them do that. Hopefully she is correct and the passes are really on there. If not, it may be back to Commuter Checks for us.

Akit said...

I don't have much trust for the automatic loading system. If necessary, you should go back to vouchers or possibly consider the debit cards.

Anonymous said...

Argh, I couldn't agree with the first commenter. Great idea, horrible implementation.

3-5 day wait for me to get my value added for Caltrain? This is 2011!

8 Ride passes? Every fare on ClipperCard should be at the 8 Ride rate... why do they care if they are sold in 8-10-20 ride increments. I get it when you had to have a paper ticket, but you don't need that any more.

One other question, do I have to tag my card with monthly caltrain pass on and off? Or can I tag it twice in SF to load it with the monthly and not have to worry about tagging it off.

Akit said...

The 3-5 day policy is only for online and phone. It's a standard rule.

This flash elimination will explain about the delay:

As for the 8-ride on Clipper, Clipper must follow the exact fare policies as the paper versions used on Caltrain when fare media is transitioned. If Clipper is to have the 8-ride rate all the time, only the Caltrain Joint Powers Board can make that choice.

Lastly, the monthly pass only needs to be tagged-on and off on the first day of travel. Once that's done, your card will always show up on the conductor's card reader as valid for that particular month and the zones you are covered. You'll need to buy a paper zone upgrade if going beyond your designated zones.

Anonymous said...

Akit - you are right about the automatic download I think. The rep at Clipper told me that the problem must be with the employees individual cards, since she sees no problem with the download (even though she admitted that they did not download, which was in the same batch process, the money for the Bart passes). Now I am stuck giving these employees commuter checks this month so that they can have a Feb Fast Pass and having to dispute the credit card billing. What a headache!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I get that the moving readers (buses/etc) can only be updated when they are in the bus yards. It is inexcusable for the the static devices to only update once a day. They could easily update every hour. If I order something the night before, it should be available the next morning when I start my commute.

I am glad to hear that the hassle should only have to happen for the trip home today and it should be loaded appropriately tomorrow.

My question on the tagging on/off of monthly pass is that all I need to do is get the card to "load" the pass into it. This action happens when I tag on. If I tag off at the same station, the infromation is there. I shouldn't have to worry about tagging off later on.

Akit said...

Let me clarify this, policy states to have your pass properly loaded, you need to tag-on at your appropriate starting location and off at your appropriate end point. If you don't tag-off, the system will automatically charge you the maximum fare.

For example:
I purchased a zone one to two pass for February. On February 1st, I tagged my card at 4th/King, the Clipper reader will deduct the maximum fare (the pass is not yet on the card).

When I reach Millbrae, I tag my card off, and the Clipper reader will tell me that my fare is fully refunded and will load the pass for that zone coverage.

Failure to not tag-off will make the system assume you are going further than your designated zones.

Jeff said...

Akit, when you say "I don't have much trust for the automatic loading system", do you mean automatic loading from employers only or are also including autoload for consumers? I've been using paper monthlies on Caltrain (purchased at the TVM with a WageWorks debit card) and from now on was planning to just do an autoload monthly with my WageWorks debit card as the "credit card" it would draw from; wondering if that is unreliable. thx!

Akit said...

My mistake, I should have said automatic commuter benefit loading, not the autoload program when your funds run low or pass expires.

There are some limitations for the way you add funds.

If you use a WageWorks debit card, you can buy online every month, use an automated self-service machine, or link it to autoload. One big problem is if you link it autoload, be very careful if your card gets replenished but you don't have sufficient funds on the card; it will get locked-out until you resolve your debt problem with Clipper.

On the other hand, vouchers work only at in-person retail locations, such as Walgreens and transit agency ticket offices.

Anonymous said...

Question: Does anyone have any idea when/if Clipper 8-rides/monthly passes will be built into Caltrain vending machines?

This current murky situation (of never really knowing if an 8-ride will be loaded onto your card when load online, having to go find a Walgreens etc.) is already subconsciously pushing me towards the car and away from taking caltrain.

Akit said...

That's one of the biggest problems with Caltrain and Clipper about vending machines to handle this. I keep tabs on what's going on and there's no clue on what they'll do.

murphstahoe said...

Down with 8 ride tickets!

I have my wageworks card tied to my Clipper Card and it works fine.

I have not purchased a Monthly pass yet. I started using Clipper on Caltrain in November when I was going to be out of town and didn't get a paper monthly. The problem is that at the end of the month, I have these random 8 rides still on my card. With paper tickets, I would usually give the extras away for beer, or sell them on Craig's List. Now, I'd have to get a second clipper card and give the original away.

So I have not been able to test the loading of the pass. If they were looking at the whole system - you should be able to tag on, wait a few seconds, and tag off at the same station. That is a "connection" between your card and the readers that should load the pass. There is no good reason for the requirement that you tag on/off in the designated zones - other than "badly designed software".

Jeff said...

The various Clipper readers all seem to follow a "push" model, i.e. at some point a huge database update is sent to them and then they know about another batch of online purchases. If Caltrain can't afford real online vending machines, what about having at least on "pull" validator stick, where you put up your card, it phones home to see if you have any online updates, then applies them? So stations that do not have means to directly add value to a card should have at least one of these "pull" sticks available so theoretically there would be no worry about showing up to travel and having your ticket still in electronic limbo. I'd guess they could be a good bit cheaper than vending machines.

BTW, does anyone know what the longest delay from adding fare/pass online to recognition on a Caltrain "validator post" has been? 24hrs? Thx.

Akit said...


Clipper claims 24 hours on stationary readers like Caltrain's, but give or take a day or two just in case something goes wrong like a server crash or connection is accidentally severed.

The readers can operate independently for days if for some reason the connection to the server is severed.

Mark Taylor said...

I have had little problem using Clipper. I use a monthly pass and (except for the first time) have it loaded at a vendor like Walgreens. It is a bit disconcerting when you tag on and off to activate the pass as it shows a cash deduction (refunded back when pass zone(s) confirmed). It is a pain though that not one station (especially the one at 4th & King) does not have a Clipper add/value machine.

But many get tripped up by the 8 ride pass. It used to be you had to go to a machine to punch the ticket before you boarded. Now you have to tag both on and off. Yesterday a woman sitting in front of me forgot to tag before getting on. And she had taken Caltrain earlier in the day and done it right from what the scanner told the conductor. The conductor reminded her to always tag on and off so that the 8 right properly works. Otherwise it will cost a lot more ($350).

From what the conductor said, this is something going on all the time as people get used to the Clipper card. It is probably a nasty shock to those who forget to tag off they get charged the maximum fare (which I think is over $12).

Probably the one place that is doing well in all this is the Walgreens at 4th & Townsend (just across from the station). Aside from commuters getting food they now line up for the Clipper as well. :-)

Akit said...


Excellent observations. It's a learning curve for everyone to get used to Clipper. Muni riders trying Clipper for the first time had similar problems when they got the three beeps of death, but didn't realize that holding the card just a little longer works fine. After a few months of "A" passes being Clipper, I rarely hear the error beeps.

As for Caltrain, people will get the hang of it in a couple of months. In the long run, people who ride multiple agencies will enjoy one card handling all their transactions.