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Friday, February 25, 2011

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.


Anonymous said...

Clipper should just implement fare capping as done in a number of transit systems: start off paying a la carte, but guarantee that you'll never spend more than a daily pass in a day or monthly pass in a month.

Akit said...

I suggested that in an earlier blog post:

woody said...

I don't understand why Muni pass holders must tag their cards? The inspectors certainly are able to tell we've paid. Isn't that all that should be required?

Akit said...

Here's an example: When boarding a bus, you always tag your card to the reader. The bus driver doesn't know what your Clipper card has (pass or e-cash), so tagging the card to the reader and hearing the single beep tells the driver you have valid fare media to board the vehicle.

If you have a valid pass on your Clipper card and just walked through by doing nothing, the driver would likely stop you and could call the cops.

Anonymous said...

This is one reason i pay cash on a bus to transfer to a bus or muni metro.
2.00 gets me a minimum 2hr transfer window and usually 3 hours

clipper too messy for individual rides

Anonymous said...

The card stores what bus it was tagged on, so as long as you are on the same vehicle when a fare inspector stops you, it shouldn't matter how much time is left on your transfer at that point.