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Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Round of Clipper Card Updates from the MTC's Operations Committee

While I love to report about the notes posted on MTC's Operations Committee (the de facto Clipper card board), I should warn you now, there won't be much new material.

The Operations Committee will be meeting this Friday, April 8, 2011 at 10:15AM. (See agenda) Clipper will be discussed in calendar items (item 2, part "D") regarding contract actions. Normally these 'contract actions' is an opportunity for the MTC to modify or establish contracts with the goal of using or increase funding based on the needs of the Clipper card program. The committee uses this opportunity to address MTC staff and Clipper representatives about the program, and the agenda items posted online (see here) also gives helpful info to the public.

  • As of April 1st, all existing paper 8-ride tickets for Caltrain has expired and now operates on Clipper only. This is for any passenger who purchased their paper 8-ride on the very last day prior to being sold on Clipper cards only.
  • Clipper staff are been doing heavy outreach to all Caltrain passenger stations, and have been on all rush hour evening trains on March 29th to answer questions about the switch.
  • Muni has recently switched from the paper "M" Muni only pass to Clipper only.
  • BART's activation of their ticketing machines for Clipper e-cash purchases is currently at 30 stations (as of April 1st). BART will be activating functionality on the last 14 stations this month.
  • Golden Gate Ferry completed installation of Clipper purchasing machines at their ferry terminals in February, and will begin patron operations in April.
Contract Actions
  • The committee approved $750K for upgrading VTA's existing ticketing machines to be able to also add Clipper value, however the planned cost for Cubic to handle the work has come way under budget. Due to the reduced budget cost, the entire build will now cost $500K, and they will vote on shifting the extra $250K to the "VTA Funding Agreement."
  • The committee is to receive a proposal to amend a contract for the Bay Crossings booth at the Ferry Building. If you remember in my prior blog posts, the Bay Crossings vendor is one of only two in-person customer service centers for Clipper cards. The plan is to increase the existing contact to $167,000 in order to extend Clipper services at that location to June 30, 2012. The original contact was approved for $64,500, but in order to sustain continued services, the proposal is to increase it by $102,500 (thereby equaling $167,000).

Akit's Opinion and Analysis
After spending a four day weekend riding Muni to see old friends and get lunch, it seems things are going okay with the big switch for all Muni "M" pass users to Clipper only. There's only been a few occasions where rookie users didn't know how to properly tag their card, and that's going to be expected this week as the 3-day grace period has officially ended. This switch also means their favorite pass vendor, whether it be a corner liquor store, discount housewares shop, or their donut shop won't be able to handle Clipper transactions. It's a change for many, but realize that if you take transit and pass by a nearby authorized Clipper vendor, just take ten minutes of your busy life and hop-off the vehicle and go purchase it.

Clipper on Caltrain will always be the nagging problem for the program. It's not an easy to use system as Clipper is required to mimic existing pass and ticketing policies from Caltrain (with a few modifications, such as tag-on and off). With so much complexity, there is a need for the program to simplify, such as following the model used by Golden Gate Transit & Ferry where they eliminated all ticket books (they never sold passes) and just gave all passengers an across the board ride discount equal to the discount given from the ticket books.

While I'm on the topic of transit payments, when will Clipper consider the pass accumulator program and a regional pass? A pass accumulator is a system where a passenger pays for their rides with a specific agency with e-cash, and when it reaches a certain threshold, the rest of the rides for that specified period is free. A regional pass is similar to BART Plus where a rider has the ability to ride unlimited rides on multiple agencies for one flat price. While these are two separate ideas, the ultimate dream for all Bay Area transit riders would be a program where if you spend so much in a specified period on ANY participating agency, the rest of the rides on all agencies are free. The MTC has talked about this before, but have been quiet about it. Plans are in the works to simplify the fare structure for all transit agencies using Clipper.

If you ever wondered about where all this money comes from to fund Clipper and its services, one primary source comes from the "Regional Measure 2" funds us voters approved back in 2004. The funding comes from the additional dollar all drivers must pay to cross all Bay Area bridges (except Golden Gate Bridge) and is used to fund transportation projects with the goal to reduce congestion and to improve existing toll facilities (read more). Other funding comes from the state and federal levels.


Mike said...

Thanks, as always. I have used BART+ tickets from time to time, so the regional idea appeals to me.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Clipper E-Cash machines at BART station. I was under the impression that these would be akin to the current Add Fare machines in the paid area. In other words, they would put an end to Clipper's negative balance feature with respect to BART.

Having now seen the machines at various BART stations, I realize this is not the case. The machines are in the free area of the stations and do nothing to end the negative balance feature and much publicized, associated fare evasion. If a person is currently evading fares using the negative balance feature, s/he can continue to evade in the same manner after BART has installed the E-Cash machines at all the stations.

Are there plans to incorporate Clipper with the Add-Fare machines in the paid areas of BART?

Akit said...

I haven't heard any word about plans to add capabilities to the exitfare machines in the future.

A factor might help with the negative balance policy: the start of the $5 card issuance fee on July 1, 2011. Currently, new cards are free with a minimum balance purchase, and if the abuse continues, the MTC may need to change policies to make it harder.

thielges said...

With the introduction of "Clipper Direct" (i.e. pretax payroll deduction) it seems as if Clipper has created a situation that will require a lot more customer support staff. The problem is that now there are two separate balances : Clipper Direct and the clipper card itself. When certain conditions are met, products are transferred from Clipper Direct to Clipper Card.

One problem is that no-one has been able to explain what conditions trigger the transfer. You have to call customer service and maybe you will get an answer. The other problem is that there's no way to tell what is in your "queue" between Clipper Direct and Clipper Card. Again you have to call customer service to find out.

Even more problematic is that there seems to be some sort of delay between Clipper Direct and Clipper Card. So when you've used your last Caltrain ticket you have no idea of whether or not your Clipper card becomes valid again. There's no way to query the card's 8-ride value on the platform nor is there any way to add value. The website helps though that often lags behind reality.

So when you arrive at the Caltrain platform with a "recently drained" 8-ride you might face one of the following scenarios:

1) your card is OK and was reloaded with the next 8-ride in your clipper direct queue
2) There are zero 8-rides and your card is good for cash only. If you've got the minimum $1.25 on the card then you ride can once that day. But then your card becomes invalid until you load enough money to bring the balance back up to $1.25. That means either going to a Walgreens to load in-person (50/50 chance of success) or loading on the clippercard.com website which can take up to a week to re-activate your card.
3) just buy a paper ticket

Scenario #2 is pretty painful. Either you spend time traveling to Walgreen(s) or be without a working Clipper card while the information takes its long journey from clippercard.com to your card.

Scenario #3 doesn't really solve anything as you're just giving up on Clipper.

Riders need a reliable way to acquire a valid ticket and Clipper+ClipperDirect fails to do so.

Anonymous said...

I used to live just outside the London fare zone, but I could always buy a travel ticket into London with an all-day pass in one ticket. Why not here ? Caltrain+Muni+Bart etc.

London's Oyster card, (like clipper) when used on Buses, Tube, + some Trains, will max out ticket payments once you have paid the equivalent of a day pass. If it's possible in London, it should be easy here. Lack of will seems to be an issue. Perhaps you can name+shame those obstructing such schemes.

It seems sad that appreciation of public transport in the Bay-Area is somewhat blighted by some lack of cooperation between various transport bodies, (including those responsible for pedestrian & bicycle safety). How often are you nearly killed crossing the road to get to the bus stop ?

Anonymous said...

I agree with thielges. I lost my wallet and had to cancel credit cards. I renetered my new credit card number once I received it, but it warns you that it takes 3-5 business days to become active. If clipper is the only choice, you have to waste time getting a cash only clipper card until your new credit card becomes active in the system (assume you were at the point where automatic charges would have been attemted next ride). The process to unlock a locked card is even more time consuming. Why can't they get to a point where you enter your credit card and instantly it can be verified/charged if need be. This is bad.